M855 vs M193: Mr. Guns ‘N Gear Take on It

Mr. Guns ‘N Gear (MGG henceforth) covers the pros and cons of M855 versus M193 5.56mm ammunition. There will be chronograph tests and ballistic gel tests, so buckle up. Today we talk about M855 vs M193.

The M193 is a standard 5.56mm round and was the standard for decades (in fact, up until 1982) for the US Military’s M-16 series, along with their other weapons in that caliber.

M855 on the left, M193 on the right.
M855 on the left, M193 on the right. M855 is better stabilized in barrels with faster twists. Both rounds will get the job at hand done.

In 1982, the M855 5.56mm round was adopted. The M-16-A2 was adopted by the Marine Corps in 1983 and 1986 by the US Army. The new rifle had a 1:7 twist rate to stabilize the heavier M855 projectiles (at 62 grains). The faster twist rate (the older M-16A1 had a twist rate of 1:12 inches) still stabilizes the M193 projectiles at 55 grains.

Chronograph Tests

For the chronograph tests, a few different barrel lengths were used to see how these variables affected the velocity of the M193.

*First up, a 16-inch AR-15 with M-193 yielded an average of 3,055 feet per second (FPS).

M193 shot through 16 inch barrel
M193 in a 16-inch barrel yielded 3055 feet per second.

*Next is a 16-inch AR-15 with M-855 for an average of 2,997 FPS.

Shooting M855 through a 16 inch barrel

*After that, he used an 11.5-inch barrel with M-855, which gave an average of 2,745 FPS.

M855 shot through 11.5 inch barrel
An 11.5-inch barrel with M855 produced 2,745 FPS.

*Next is the 11.5-inch barrel with M-193, which produced 2,847 FPS.

M193 shot through 11.5" barrel
With M193, the 11.5-inch barrel produced 2,847 FPS. Still enough velocity to get the job done.

To be honest, I expected a lot more velocity loss from the 11.5-inch barrel, but the velocity was higher than I would have guessed, which is a pleasant surprise.

Ballistic Gelatin

After looking at the velocity, MGG fired some rounds into ballistic gelatin. No, our bodies are not exactly the same as ballistic gelatin, but it gives us a rough approximation of how bullets perform in flesh. That ballpark idea can be helpful.

MGG using gelatin to check bullet performance
Mr. Guns ‘N Gear used gelatin to give us an idea of bullet performance in a target. No, it doesn’t replicate flesh precisely, but it gives a rough idea of performance. Both rounds performed adequately to get the job done. It’s difficult to say which one is technically “superior.”

*First into the gel is M-855 from a 16-inch barrel. It really starts to open up at the 4-5 inch mark and exited the block of gel around 15 inches, going through the table underneath.

*M193 from a 16-inch barrel was next into the gel, and it began to really open up around 6.5 inches. The permanent wound cavity extended to around 12 inches, at which point the round went out the bottom of the gel and through the table.

*M855 from the 11.5-inch barrel produced two separate wound tracks. It opened up around the 6-inch mark and produced a wide wound cavity of around 14 inches. The bullet (mostly intact, but with some fragmenting) came to rest at the 22-inch mark. Pretty impressive, considering the violent wound cavity initially, and then the following penetration.

*Next was M-193 from the 11.5-inch barrel gave us two distinct wound tracks. The bullet began tumbling around the 5-inch mark and produced a permanent wound cavity to the 13-inch mark. The mostly intact bullet came to rest at the 18-inch mark. Again, this is an impressive wound cavity.

Both rounds perform well enough to deliver decent terminal ballistics. Terminal Ballistics describes what a projectile does when it enters the target. We need the round to go far enough into the body to reach vital organs and cause blood loss. If the bullet happens to tumble, it helps to cause a stretch cavity, which adds to the damage.

Characteristics of the round – M855:

*Tends to penetrate more due to steel core. It’s an advantage on light armor or bad guys hiding behind light cover.

