Cartridge Identification Specifications
.50 cal bullet cartridges come with different identification specifications and the extent of devastation depends on the types of the bullets. Here is a brief description of few of them.

The .50 caliber bullets are the standard ammunition for the .50 cal sniper rifles. Although the civilians in the USA can legally obtain these rifles along with .50 cal ammunition, they are basically army grade firearms. Huge impact, long range and accuracy of getting the target are some of the few qualities that make them the obvious choice of the military across the world!  They are typically employed to destroy such high value military targets as light armored vehicles, parking or taxing aircrafts, radar dishes and so on.

However, the devastating capacity of .50 cal rifles can be enhanced with the use of particular types of ammunitions. The cartridges for these powerful guns are produced commercially with different types of bullets and with different specifications. There are as many as twenty types of .50 cal bullets available commercially; the US military uses mainly eight types of them. The armor-piercing, incendiary, and combination armor-piercing and incendiary bullets are the most devastating in their impact.

In addition to the bullet, the .50 cal cartridge comes complete with the parts such as a cartridge case, primer and propelling charge. Since there are multiple types of bullets in use, there must be some identification mark to differentiate them from each other. That is why the rounds are given different colors on the tips.

As for example, the tip of the .50 cal bullet in Incendiary, M23 cartridge which is used against unarmored, flammable targets is painted blue with a light blue ring. Then there is Cartridge called Armor-Piercing-Explosive-Incendiary, M02 which is employed to destroy such targets as bunkers, lightly armored vehicles, and ground and aerial threat suppression. Here the bullet is to be identified by a gray over yellow tip.

The caliber 50 cartridge that can be identified with its black tip is called Armor-Piercing, M2 and it is used to destroy lightly armored vehicles, protective shelters, and personnel. When it comes to attacking of flammable targets, the Armor-Piercing, M2 Cartridges are used. It contains armor piercing round .50 cal bullets with silver tip.

A shooter must be familiar with the types of ammunitions he is using and its probable impact. So far as .50 caliber bullets are concerned, it is even more important to be aware of the cartridge identification specifications. The extent of devastation is largely determined by the type of bullet you are using with your sniper. The chemical plants or civil aviation targets are particularly vulnerable to the penetration of incendiary versions of .50 cal. bullets. In the face of huge misuse of the .50 caliber weapons in the hands of criminals and terrorists, many US states are taking strict measures to restrict the buying and selling of certain types of .50 cal bullets in the civilian markets.

.50 Caliber Cartridge and Specification

The caliber .50 cartridge consists of a cartridge case, primer, propelling charge, and the bullet. The term bullet refers only to the small-arms projectile.  There are eight types of ammunition issued for use in the caliber .50 machine gun. The tips of the various rounds are color-coded to indicate their type. The ammunition is linked with the M2 or M9 metallic links for use in the machine gun.

Ammunition for use in machine guns is issued in metallic link belts. Link belts are made of units of cartridges and links. Each link has two loops fitted around a single cartridge and one loop fitted around an adjacent cartridge. Each cartridge in a metallic link belt has two links attached to it, except the end cartridges.

Cartridge links are made of steel which is processed to prevent rusting. They are manufactured and tested to assure satisfactory ammunition feeding and functioning under all service conditions.

HEADING_TITLEM2 and M9 links are manufactured with closed loops. When assembled with the cartridge in belts, the links fit on the cartridge shoulder. The tapered front loops of the links are positioned firmly on the cartridge shoulder to hold the cartridge in proper alignment for feeding into the weapon. The design required the cartridge to be extracted from the rear and dropped into position for moving into the chamber for firing. Weapons designed for the links require additional space in the rear of the receiver for retraction. M2 and M9 links are used with the M2 machine gun only.



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The M15A2 link is manufactured with partially open loops and has a positioning finger on one side which snaps into the extractor grooves of the cartridge to retain the cartridge in proper feed alignment. The link design permits a portion of bolt to ride through link loop openings and push the cartridges forward and out of the link into the chamber for firing. The M15A2 link is used with the M85 machine gun.








Cartridge, Caliber .50, Ball, High Pressure Test, M1

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Used by all .50 Browning weapons. The cartridge is intended for use in proof testing weapons during manufacture, test, or repair.

The cartridge is identified by a stannic-stained (silvered) cartridge case.

Type Classification: STD - OTCM 36841

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Blank, M1

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Used by the M2 machine gun (flexible only). The cartridge is used to simulate firing in training exercises.

The cartridge is identified by the absence of a bullet and has crimped cartridge case mouth.

