Inter-corps rivalry isn’t all football games and bar fights. When it comes to strategic integration on the battlefield, getting all the military’s playas on the same page is a life and death business. Good luck with that. The various branches of the U.S. military are constantly fighting for resources, and arguing about which resources they should use. To wit: the U.S. Army’s gone for the M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round in a big way. It’s mean, it’s green and the Army’s dead keen. They’re buying 200 million rounds in the next year, replacing the Cold War-era M855 round. As the marinecorpstimes.com reports, the Hoorah team is going another way . . .
The Corps had planned to field the Army’s M855A1 until the program suffered a setback in August 2009, when testing revealed that some of the bullets did not follow their trajectory or intended flight path. The bismuth-tin slug proved to be sensitive to heat, prompting Marine officials to instead choose the enhanced Special Operations Science and Technology (SOST) round developed by U.S. Special Operations Command.
The SOST round isn’t environmentally friendly, but it offered the Corps a better bullet that was combat-ready. The Corps bought 4.5 million SOST rounds as an “interim enhanced capability.” They have been available to Marine grunts in Afghanistan since this spring, and “are available in theater in sufficient quantities to support current force structure into the next year,” said Jerry Mazza, head of the ammunition program at Marine Corps Systems Command, out of Quantico, Va.
Meanwhile, the Army’s suppliers have addressed the M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round’s deficiencies, ditching the bismuth-tin slug for a copper one. The Marines are testing that new cartridge, even as they collect battlefield data on their SOST round.
Col. Randy Newman, who oversaw some of the Corps’ largest combat operations this year as commander of Regimental Combat Team 7 in Afghanistan, offered a tepid endorsement of the SOST round in a Dec. 7 interview. He said his units did not receive the round until late spring, and available data about it is limited.
“We believe it’s going to give us a capacity to be more effective, but I don’t know that I had long enough to collect data on it to say definitively how much more effective in Afghanistan,” he said.
In other words, the battle to become the U.S. military’s new round is in rounds. There’s no clear winner on either the political or the practical fronts. Watch this space. Meanwhile, FYI: “At 62 grains, [the SOST round] weighs about the same as most legacy NATO rounds, and has a typical lead core with a solid copper shank. It’s considered a variation of Federal Cartridge’s Federal Trophy Bonded Bear Claw round.”