*Sufficiently accurate for combat. Usually more accurate at a longer distance than M193 because of better ballistic coefficient and heavier weight.

*Accuracy less affected by wind.

*Some ranges won’t allow it because they can penetrate steel targets and backers.

*Can be slightly more expensive than M193.

*Shoots more accurately in barrels with 1:7 and 1:8 twist rates.

*62 grains.

Characteristics of the round – M193

*Does not penetrate as deeply, deflects more easily.

*Sufficiently accurate for combat. In general, it is sometimes slightly more accurate than M855 at closer distances.

*In tissue, it fragments better than M855, causing more damage.

*More “range-friendly” because it does not penetrate as deeply, so less damage is caused to range facilities (ie., steel targets and backstops).

*Normally, M193 is slightly cheaper than M855.

*55 grains.

Both of these rounds work fine for two and four-legged predators. Of course, these are military rounds with a full metal jacket. As such, they are not the epitome of bullet performance, but they get the job done, for the most part.

There are commercially available rounds that offer far more wicked performance in flesh than these. Naturally, those rounds are more expensive. The viewer must ask himself if that extra performance is worth the higher price tag. For certain applications, perhaps it is. Maybe you’re shooting groundhogs or prairie dogs and want more explosive performance. Or perhaps you’re after a match-grade performance. There are projectiles on the market that address these jobs.

If, on the other hand, you are trying to build up your stocks for the Zombie Apocalypse (what’s that – you don’t believe in zombies? Silly boy!), then the military fodder will likely be a great base for you to build from. It’s way cheaper than high-performance 5.56/.223 ammo.

Another serious factor to consider is that the lighter varmint rounds behave in an explosive manner, and that may sound spectacular. However, for use against those who are trying to harm us, it may not be exactly what we want. A bullet that begins expanding immediately may not achieve enough penetration to effectively stop an assailant. We want something that will penetrate enough to reach vital organs to effect an immediate stop. And varmint rounds often do not achieve that performance. They’re designed to take out prairie dogs rather than people. Are these rounds harmless or useless? Not by a long shot. However, there are better choices for defensive use.

Personal Opinion

Personally, I do like the M855 for its better penetration. The idea of being able to shoot through more cover that the enemy is hiding behind appeals to me. The M855 does better against vehicles, glass, and such, which is a plus in my book. I like to punch holes in things and get the enemy.

As far as wounds are concerned, I’m not interested in killing my assailant(s); I’m interested in stopping them. If the bullet happens to exit, there are two holes in the bad guy, which means two holes through which blood can exit. I’m not concerned if a surgeon has to go in and remove a bullet; I want the bad guy to stop.

In an urban setting for home defense use, the M855 might not be the best bullet to use because it does penetrate more so than M193 and others. In such a case, I’d choose to use bullets that penetrate less to reduce the danger to nearby people. They might be less effective at stopping the bad guy, but I’d sacrifice effectiveness to minimize the effect on innocent people in such circumstances.

I’ve used both rounds in the past, but have more experience with the M193. It performed well overall in all the weapons that I used it in.

The reason that I have less experience with M855 is that, frankly, it’s been less available. I simply had a harder time finding it in my area. I do like the penetration advantages that it offers, as well as the ability to buck the wind at longer distances. That said, I live in a rural area, so the danger to innocents is less than someone living in a city apartment.

Last Thoughts on M855 vs M193

Try them both out and see what you think. As of this writing, 5.56 ammo is more available than it has been for a while, given the ammo panic that has beset the country in the past two years. Though prices are still pretty high, some calibers seem to be back in force, and the 5.56 seems to be among them.

Overall, this video was very interesting. I liked the fact that MGG used it to give us a vague idea of how the rounds perform in flesh. No, it’s not an exact replication, but it does give us some visuals as to how the rounds react comparatively. Additionally, the video is well narrated and carried out. Two thumbs up!

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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