What is Green Tip Ammo? Features and Functions

5.56x45mm NATO SS109/M855 cartridges with standard 62 gr. lead core bullets with steel penetrator

Green tip ammunition is a specific type of round commonly used in 5.56/.223 Rem caliber firearms, primarily within the AR platform.

This ammo is characterized by its green-colored bullet tip, which serves to identify it as part of a specific specification in manufacturing.

Companies such as Federal and PMC produce green tip rounds and refer to them as XM855 and M855, respectively.

The origin of green tip ammunition dates back to the 1980s when the U.S. military adopted the SS109 round as a replacement for the previous 5.56mm M193 round.

This change was meant to provide improved performance and ballistics, especially when fired from rifles like the M16 and M4 Carbine.

The green tip’s unique features include a steel penetrator at the tip of the bullet, altering its center of gravity and offering distinct advantages in specific situations.

However, it’s important to understand that green tip 5.56 ammunition may not be the best choice for all applications, such as self-defense.

Fragmentation and tumbling on impact are key characteristics of 5.56x45mm NATO rounds; however, the steel penetrator in green tip rounds may impact these features.

It is crucial for firearms enthusiasts to carefully consider their needs and intended uses when selecting the appropriate type of ammunition.

What is Green Tip Ammo?

Green tip ammo refers to a specific type of ammunition that is known for its distinctive green-painted tip.

This type of round is primarily used in 5.56x45mm NATO caliber firearms and is favored for its increased range of capabilities.

M855 Ammunition

M855 ammunition is a widely popular green tip round manufactured by companies such as Federal.

The M855 features a steel penetrator core, which is partially encased in a lead core and surrounded by a copper jacket.

This unique construction allows the M855 to retain its velocity and accuracy over longer distances, making it an ideal choice for various shooting applications, including military use.

This type of ammo is recognized as being reliable and producing minimal carbon build-up in rifles, resulting from its high-quality construction.

However, it is essential to note that M855 green tips were not specifically designed to penetrate body armor, and they have performed poorly in tests conducted against such obstacles.

SS109 Ammunition

SS109 green tip ammunition is similar to M855 in terms of its construction, featuring a steel penetrator core encased in a lead core and covered by a copper jacket.

However, the key difference between the two lies in the bullet’s design, with the SS109 having a slightly thinner jacket than the M855.

This difference in jacket thickness results in the SS109 projectile being less likely to fragment upon impact, which can lead to a reduction in terminal performance when compared to other 5.56x45mm NATO rounds.

Despite this, the SS109 green tip round remains a legal and widely available ammunition option for shooting enthusiasts and professionals alike.

Characteristics and Components

Green tipped cartridges

Bullet Design

Green tip ammo, also known as M855 ammunition, is a type of rifle cartridge designed with specific characteristics to improve its performance.

It features a boat-tail bullet design, which enhances its aerodynamics and contributes to a flatter trajectory.

This allows for greater accuracy and stability during flight compared to other bullets.

Steel Penetrator

One of the most distinctive features of green tip ammo is its steel penetrator tip.

This small steel tip, located at the front of the projectile, is designed to aid in penetration through barriers and light armor.

While it’s not considered armor-piercing by the ATF, it does provide enhanced penetration capabilities in comparison to traditional lead core bullets.

Full Jacketed Projectile

Another component of green tip ammo is its full metal jacket, made of copper.

The jacket provides additional strength and structural support to the bullet, ensuring that it maintains its shape and trajectory upon impact.

Not only does this help improve accuracy, but it also assists with penetration capabilities, as the jacket allows the projectile to pass through targets with minimal deformation and fragmentation.

Core Material

While the steel penetrator tip is the most distinctive characteristic of green tip ammo, the bullet’s core is primarily made of lead, just like other common rounds.

This combination of materials allows the ammunition to provide a balance between penetration and overall ballistic damage.

62gr Weight

Green tip ammo is typically manufactured in a 62-grain weight configuration.

This weight allows for an optimal balance between velocity and performance, ensuring that the ammunition can maintain its energy and momentum over longer distances.

