Two-two-three and 5.56mm ammo are two of the hottest sellers today. Look on any retail website that sells ammo, rifles, or AR pistols and you will see that those calibers figure very prominently in ad space and sales. I’ve mentioned the two together so far, but they are different (see below). For the balance of this article, we’ll concentrate on the military version - the 5.56mm. There are many different variations on that theme. Here is a list that I found on the Military Analysis Network website:
M855 NATO Ball
Rifle-Launched Non-Lethal Munition
Here is a photo that illustrates seven of the different 5.56mm rounds that are in use:
(I was familiar with all but the SRTA round, so I looked it up – short-range training ammunition with an effective range of 250 meters)
Let’s zoom in on the green-tipped M855 round, but before we do that, maybe a quick explanation of the differences between the civilian .223 and the NATO 5.56mm rounds is in order since this is a question that is asked by many shooters.
Differences Between .223 and 5.56mm Ammo
The two share identical dimensions, but that’s where the similarity ends. Just because either case will fit in either chamber doesn’t mean you should do that. Why? The 5.56 is generally loaded to higher pressures than the .223. The top pressure (SAAMI) for the .223 is 55,114 psi for the .223 and 58K for the 5.56. (Some measuring methodologies have the .223 coming in at up to 5K less pressure than the 5.56). That doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but if you were to stick a NATO round in an older rifle chambered for .223, you might have an overload problem. I’m not saying you can’t shoot 5.56 in a .223-chambered rifle, but there are considerations.
Another difference is in the rifle chamber for each one. The .223’s chamber is typically cut with a shorter leade (throat) – that’s the distance from the case mouth to where the rifling engages the bullet. These chambers are allowed to be tested at lower pressures than 5.56 chambers are. Military chambers use a longer leade which, among other things, allows the use of longer bullets.
Modern .223 rifles are generally alright shooting 5.56, but older guns may not be. The safe rule of thumb to play by is that it’s OK to shoot both cartridges out of a gun with a chamber marked for 5.56, but not out of one marked for .223 unless it's .223 Wylde.
In 1963, the Army settled on a new service cartridge. The M193 55-grain Ball round was standardized and introduced along with the new M16 rifle. The M193 was the main service round for several years, and other variations were introduced that offered different functions such as tracer and armor-piercing capabilities. The M193 became the first NATO-standardized round. A few years later (1970), NATO standardized a second “.22” round, the 62-grain M855 green-tip. During that decade, this SS109 cartridge was further developed for the FN FNC rifle and the FN Minimi machine gun. It was designed to penetrate 3.5 mm of steel at 600 meters and was composed of a copper-jacketed steel tip/lead rear bullet. It was not required to penetrate body armor.
In 1982, the U.S. Army renamed the SS109 the M855 and adopted it for use in the M16A2 rifle, not to mention the M249 SAW. The round, designed to penetrate armor, did not fragment upon contact with a soft target (read: bad guy) and was not as effective on said targets as the standard M193 and similar rounds. The M855 was “yaw dependant”, which meant that its effectiveness was largely determined by the angle at which it struck the target. If it was at a great-enough angle, the bullet would fragment some and tumble. If not, it tended to go straight through, as it was designed to penetrate steel helmets at long range and not to be as harmful on soft targets up close. We found that, in Iraq, the round was not as effective within 150 yards as other 5.56 variants.
This led to, in June of 2010, the introduction of the M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round (EPR). It is comprised of a lead-free, solid copper bullet that provides more consistent performance out of shorter M4 barrels than the M855. To the best of my knowledge, the M855A1 supplanted the M855 in terms of service.
Is Green Tip Ammo Legal?
In a word, yup. I did a quick search online. As an example, I looked at ammoseek.com and saw that they have 374 hits for “M855”... wow! You can buy it for around 45 cents per cartridge.
One example at the time of writing this is PMC M855, 20 rounds, $9.12 or $226 for 500. That’s about 45 cents each. Not bad for green tip light-armor-piercing ammo!
I could go on and on but won’t. Suffice it to say that if you want green-tip, you can buy green-tip.
M855 Vs. M193 Vs. M855A1
What are the differences between these three 5.56 variants? Let’s look at some very basic differences. And, I would imagine there are exceptions to some of these, but here’s a start:
I should point out that until the military discontinues a cartridge, it is not available on the commercial market. Since the M855A1 is currently being used by the military, it is not legally available to civilians. If you find some for sale, it was probably “liberated” from a military locker or other storage. I’d recommend steering clear of it.
Controversy at the Lake City Plant Arsenal?
The government’s ammo plant administered by Winchester in Lake City, Missouri has come into the spotlight recently. In stories that are dated starting around this past June 17, we find that the Biden administration is actively pushing for the cessation of surplus M855 ammo sales to the civilian market. This is another attempt of that group of anti-gun individuals to deny ammo to law-abiding citizens, a back-door action that would effectively cut available AR ammo by about 30%. Without getting into the obvious gun-control aspects of this (I’m preaching to the choir), suffice it to say that this would seriously impact the price of other, available ammo.
The Lake City Arsenal has been around since 1941 to make ammo for the Army. As mentioned above, it is contracted to Winchester by the government and makes a huge chunk of the 5.56 that’s sold in the country. It produces, among other cartridges, the XM193 and XM855 rounds. (“M” means it’s mil-spec and “X” means it isn’t…? It might vary in one tiny area and not be suitable for military use. When you see the “X”, it generally means it’s similar to the military version but is destined for the civilian market).
One estimate is that, if this goes through like the folks in Washington would like, it will immediately impact 400 – 500 workers. In addition to denying the market of about 30% of the available 5.56 ammo, there is a darker result that would occur.
With the demise of all those jobs, we would in effect curtail the ability to ramp up production quickly in the case of a national emergency. This could be something like a conflict breaking out that we would become involved in, or other eventuality. An action like this is something that could very well impact national security. We need the ability to crank out millions of rounds of ammo quickly in such an eventuality and this would be severely impacted by the shutting down of ammo lines in Missouri.
An email or a call to your federal legislators might be in order.
Do you own an AR-platform rifle, carbine, or pistol? If so, do you shoot it? If you answered “yes” to both of these questions, you might want to check out green-tip ammo. I understand that many of you already shoot it, but if you’re a 55-grainer like many of us, you might want to give the green-tip 62-grain bullet a try.
The military has, for all practical purposes, phased M193 55-grain ammo out in favor of the M855A1 – which got its start as the plain-old M855 in 1970. There is a reason that they’ve done this… this stuff works. You might want to give some “greenies” a try. Let us know what you think, below!