The U.S. Military acquires millions of rounds of ammunition every year for everything from training to combat. Despite some performance improvements, the vast majority continues to be normal ball and tracer rounds. Sometimes, however, the mission calls for something different, and that is where specialty ammunition providers like Nammo come into play.
What makes Nammo different from other military cartridge producers is that we focus on specialty ammunition. While giant factories like Lake City Army Ammunition Plant (LCAAP) in Independence, MO (U.S.), turn out millions of general-purpose rounds, Nammo concentrates on products that can defeat armor, incapacitate air and ground vehicles, lighten the load and make training more effective.
Nammo is a relative newcomer but with a long legacy. The company started in 1998 by combining military ammunition businesses in the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden and Finland. Originally short for “Nordic Ammunition Company,” it today includes factories that have been building bullets, charges and cartridges for hundreds of years. In the 21 years since its founding, Nammo has grown to include factories in Germany, Spain and the U.S. Today Nammo has operations at six locations in the U.S., including: Mesa, AZ; Columbus, MS; Salt Lake City, Utah; Scranton and Moscow, PA; and most recently in Bay St. Louis, MS, following the acquisition of polymer cartridge manufacturer MAC LLC, today owned 55% by Nammo.
Combat Effective Ammunition
One of the key products Nammo delivers to the U.S. Military is 5.56mm and 7.62mm Armor Piercing Ammunition. These rounds feature Tungsten carbide (WC) penetrators that punch through light steel armor plate and virtually all building materials—even reinforced concrete. The M995 (5.56mm) round is compatible with standard weapons such as the M16/M4 family of rifles and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) system. The M995 can penetrate armor up to ½-inch thick including “improvised armor” attached to commercial vehicles—think pick-up trucks with steel plates covering the doors. Similarly, the M993 (7.62mm) can be used with the M240 machine gun, M134 Gatling gun, all varieties of 7.62mm marksman and sniper rifles and the SCAR-heavy. The M993 can penetrate up to ¾ inch of RHA at 100m and can stop a vehicle with shots to the engine block.
Nammo also makes .338 diameter AP projectiles and ammunition under the Lapua brand. These rounds are generally intended for anti-materiel purposes. High value targets such as RADARS, communications vehicles and data systems are no match for a .338 Lapua Magnum or .338 Norma Magnum round fired from almost a mile away.
In the 1980s, Nammo’s predecessor company, Raufoss Ammunition, developed the MK211 .50 caliber round by scaling down a 20mm Multipurpose Aircraft cartridge. Known ever since as the “Raufoss round,” it maximizes the effectiveness of a .50 cal sniper system, an M2HB or its cousins, the M3, GAU-19 and GAU-21. This is the round that keeps armored personnel carrier drivers and passengers up at night. The Multipurpose technology includes a Tungsten carbide penetrator combined with an incendiary compound and a high explosive.
When the projectile strikes a target, the impact energy ignites the incendiary—part of which acts as a fuzed delay for the high explosive. In the meantime, the Tungsten carbide penetrator punches through the armor making a hole where the blast, blast fragments and incendiary join armor spall to create an “extreme effect” on the other side.
The current version of the Raufoss round will penetrate 22mm (0.86 inch) of armor plate at 200m (~220 yards) and will punch through multiple layers of brick and adobe, not to mention lighter materials like wood. Because of its unique construction, tight tolerances, rearward center of gravity and the concentration of mass near the axial centerline, MP rounds are extremely accurate when used in .50 cal sniper systems.
Training and Low-Collateral Damage Cartridges
Several training scenarios require a different style of ammunition to preserve training ranges, limit surface danger zones or protect the shooter.
First are situations where the range (including the size of the Surface Danger Zone, or SDZ) is necessarily small. This can occur when a training range is needed close to a base, when the local population is encroaching on an existing base or when the total size of the ranges is fixed, but more smaller “sub ranges” would allow more individuals and units to train at once. For these situations, Nammo makes Reduced Range (RR/RR-T) ammunition. These cartridges, available as ball and tracer, allow for realistic weapon firing for a few hundred meters (7.62mm) or up to 1500m for .50cal but with a total danger zone that is less than half of that for a standard round. Nammo’s solution uses spin dampening “flutes” at the front of a lighter-weight projectile with a “non-boat-tail” rear. This allows the projectile to start out like a regular round but with a lower ballistic coefficient (BC) and a fast-decaying spin rate; once it passes the training target it soon slows and hits the ground. In addition to use in training, these rounds have been used in combat situations where civilians are near the combat zone or when delicate or expensive equipment is nearby—think ship defense when in port.