The 62-grain weight is one of the reasons why M855 ammunition is favored in more professional or military settings where performance and reliability are vital.

Performance and Specifications

Rifle cartridges with a green tip and loaded magazine

Armor Piercing Capabilities

Green tip ammo, officially designated as M855, is a 5.56 cartridge with a 62-grain projectile and a partial steel core.

It is sometimes referred to as a “penetrator round” due to its enhanced ability to punch through hard targets.

However, it is essential to note that green tip ammunition is not considered armor-piercing, as its core is primarily lead.

Effectiveness Against Targets

Green tip ammo may not be the best choice for specific applications, such as hunting or home defense.

Its steel penetrator tip can cause the round to over-penetrate targets, which may result in reduced stopping power, creating potential hazards in a home defense scenario.

It is generally less effective against soft targets because it can pass through without causing significant damage.


The over-penetration issue is a concern when using green tip ammunition.

As mentioned previously, its penetrator tip allows the round to pass through hard targets, and this can also apply to barriers such as walls.

This makes green tip ammo less suitable for specific purposes like self-defense or hunting, where other specialized rounds would be more effective, like 55- and 62-grain bonded soft points.

Accuracy and Stabilization

Green tip ammunition offers good accuracy and stabilization in flight, thanks to its 62-grain projectile and full metal jacket design.

The accuracy and stabilization characteristics make it a suitable option for target shooting and training, but it is essential to use an appropriate barrel length and twist rate to achieve the best results.

Barrel Length and Twist Rates

The performance of green tip ammunition is affected by the barrel length and twist rate of the rifle it’s fired from. A longer barrel can provide higher velocities, but a proper twist rate is necessary to stabilize the 62-grain projectile.

M855 ammunition works well with twist rates approximately 1:7 and 1:9. Using a low twist rate might result in reduced accuracy due to inadequate stabilization of the projectile during flight.

The Controversy Surrounding Green Tip Ammo

This type of ammunition has been at the center of a heated debate due to concerns regarding its potential for misuse and the perceived threat it poses to public safety.

ATF Ban and Exemption

In 2015, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) attempted to ban M855 green tip ammunition, arguing that it should be classified as armor-piercing under 18 USC 921(a)(17) due to its ability to penetrate various forms of armor.

However, following a massive public outcry and strong opposition from various groups, the ATF decided to shelve its proposal, thus allowing the sale and use of green tip ammunition to continue.

Strict Regulations and Federal Law

Despite the exemption granted to green tip ammo, its classification remains a point of contention.

Some argue that it should be considered armor-piercing under the legal definition due to the materials used in its construction and its ability to pierce harder targets.

This distinction affects how it is regulated under 18 USC 921(a)(17), a federal law that governs the manufacture, sale, and possession of armor-piercing ammunition.

Debate on Second Amendment Rights

The battle over green tip ammunition is emblematic of a larger debate on Second Amendment rights in the United States.

Many firearm enthusiasts and proponents of Second Amendment rights view attempts to ban or restrict the sale of green tip ammo as an infringement on their constitutional right to bear arms.

They argue that the potential misuse of this ammunition should not result in blanket restrictions or bans, as it could create a slippery slope leading to further encroachments on their rights.

At the same time, opponents of green tip ammunition argue that its armor-piercing capabilities pose a significant public safety concern, and that reasonable restrictions on certain types of ammunition are necessary to balance the rights of individuals with the needs of society to maintain order and safety.

The controversy surrounding green tip ammo highlights the complex and often divisive nature of the conversation on gun control and Second Amendment rights in the United States.

While the issue remains unresolved, it continues to provoke passionate debate and differing opinions among various stakeholders.

Uses and Applications

5.56x45mm NATO SS109/M855 cartridges with standard 62 gr. lead core bullets with steel penetrator isolated on white background

Military Service and Law Enforcement

It was designed to increase range and accuracy for military service members and law enforcement officers.

