LAS VEGAS -- As the Army and Marine Corps look to lighten the infantry's load and boost maneuverability, one ammunition maker claims to have found the solution: ammunition cased in high-quality nickel, rather than brass.
The Chesapeake Cartridge Corporation is in the process of submitting its new line of nickel ammunition for testing by an unspecified Army organization, Ed Collins, Chesapeake's director for business development, told Military.com.
The rounds, with a nickel barrel and a cup made of aluminum plated in nickel alloy, are not only significantly lighter than the brass they aim to replace -- they're also stronger, cleaner and faster, he said.
"Nickel doesn't expand as much as brass. You're always leaving a little brass in the chamber, and you have more drag on the ejection," Collins said. "Nickel has a better springing capacity ... back to its original shape."
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Nickel also remains cooler to the touch when fired, minimizing the possibility that a shooter will get burned by a casing. The metal also has an innate "lubricity," meaning it fires more smoothly, with less friction, he said.
Then there's the weight issue. Nickel is naturally lighter than brass, Collins said, and since it's actually stronger, ammunition can be made with thinner walls. The company is working toward accomplishing a full 50 percent weight reduction compared to conventional brass ammo.
"Right now, we can save a [Squad Automatic Weapon] gunner, [M240 7.62mm machine] gunner 10 pounds per 1,000 rounds," Collins said.
While previous attempts have been made to manufacture lightweight ammunition with stainless steel, he said it was often unreliable, causing jams and proving vulnerable to case separations.
The high-grade metal that Chesapeake uses, he said, was not susceptible to these problems.
Chesapeake's big competition on the market is lightweight polymer cased ammunition. Made by companies such as PCP Ammunition, the polymer rounds purport to save the warfighter 30 percent in weight without any accuracy or feed problems.
However, Collins said polymer ammunition could prove brittle in extreme cold, a downside for combat.
"We think we're well ahead of them," he said.
Currently, Chesapeake manufactures its nickel ammunition in 9mm, .40-caliber, and 5.56 and 7.62 NATO, with more calibers coming available in the next few months.
Collins said the company has put its rounds through one period of testing with the Army, which identified some issues. There are plans in place to retest later this year, he said.
"We know what the problems were, and we've already fixed those problems," he said.