U.S. Army Unveils 'Green' Ammo

U.S. Army Unveils 'Green' Ammo

Sure, they’re designed to fly fast and kill swiftly, but that doesn’t mean they have to cost a lot to produce or clean up after. In a multimillion-dollar project, the Army has come up with a new bullet said to be just as deadly as the old lead-based one but cleaner for the Earth.

"We want to be good stewards of the environment," Army spokeswoman Karen Baker said in wire reports.

The military says using "green ammunition" cuts soil contamination caused by the millions of slugs fired year after year at its practice ranges. In the new bullet, a less toxic tungsten composite replaces the lead.

It's just one of the Pentagon's efforts to keep troops trained for combat while protecting the environment on military land. Critics say the armed forces have a long way to go on that score.

In a program it says has cost about $12 million so far, the Army in 1994 started researching ways to make a more environmentally friendly 5.56mm bullet. It's used in the M-16 rifle, a weapon issued to every Army infantry soldier, and an estimated 200 million rounds are shot a year.

Researchers studied combinations of metal to design a slug that would perform the same as the old one, have the same density, ballistic quality and so on, said Michael Dette of the Army Environmental Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

They settled on a tungsten composite slug and kept the old copper casing to produce a bullet Dette says actually turned out to be more accurate and causes less barrel corrosion. Soldiers won't notice a difference, he said.

Lead-Free by 2005

The Army, which produces ammunition for all the services, started limited use of the new version in 1999 and is producing 50 million rounds this year for practice at a new range in Alaska and an old contaminated one in Massachusetts.

Officials hope the switch to lead-free slugs will be complete in 2005.

The new bullets cost about 8 cents each compared with a half cent for the old ones. Dette said they'll cost less in full production and when officials consider the savings of millions of dollars that would otherwise go for cleaning contaminated ranges.

The 5.56mm bullet accounts for half the small-caliber ammunition used annually — troops shoot another 200 million rounds of 7.62mm and 9mm bullets, not to mention mortars, artillery and other large ammunition.

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