Some Brief Observations on the Performance of South African 5.56x45mm Ammunition
By Dave Markowitz
A few months ago, I purchased two "battle packs" of 5.56x45mm ball ammunition made in South Africa in the early 1980s. Each battle pack held 300 rounds sealed in an air-tight and water-tight heavy plastic bag. Inside each bag were 10, 30-round cardboard boxes of ammunition. This ammo, officially designated as M1A2, is equivalent to the the U.S. M193 ball -- a 55 grain FMJ-BT bullet at about 3100 - 3200 feet per second from a 20 inch barrel. Muzzle velocity from the 16 inch barrel of my Bushmaster Dissipator would be somewhat less, probably in the neighborhood of 2600 - 2700 fps. When the packs were opened, the brass was in pristine shape. The priming is non-corrosive.
I finally got to try out this ammo recently. I put 180 rounds of it thru my Dissipator last Sunday, and it worked flawlessly. I do not yet consider this rifle broken in, since it now only has a total of 290 rounds through it. However, this performance reflects well on both the rifle and the ammunition. I will probably pick up some more of this ammountion.
I can't say if the South African ammo is particularly accurate, since I was practicing my offhand rapid fire at only about 40-45 yards, and I was shooting at paper plates. I will have to do some serious benchrest testing to see what the accuracy potential is.
One thing I found very interesting was a chance demonstration of the .223's tactical penetration -- or lack thereof, at least with this load. I was shooting at a friend's place (he's in a rural area and has about 8 acres) and a white birch sapling about 4 inches in diameter was a few feet behind our target frame. Several 5.56 mm rounds impacted the birch. Glancing blows took out chunks, but at least one round impacted dead center, and it did not completely penetrate the tree. There is no question that it was a .223 fired from my rifle that day, as no one had shot in that area of the property previously. Also, my friend was shooting a No.4 MkII Lee-Enfield in .303 British, so we know that his rounds would've penetrated clean through the sapling, and then some.
It would be interesting to experiment with different kinds of wood. For example, live white birch is pretty hard stuff. A soft white pine should probably offer less tactical penetration. Also, it would be interesting to try different kinds of ammo, to see, for instance, if the US M855 (SS109) lives up to its reputation.
I admit that this may not be especially scientific, but it lends some credence to those who argue that the .223 offers insufficient tactical penetration for military use. However, this characteristic could be useful in civilian scenarios, where excessive penetration is a concern. It just goes to show you that you need to match your weapon/ammo combination to the task at hand.
In the meantime, I will keep my Garand and .30 M2 Black Tips ready, just in case I really need to reach through and touch someone. <g>
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