The weight of carrying ammunition can be a burdensome task.
Just ask the guy carrying belts of 7.62 mm around his neck. Or the boffins who have to calculate the fuel costs of getting a division's worth of 5.56 mm to warzones like Iraq or Afghanistan.
All that brass and all those pellets come in incredibly heavy. That has all sorts of consequences ranging from transportation costs, the ease of distributing it to those who need it, and of course, the infrastructure required for stowage.
So perhaps it is no surprise then that munitions suippliers and the Ministry of Defence alike have a genuine business interest in reducing the weight of ammunition.
And that starts with the individual round.
Ammunition experts at BAE Systems explained how their prototype lightweight case could help to solve some of those issues.
How Heavy Is A Playing Card?
Two bullets. Placed side-by-side it is hard to see any significant differences.
One of them, the standard 5.56 mm round, used by the British Army on range days and operations, weighs in at 12.7 grams. But the other, BAE System's new prototype lightweight round, weighs just 10.9 grams. A weight loss of 1.8 grams.
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Although it is only the equivalent of a single playing card, and while you might be forgiven for thinking, why all the fuss, the benefits to such a saving soon becomes clear.
In discussing this, BAE Systems said those benefits are "plentiful," adding:
"Any reduction in equipment weight, often referred to as 'dismounted infantry load', makes mobility easier and allows greater tactical flexibility."
While there are many pieces of equipment that add to the overall load on a soldier, one common denominator across the services is ammunition. The cartridge case makes up most of the round. It is, therefore, the most logical area for munition experts like BAE Systems to aim their weight reduction efforts towards.
A spokesperson at BAE Systems said:
"Our Lightweight Case reduces the weight burden on a soldier. For example, a soldier carrying a typical 300 rounds would benefit from a weight saving of 0.54 kgs, easing their burden or allowing them to carry an additional 50 rounds for the same weight."
Their lighter weight cartridge, developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence, outperforms heavier all-brass ammunition and they say can further push the boundaries of the 5.56 mm ballistics envelope.
Saving On The Cost Of Fuel
Taking a bigger-picture perspective, the company says that when a Chinook is tasked to carry seven pallets of its new lightweight ammunition to frontline fighting troops, the weight saving multiplies to a not-so-insubstantial 1,092 kgs – or to put it more crudely, more than a tonne.
As slight as is the mass of a playing card, that individual weight loss per bullet means that a Chinook could transport an additional 100,183 rounds. It is an obvious win for both defence planners in Whitehall and commanders on the ground. This results in more ammo for less money.
What Are The Environmental Benefits To Lighter Ammunition?
Whether it's weight-saving at the front or cost-cutting at the back, there are additional and timely benefits behind BAE System's new lighter ammunition. One of those benefits is the environment.
BAE System's says their new lightweight cases can be manufactured quicker and requires less equipment to produce, adding:
"Stainless steel is environmentally neutral and therefore spent cases will not leach toxins into the water system and environment.
"Stainless steel is also infinitely recyclable."
George Schofield, Lead for Light Munitions at BAE Systems, said:
"We have been successfully manufacturing brass cases at BAE Systems since 1940. To see this level of innovation delivering multiple benefits to our soldiers is fantastic.
"Working collaboratively with the Ministry of Defence to utilise the latest in material technology, we are able to offer a weight saving and performance improvement which is market-leading.
"We have more innovations in development and that makes it a really exciting time for Small Arms Ammunition."