September 21, 2010: The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have parted company on the issue of what kind of rifle ammo is best for the troops. The army began to ship lead-free M855A1 5.56mm bullets to its troops over the Summer. The marines went with a slightly more expensive Mk308 (or SOST) round, that SOCOM (Special Operations Command) recently developed. SOST contains lead, but SOCOM considers it more effective in combat than any other 5.56mm round.
All this came about because of years of political pressure on the army to use non-lead bullets. That's because training and combat use of army 5.56mm weapons puts 2,000 tons of lead back into the environment each year. This lead was originally taken out of the environment to be temporarily stored in the form of bullets.
While this non-lead policy burnishes the army's image and environmental cred, it also provides troops with an inferior bullet; the M855A1 copper alloy slug. But inferior to what? Well to a another new bullet. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has developed a new 5.56mm bullet, the SOST (Special Operations Science and Technology) round. The SOST bullet solves a problem the M855 has long had, the inability to penetrate things like automobile windshields. SOST uses lead, and also has more killing power than the M855 (that did not inflict as much internal damage, and bleeding, as 7.62mm and 9mm rounds.) The M855A1 didn't solve these problems, but it was "green" (less polluting).
The U.S. Marine Corps was going to switch to the M855A1, but changed their minds when they found out about the SOST round. Army troops would like a heavier M855A1 bullet, not really caring if itÂ’s made of lead or copper. Soldiers would like the SOST round, but the only army personnel getting that are Special Forces troops. The army has spent over $32 million developing the M855A1. SOCOM spent a lot less developing SOST, which has a bullet that weighs as much as the M855A1 slug, but is based on a popular hunting bullet design (the Federal Trophy Bonded Bear Claw). SOST is more accurate than the M855A1, as well as being deadlier and having greater penetrating power.
The army is still working on an environmentally correct 7.62mm round, and ignoring troop requests for the SOST round. There have not been a lot of complaints from troops about the M855A1 round. That's because the times that the older M855 round caused problems were few. Moreover, the M855A1 was specifically designed for the shorter barreled M4 rifle that most army troops carry. Most marines carry the longer (by about 100mm/4 inches) barreled M-16. But for the moment, the marines and SOCOM troops have a more polluting round that is more problem free, which can save a few American lives over time. The enemy, of course, has no lead-free rounds at all.