There’s no way around it — ammunition is heavy, sometimes really heavy, when carried in bulk and off to war.
Take the venerable M2 .50 caliber machine gun for example. Not only does the heavy machine gun itself weigh nearly 85 pounds, but with its tripod tips the scales at nearly 130 pounds. On top of that, belts of .50 ammunition weigh around 30 pounds. A single M2 with one belt of ammunition weighs nearly 250 pounds. In the future, however, belts of Marine Corps .50 Browning ammunition could become much lighter.
How exactly the Marine Corps would like to shave precious pounds off their ammunition won’t easy.However, one company that could provide a solution to the Marine Corps’ weight problem however is True Velocity, a Texas-based ammunition manufacturer that produces a pretty strange-looking kind of ammunition.
Their ammo is dimensionally identical to current ammunition calibers, though the glaring difference is their white-colored cartridge, made of polymer. Quite a few calibers are available — including .50 BMG.
By exchanging brass casing for polymer, True Velocity ammunition is much lighter than traditional ammunition — and would in theory allow grunts to carry around more ammunition than would otherwise be possible.
Not a Big Deal?
The Marines are already familiar with using polymer materials for weight savings. Marines are authorized to use polymer Magpul magazines for both training and combat, as it is a robust, light weight alternative to legacy metallic magazines. The company’s products are well regarded for the rugged design, and the Marines warmly received the move to authorize the company’s magazines.
Another solution could be to substitute the relatively heavy brass cartridge case for a lighter-weight metal like aluminum. Though certainly much lighter than brass, aluminum corrodes, necessitating a non-corrosive surface treatment with another metal, like nickel.
Although weight savings gained through lightweight ammunition would be of obvious benefit to Marines on the ground humping around ammunition, there would also be a huge logistical benefit as well. Lighter ammunition weight translates into higher mobility and more fuel savings, a particularly important advantage when considering strategic airlift capabilities.
Despite the weight savings offered by polymer ammunition, several questions about lightweight ammunition remain. Namely, what would happen to plasticized ammunition during extended firing? Brass ammunition cases certainly become very hot — sometimes too hot to comfortably handle. Would polymer ammunition melt? Environmental questions have also been raised — while brass is environmentally inert, plastic ammunition could become a new source of plastic pollution.
Though it remains to be seen what the Marines’ potential .50 caliber ammunition would look like exactly, achieving significant weight savings could prove to be a boon to the Corps, both to the Marines on the ground lugging ammunition, as well as from a logistical transport standpoint. Either way, the Marines stand to gain.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.