Type Classification: CONT - OTCM 36841

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Incendiary, M1

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Used by M2 and M85 machine guns. For incendiary effect, especially against aircraft.

Upon impact with a hardened or armored target, the incendiary composition bursts into flame and will ignite any flammable material.   Incendiary effect-especially against aircraft.

Incendiary composition: 34 grains (2.2 g) IM 11

The cartridge is identified by a blue bullet tip.

Type Classification: OBS - MSR 11756003

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Tracer, M1

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Used by M2 and M85 machine guns. The tracer is intended to permit visible observation of the bullet's in-flight path or trajectory to the point of impact. Limited to continental US for training purposes only.   To aid in observing fire-secondary purposes are for incendiary effect and for signaling.

Trace range: 1,969 yards (1,800 m)
Tracer: R256

The cartridge is identified by a red bullet tip.

Type Classification: OBS - MSR 11756003

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Blank, M1A1

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Used by the M2 machine gun with the M19 Blank Ammunition Firing Attachment, the M85 machine gun with the M20 Blank Firing Attachment, and the M107 Long Range Sniper Rifle. The cartridge is used to simulate firing in training exercises.

The cartridge is identified by the absence of a bullet. The M1A1 differs from the M1 in that the M1A1 has a rosette crimp at the mouth.

Type Classification: STD - MSR 02806015

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Ball, M2

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Used by M2 and M85 machine guns. The cartridge is intended for use against personnel or unarmored targets.  In marksmanship training, against personnel, and light material targets.

The cartridge is identified by a plain bullet.

Type Classification: STD - OTCM 36841

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Ball, Armor Piercing, M2

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Used by M2 and M85 machine guns. The cartridge is for use against light-armored or unarmored targets, concrete shelters, and similar bullet-resisting targets.   Against armored aircraft and lightly armored vehicles, concrete shelters, and other bullet-resisting targets.

Armor Penetration.
500 meters: 0.75 in (19 mm)
1,200 meters: 0.39 in (10 mm)

The cartridge is identified by a black bullet tip.

Type Classification: OBS - MSR 11756003

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Dummy, M2

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Used by all .50 Browning weapons. The cartridge is used for practice in loading for simulated firing and for inspecting and testing the mechanism of the weapon.

The cartridge is identified by three drilled holes in the cartridge case and the absence of a primer.

Type Classification: STD - OTCM 36841

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Ball, Armor Piercing Incendiary, M8

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Used by M2 and M85 machine guns, and the M107 Long Range Sniper Rifle. The cartridge combines the functions of the M2 armor piercing bullet and the incendiary bullet, and is used against flammable targets and light-armored or unarmored targets, concrete shelters, and similar bullet-resisting targets.   Combined armor-piercing and Incendiary effect.

Armor Penetration.
500 meters: 0.63 in (16 mm)
1,200 meters: 0.32 in (8 mm)

Incendiary composition: 15 grains (0.97 g) IM 11

The cartridge is identified by an aluminum bullet tip.

Type Classification: OBS - MSR 11756003

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Tracer, M10

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Used by M2 and M85 machine guns. The tracer cartridge exhibits a visible trace from a point not greater than 100 yards (91 m) from the muzzle of the weapon to a point not less than 1,600 yards (1,463 m) from the muzzle.

Tracer: R256

The cartridge is identified by an orange bullet tip.

Type Classification: STD - OTCM 37107

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Tracer, M17

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Used by M2 and M85 machine guns, and the M107 Long Range Sniper Rifle. The cartridge tracer is intended to permit visible observation of the bullets in-flight path or trajectory to the point of impact.

Trace range: 2,679 yards (2,450 m)
Tracer: R256

The cartridge is identified by a brown bullet tip.

Type Classification: CON - MSR 11756003

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Armor Piercing Incendiary-Tracer, M20

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Used by M2 and M85 machine guns, and the M107 Long Range Sniper Rifle. The cartridge combines the functions of the armor piercing and the incendiary bullet, and is used against flammable targets and light-armored or unarmored targets, concrete shelters, and similar bullet-resisting targets. This tracer is dim at near ranges, but increases to bright as it moves further from the gun.   Combined armor-piercing and incendiary effect, with the additional tracer feature.

Armor Penetration.
500 meters: 0.83 in (21 mm)
1,200 meters: 0.43 in (11 mm)

Incendiary composition: 27 grains (1.74 g) IM 161
Trace range: 328 - 1,914 yards (300 - 1,750 m)
Tracer: R256

The cartridge is identified by a red bullet tip with an aluminum colored ring to the rear of the red tip.

