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Green Tip 5.56 NATO (M855): What Is it? What Is It Good For?



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“Green tip” 5.56x45mm NATO rounds, properly called M855 rounds, have been a subject of much debate and controversy in recent years. To help clear the air (as much as we ever can around an issue like this, anyway), we wanted to take this time to talk about all things green tip.

We’ll cover what exactly it is, why it’s such a spicy topic, what you can actually shoot it out of, and more. Let’s dive right in.

WHAT IS GREEN TIP 5.56?

Originally called SS109, when it was introduced in the 70s, what we currently know as M855 or Green Tip 5.56 ammo was originally developed by the Belgians, and then passed NATO certification trials and was adopted formally. 

It was then picked up by the US to replace generally low-quality M193 5.56 ammo in the early 80s, rechristened the M855, and was off to the races. 

Incidentally, the green tip that has become somewhat iconic (and apparently scary) in the years since came about as a result of the US military wanting a way to differentiate the newer M855 from the older, crappier, M193, which was mostly relegated to training use and National Guard units.

Ammo manufacturers quickly started making M855 for the civilian market, and like most gun-related bits and bobs the military uses, it quickly caught on and started selling like hotcakes…well, if people actually bought hotcakes.

Knight’s firearm collection is unparalleled. Here’s an Armalite AR-15, serial number 000001, rescued from a storage closet at Fairchild Corporation. It was a prototype of the 5.56mm rifle that would become the U.S. Army M-16.

A few companies started putting an “X” in front of the name, changing it to XM855, basically just to denote that it was being sold to civilians. It’s not actually any different, so don’t panic if you see it on a shelf or in a product listing somewhere.

In the years since, even though M193 isn’t used by the military anymore, M855 has kept the green tip in order to differentiate it from other rounds like M995 “black tip” ammo, which is actually armor piercing. 

Oh yeah, we should mention: Green tip ammo isn’t armor-piercing, by almost any definition. 

I mean, yeah, if you go back in time to the Battle of Hastings, Agincourt, or any other medieval conflict featuring knights in plate armor…you could do some damage. Today though, M855 has a much harder time against modern body armor.

That’s because most of the round is in fact just lead like any other, so you don’t really get the armor-piercing effect of a steel penetrator or tungsten core that could actually defeat kevlar or steel plates. Basically, M855 sucks against armor, which is why we have M995.*

*If you’ve ever played Escape From Tarkov, you probably already knew that.

The round does have a 7-grain semi-steel core, but it's such a small percentage of the round that it doesn’t really change armor penetration characteristics an appreciable amount.

But there are a lot of things in this world that isn't “armor”. What is the difference between cover and concealment? You won't know until you shoot it.

Sure, the 7-grain penetrator isn't useful against “armor”, but it does penetrate other stuff better than 55gr ball. If you're in a situation where shooting through a car door, cinder blocks, or dry wall is important — M855 does it better than M193. It isn't amazing at it, there are better tools for the job, but for 5.56 NATO that you can afford, M855 isn't bad.

Today, M855 has been the subject of debate in Congress and online because some folks have attempted to label it an armor-piercing round. The ATF was then caught by their own regulations of what defines an armor-piercing round, and the fact that M855 doesn’t meet said definition.

Will that change? Who knows. It doesn’t seem to be a big priority right now, and M855 is easily purchasable through a variety of retailers. ATF regulations, as we all know, are always subject to change and reinterpretation. 

WHAT IS GREEN TIP 5.56 GOOD FOR?

Shooting. And maybe SHTF. Technically, M855 is better at penetrating barriers like thin walls and car doors than normal 55gr lead 5.56 is, but this really isn’t an attractive characteristic for most normal shooters.

This is bad for home defense since you run a much higher risk of overpenetration through walls. Even if you’re not worried about overpenetration, M855 isn’t advantageous on soft targets, either. Because of the steel penetrator, M855 normally acts more like an ice pick when it hits soft tissue and just pokes a hole straight through. In other words, it’s not a great pick for stopping bad guys.

