The US Army appears to have found an environmentally safe copper-and-steel alternative to its lead rifle rounds, but that “green ammo” can’t be scaled up to replace larger, depleted uranium anti-armor munitions, Picatinny Arsenal spokeswoman Audra Calloway told me this week.
The rifle rounds, called M855A1 Enhanced Performance Rounds, contain only copper and hardened steel. They cost at least 5 cents more per bullet than traditional lead rounds., Calloway wrote by e-mail.
But they should not contribute to ground water pollution the way accumulated lead bullets have at some military ranges.
The steel is “not capable of defeating thick plate armors found on today’s modern tanks,” she said. For the time being, the Army’s sticking to Depleted Uranium (DU) 120 mm rounds.
Army’s Armament Research Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) is looking for alternatives DU, though.
In 2005, the Army thought they’d found a promising tungsten alloy to replace DU, but it turned out to be surprisingly carcinogenic and water soluble — not something the EPA wants to see accumulating in the soil and ground water at military reservations.
Asked what alloys were being considered to replace DU, Calloway was more circumspect.
“The research is looking at multiple materials and novel penetrator configurations,” she e-mailed Friday in response to a request for information about what alloys were being considered to replace DU rounds. “No specific solution has been determined yet. All proposed solutions will ensure the round meets performance standards as well as environmental requirements.”