Type Classification: OBS - MSR 04776009

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Incendiary, M23

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Used by M2 and M85 machine guns. The cartridge is used against flammable targets. The cartridge is capable of initiating combustion of flammable materials upon target impact at 175 yards (160 m).

Incendiary composition: 90 grains (5.83 g) IM 28

The cartridge is identified by a blue bullet tip with a light blue ring to the rear of the blue tip.

Type Classification: STD - OTCM 36841

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Ball, M33

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Used by M2 and M85 machine guns, and the M107 Long Range Sniper Rifle. The cartridge is intended for use against personnel or unarmored targets.

Armor Penetration.
500 meters: 0.32 in (8 mm)
1,200 meters: 0.16 in (4 mm)

The cartridge is identified by a plain bullet tip.

Type Classification: STD - OTCM 36841

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Ball, Plastic Practice, M858

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Used by M2 machine gun with the M3 Recoil Amplifier. The cartridge is intended for scaled range training purposes, where range restrictions limit or prohibit the use of one of the other types of live ammunition.

Maximum range: 765 yards (700 m)

The cartridge is identified by the blue bullet and case which are molded into one piece with high density polyethylene plastic.

Type Classification: STD. Type Classification Date: 24-MAY-1983

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Tracer, Plastic Practice M860

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Used by M2 machine gun with the M3 Recoil Amplifier. The cartridge tracer is intended for scaled range training to permit visible observation of the bullet's in-flight path or trajectory to the point of impact. The cartridge is intended for use with the M858 Plastic Practice Ball Cartridge.

Maximum range: 765 yards (700 m)
Trace range: 22 - 164 yards (20 - 150 m)
Tracer: DAG9591254/4

The cartridge is identified by a red bullet tip and the blue bullet and case which are molded into one piece with high density polyethylene plastic.

Type Classification: STD. Type Classification Date: 24-MAY-1983

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Saboted Light Armor Penetrator (SLAP), M903

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Used by M2HB machine gun. The SLAP is used in combat against current and future light armored targets and Armored Attack Helicopters (AAHs). The M903 offers the capability to defeat these targets at ranges two to three times that of currently available ammunition.

Armor Penetration.
500 meters: 1.34 in (34 mm)
1,200 meters: 0.91 in (23 mm)

Projectile diameter: 0.30 inches (7.7 mm)

The cartridge consists of a heavy metal (tungsten) penetrator that is sabot-launched at a much higher velocity than standard rounds. The sabot, which is designed to break up at the muzzle to release the penetrator, must also survive the gun environment until launch. It is injection molded of special high strength plastic and is reinforced with an aluminum insert in the base section. The cartridge is identified by an amber sabot (Ultem 1000).

Type Classification: STD. Type Classification Date: 31-MAR-1993
Unit cost: $8.87 (Fiscal Year 2005)

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Saboted Light Armor Penetrator-Tracer (SLAP-T), M962

Used by M2HB machine gun. For use against light armor vehicles and aircraft with the additional tracer feature. This round is also for use in M1-series Abrams Tank gunnery training using a subcaliber insert.

Projectile diameter: 0.30 inches (7.7 mm)
Tracer: R543

The Saboted Light Armor Penetrator with Tracer (SLAP-T), M962 cartridge consists of a tungsten alloy penetrator of the same mass as the Saboted Light Armor Penetrator (SLAP), M903. The sabot, which is designed to break up at the muzzle to release the penetrator, must also survive the gun environment until launch. It is injection molded of special high strength plastic and is reinforced with an aluminum insert in the base section. The tungsten alloy penetrator has a slot in the base to insure full spin-up before separation from the sabot at the muzzle. The penetrator base is cored out to accommodate a trace mix composition.

The cartridge is identified by a red sabot (Ultem 1000).

Type Classification: STD. Type Classification Date: 31-MAR-1993
Unit cost: $12.85 (Fiscal Year 2005)

Cartridge, Caliber .50, Armor Piercing Incendiary (API), MK 211 Mod 0

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Used by M2 machine gun and the M107 Long Range Sniper Rifle. For use against light armored vehicles and aircraft. This cartridge provides improved penetration performance against enemy personnel and light armor vehicles.

Explosive: 13 grains (0.84 g) Comp A-4
Incendiary composition: 13.1 grains (0.85 g) #136

This cartridge is identified by green bullet tip identification paint. The projectile consists of a brass jacket surrounding a steel body and tungsten core with incendiary and high explosive charges.

Type Classification: STD. Type Classification Date: FEB-1996 (for U.S. Army)

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