Thursday, December 10, 2015

5.56mm vs. .223 Ammunition Revisited

Many months ago, we studied the differences between the 5.56mm. and the .223 cartridges. In that article, it was mentioned that the dimensions of the 5.56x45mm. NATO cartridge and the .223 Remington cartridge are almost identical. One reader of this blog, Mr. Mark Rohrer, recently commented in that article that he did the math and found out:
.223 in. and 5.56 mm are NOT the same diameter; .223 in. maths to 5.6642 mm and that is a significant difference of 0.1042 mm.
And if you do the calculations yourself, you'll notice that he's right (click here to verify, or you can calculate it yourself by knowing that 1 inch = 25.4 mm., therefore .223 inches = .223 * 25.4 = 5.6642 mm.). Also, if you do the calculations to convert 5.56 mm. to inches, you'll find that it is approximately .219 inches, not .223 inches.

So what is going on here? If .223 inches is bigger than 5.56 mm., how are the dimensions of the two cartridges nearly equal? This article explains everything about this mystery.

First, we go back to another article from a couple of years ago, where we studied how cartridges get their names. It was mentioned there that in the US, we tend to name cartridges after the groove diameter of the rifle barrel, rather than the diameter of the bullet, at least since around 1950 or so. On the other hand, in Europe (except in the UK), they tend to name their ammunition after the bore diameter of the rifle barrel. Since the specifications of the 5.56x45mm. cartridge came from Belgium, that means that the 5.56 part refers to the bore diameter of the barrel. And since the .223 was developed in the US off of a Remington cartridge, .223 refers to the groove diameter of the barrel.

So what is the bore diameter of a rifle (e.g. M16) that fires the .223 cartridge. Well, it just happens to be .219 inches, which translates to about 5.56 mm. when you convert it to millimeters. And the groove diameter of the same rifle barrel is .223 inches. So now we see where the 5.56 and .223 figures come from.

Now if you look at the specifications of the bullet in a .223 cartridge, the diameter of the bullet is actually specified as slightly larger than the groove diameter of the barrel. In fact, the diameter of the bullet is specified as .224 inches (or 5.70 mm. in metric). Now look at the actual dimensions of the two cartridges as specified by C.I.P standards. First, we have the specifications for a .223 cartridge:

Dimensions of a .223 cartridge per the C.I.P standards. Click on the image to enlarge.

The dimensions of this cartridge are specified in mm., in the above image, so we can easily compare it to the next image, which happens to show the specifications of a 5.56x45mm. cartridge per the C.I.P standards:

Dimensions of a 5.56x45 mm. cartridge per the C.I.P standards. Click on the image to enlarge.