This M-16 Round's Environmentally "Friendly," But Still Deadly!
Coming soon to an M-16 near you -- The bullet on the left is a lead-free “green” 5.56mm M-16 bullet. The one on the right is a standard lead bullet. The Army has replaced the lead with an evironmentally friendly tungsten- tin mixture.
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Some range NCOs talk about "slinging lead
down range." In the future they'll have to talk about
"slinging tungsten and tin."
That's because the Army is producing environmentally
friendly ammunition. The first million rounds will be
produced at Lake City (Mo.) Army Ammunition Plant, and
officials expect troops from all services to be using the
new "green" rounds soon after.
Researchers at the Army's Armament Research, Development
and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.,
developed the 5.56 mm bullets, which have a tungsten-tin
core sheathed in copper. Current rounds use lead cores.
Don't let "environmentally friendly" fool you: The new
rounds proved slightly more accurate than the lead versions
officials said. The new rounds are
ballistically and visibly identical to the old and require
no special handling.
Alaskan National Guardsmen recently finished qualifying
using the new rounds. "There was no difference in the
performance of the rounds concerning shot groups or
functioning of the weapon," said Army Maj. Gary Curtiss,
operations officer with the 1st Battalion (Scouts), 297th
"We've been working on this for about two years," said Jim
Arnold, chief of the pollution prevention and environmental
technology division at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. "The
concept is part of an Army initiative called Range 21. It
is about the Army being good stewards of training and
The idea is to reduce lead in the environment. The heavy
metal and its chemical compounds are poisonous. Even small
doses can cause irreversible brain damage if ingested or
Contrary to news reports, lead contamination is not
currently a problem at military outdoor ranges, although it
could conceivably leach into surface water on some of the
more heavily used ranges, he said.
"There's no problem now, but there could be," Arnold said.
"Why not look ahead, anticipate problems and solve them
before they start?"
Arnold said the concern is indoor ranges, such as those
used regularly by the reserve components. He said many
indoor ranges have been closed. While lead contamination is
part of the total picture, general health concerns about
the vapors, residues and other pollutants created by firing
rounds plays a larger role in closing the indoor ranges.
Still lead is toxic and “if we can get rid of even the
small chance of breathing lead, we should,” Arnold said.
The tungsten-tin solution is not expensive. Arnold said the
costs of new and old rounds are comparable. Once in mass
production, tungsten-tin bullets may be cheaper than lead
ones, he predicted. The Army buys all the small arms
ammunition for the military -- 200 million 5.56mm lead-
copper rounds in fiscal 1998.
If the green 5.56mm round proves successful in actual field
use, researchers will move to 7.62 mm, 9 mm and .50-caliber
rounds. "The next is the '50-cal,'" Arnold said. "There's a
small amount of lead in the round we think we can get rid
of through improving the industrial process in making it.
"The 9 mm is the tough nut to crack, because the bullet is
fairly large," Arnold continued. "There has to be some cost
reduction on tungsten-tin before this will work."
"Green" bullets solve only the problem of reducing lead in
the environment. Scientists also are working to make bullet
propellants and primers "greener."
"All my young engineers have been excited about working on
this project," Arnold said. "There isn't really a down side