Another situation where a less destructive, shorter range round is needed is close combat training—especially in shoot houses. It is important the ammunition enables realistic training but with little damage to the training structure and a reduced risk of injury/death of the participants who are working in close quarters. For these scenarios, Nammo makes Plastic Short Range Training Ammunition (PSRTA). The body of these cartridges and the plastic projectile are made in one piece. Upon firing, the plastic bullet separates from the case and accelerates down the barrel. These rounds are still lethal at very close range, but when fired from at least a meter away, they don’t penetrate shoot house building materials and the ricochets have a low probability of causing a serious injury (but please, keep your safety glasses in place).
Nammo continually asks, “What do warfighters need to do their job better?” With the U.S. military’s experiences since 2003, two specific requests top the list: lower weight and reduced signature.
An ammunition cartridge has four components: a bullet, smokeless powder, a primer and a cartridge case. Carrying ammunition in bulk is expensive and heavy. The weight of the ammunition alone is a significant part of the more than 75 pounds an infantryman is typically asked to carry. Both the powder and the bullet are more effective in proportion to their mass. That is, in general, a bigger projectile going faster is better. The primer doesn’t have much mass, so that leaves the cartridge case—a part of the system that just “sits there.” Its job is to provide a container for the bullet, powder and primer and to provide a seal against the gasses inside leaking out of the weapon breech. As long as the case can still function reliably, lighter is better.
As it happens, brass is a very special material. When it is worked it becomes very hard, but when annealed by heat it becomes soft and ductile. That is just what a cartridge case needs—a material that is hard where the primer is installed and the case is extracted, but soft to hold and then release the bullet. The Nammo/MAC polymer case incorporates a conventional hardened brass head with a polymer case body that seals the high pressures and grips the projectile.
Currently, special units and the U.S. Marine Corps have procured .50 caliber MAC polymer, lightweight-cased cartridges, and the U.S. Army is working on 7.62mm cases. The concept has been demonstrated for 5.56mm, intermediate calibers, .300 Blackout and even some medium caliber (30mmx173) ammunition.
In addition to the weight lost in the case, Nammo has developed a lightweight .50-caliber polymer disintegrating link to replace the M9 steel/phosphate-coated link. The lightweight link reduces the system weight by around 6.5 percent, reduces loads (due to weight) on the weapon and eliminates weapon wear caused by the steel-to-steel scratches. Bonus: a polymer link does not ever rust like a steel M9 link does once the phosphate coating is compromised.
Reduced Signature Ammunition
Nammo is a leader in reduced signature ammunition and has developed dim tracer, or IR (infrared) tracer, in all NATO calibers. Dim tracers are only seen through night vision devices (NVDs), a technology that was perfect for the asymmetric warfare of the last two decades. We could see them, but they could not see us. IR tracers are also excellent for use by gunners behind .50 caliber machine guns at night, since normal tracers can blind gunners using NVDs.
To help maintain the advantage, Nammo has been involved with the U.S. Army in developing One-Way Luminescence (“OWL”) tracers that trace in the visible spectrum but limit the angle at which the tracer can be seen—meaning from behind or side. This technology, when perfected, will allow friendly troops to see where the tracers go but will not allow the enemy to see where the rounds came from—even if they are a near-peer adversary with NVDs.
Similarly, Nammo has been involved in work to eliminate “muzzle flash” for tracers. Muzzle flash is the bright light caused by burning material outside of the gun barrel after the bullet exits the muzzle end of the weapon. Such flashes make it very easy for the enemy to see the shooter’s location. The flash can be created by the way smokeless powder burns and creates oxygen-starved intermediate combustion products. Those hot intermediate products ignite when the oxygen in the air becomes available outside of the barrel. Most of this kind of flash has been eliminated by improved propellants that burn more completely inside the weapon. An additional source of flash, though, is due to a small amount of tracer material that is broken off of the bullet before it leaves the barrel. The bullet experiences high shock loads, high gas pressure and violent burning on its surface which can cause small chunks to break off. Nammo has improved the tracer manufacturing process to eliminate the flashes so that now machine gunners who are otherwise hidden are virtually invisible.
It is fitting that the first ammunition product produced by any of Nammo’s current factories was percussion caps, starting as early as 1828 in Germany. Replacing the venerable flintlocks, percussion cap rifles gave a significant advantage on the battlefield through dramatically improved reliability in all weather conditions. While technology certainly has changed since then, Nammo’s mission remains the same—to provide a reliable advantage to the U.S. and its allies by delivering advanced specialty ammunition and tools essential to properly train the modern warfighter, today, tomorrow and in the future.