One small problem with M855 is that not all shooting ranges allow you to use it. The steel tip isn’t really “armor piercing,” but it is damaging to steel targets and is a higher fire risk than standard ammo. Because of this, a LOT of public and private ranges ban the use of this ammo since they don’t want their targets damaged or the land burnt down.

No M855!

So if it’s bad for home defense and hard to plink or train with… why get it?

Well, there is still SHTF. If robots take over the world or shooting through car doors and soft cover becomes a core part of your daily life, M855 will help. That's one of the reasons it's popular with tin-foil-hat people “Preppers”.

The big reason M855 was popular was because it was cheap. Or at least cheaper. But while that was almost always true pre-COVID, it isn't so much anymore.

As of 6/12/2024, M855 can be had online for about 39.5 cents per round. The cheapest newly manufactured brass cased .223 Remington starts at 38 cents per round.

Since we’re still in an ammo shortage, the prices aren’t great. Before COVID, I remember seeing M855 for five or more cents less than other comparable options. 

WHAT CAN YOU SHOOT GREEN TIP 5.56 IN?

If you want to shoot Green Tip 5.56x45mm NATO, otherwise known as M855 or XM855, you have a couple of options. 

First, if you have any 5.56x45mm gun, you can run this ammo. That means almost all of your off-the-shelf AR-15s, Ruger Mini-14, Steyr Aug, any of the 2.6 billion 5.56 AR-15-style rifles out there, etc. If it’ll handle any 5.56x45mm ammo, it can shoot green tip ammo.

MPVO (2)
Not an AR-15, still 5.56 NATO

Technically, 5.56 NATO ammo shouldn't be used in .223 Remington chambers. The details are a little more… fuzzy than that, but let's just say don't do it.

That said, you can also shoot green tip ammo out of a .223 Wylde chamber if you have one of those lying around. 

The .223 Wylde chamber combines some of the geometry of the 5.56 chamber with some of the throat dimensions of the .223 Remington chamber to create a chamber that can handle higher pressures while keeping the accuracy advantages of the .223 Remington chamber.

LOOSE ROUNDS

Hopefully, that clears the air around the M855 round! This simple little loading has been the subject of much-heated discussion, which always brings with it a host of misinformation, even from well-intentioned folks. 

Now you should know all the important bits, and feel better about running this ammo in your guns. 

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6 Comments

  • American Patriot says:

    Don’t know where you’re getting your information from but I’ve never seen green tip ammo cheaper then typical 5.56 for .223

    • WB says:

      I also haven’t seen any brass case .223/5.56 for 30 cents a round for years now. This whole article reads like it was wrote five years ago and they just decided to post it.

      • David Lane says:

        As stated in the article, prices were checked that day. I see multiple retailers with new brass case 5.56 M855 for 29.5 cents per round.

    • David Lane says:

      Ammoseek has multiple listings right now.

  • Pete Sheppard says:

    Actually, M193 is not ‘crappier’ than M855. It’s just 7 grains lighter, and does not have a steel insert.

  • Dracula99 says:

    The author of this article obviously doesn’t understand Terminal Effects and the penetration capabilities of the M855. Yes, the round is no longer effective against new ceramic-based body armor however, it is still extremely effective against even the newer UHMWPE composite materials and can penetrate up to 1″ thickness of the newest and best commercially available materials.

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  • Don't know where you're getting your information from but I've never seen green tip ammo cheaper then typical 5.56 for .223

    • I also haven't seen any brass case .223/5.56 for 30 cents a round for years now. This whole article reads like it was wrote five years ago and they just decided to post it.

      • As stated in the article, prices were checked that day. I see multiple retailers with new brass case 5.56 M855 for 29.5 cents per round.

  • Actually, M193 is not 'crappier' than M855. It's just 7 grains lighter, and does not have a steel insert.

  • The author of this article obviously doesn't understand Terminal Effects and the penetration capabilities of the M855. Yes, the round is no longer effective against new ceramic-based body armor however, it is still extremely effective against even the newer UHMWPE composite materials and can penetrate up to 1" thickness of the newest and best commercially available materials.

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