The SS109 cartridge, a predecessor to the M855, boasts a steel penetrator tip that allows for better performance against certain barriers, such as windshields and thin metal.

Shooting and Range Practice

Green tip ammunition is often used for shooting and range practice due to its cost-effectiveness and reliability.

It generates less carbon build-up in firearms compared to poorly made ammunition, making it an ideal choice for those who frequently visit the range.

Hunting and Home Defense

Although green tip ammo is not designed for hunting or home defense, there are alternatives within the 5.56 NATO caliber that are better suited for these purposes.

For example, 55- and 62-grain bonded soft points are recommended hunting loads, as they provide better expansion and tissue damage in comparison to the steel penetrator found in green tip ammunition.

Home defense situations also call for a round that is more effective in stopping threats; green tip ammo is generally not the best choice, given its penetration capabilities and potential for over-penetration in a residential setting.

AR Platform Compatibility

Green tip ammunition is compatible with various firearms chambered in 5.56 NATO, including the popular AR-15 platform.

This means it can be effectively used in AR-15 rifles, AR-15 pistols, and .223 Wylde chambered firearms.

Other firearms that can accommodate green tip ammo include the Ruger Mini-14, Steyr Aug, and FN FNC rifle.

In conclusion, green tip ammunition serves various purposes, primarily focusing on military service and law enforcement, as well as range practice.

It is essential to consider the specific use and firearm compatibility when choosing ammunition, and alternatives within the 5.56 NATO caliber are recommended for hunting and home defense scenarios.

Comparing Green Tip Ammo

M855 vs M193

The M855 and M193 are two popular types of ammunition for the AR-15/M16 platform.

The M855, commonly referred to as green tip ammo, is a 62-grain 5.56x45mm cartridge featuring a steel-tipped, lead-core bullet designed for better penetration.

The M193, on the other hand, is a 55-grain cartridge that lacks the steel tip.

When choosing between the two, consider your rifle’s twist rate. M855 rounds tend to work better in rifles with faster twist rates (1:7 or 1:8), while M193 rounds are more suited for rifles with slower twist rates (1:9, 1:10, or 1:12).

Green Tip vs. FMJ Rounds

Green tip ammo is known for its steel tip, which makes it different from Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) rounds that have a full copper jacket.

The steel tip improves penetration, particularly through intermediate-hard barriers, such as car doors, walls, or thick clothing.

Both green tip and FMJ ammunition are widely used for target shooting and plinking because they are typically more economical than other types of ammo.

However, green tip ammunition is not considered armor-piercing by the ATF, and is generally considered legal for civilian sale and use in the United States.

.223 Wylde vs. 5.56x45mm NATO

The 5.56x45mm NATO is the standard cartridge for NATO forces, and it is what green tip ammo is typically chambered in.

The .223 Wylde, however, is a hybrid chamber designed to safely accommodate both .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO rounds.

While both cartridges are similar in size, the 5.56 NATO typically operates at higher pressures than .223 Remington.

A rifle chambered specifically in .223 Wylde can typically handle the pressure of 5.56 NATO rounds, including green tip ammo, while still maintaining the accuracy of .223 Remington rounds.

When using green tip ammunition, always ensure that your rifle is compatible with 5.56 NATO cartridges or has a .223 Wylde chamber to avoid potential damage or unsafe conditions while shooting.


In summary, green tip ammo is a type of 5.56 cartridge known for its partially steel core and ability to penetrate hard targets.

Originally named SS109, it was adopted by the US military in the early 1980s to replace the M193 5.56 ammo.

It is worth noting that green tips were not developed to pierce body armor but were instead used by NATO to increase the range of FN Herstal rifles and FN Minimi Machine Guns.

Green tip ammo, such as the XM855 from Federal and the M855 from PMC, is known for its reliable performance and reduced carbon build-up in rifles.

Contrary to misconceptions, the ATF clarifies that green tip bullets are not armor-piercing, which is why they remain legal for purchase within the United States.

In conclusion, green tip ammunition is a popular and effective cartridge choice for many gun enthusiasts and professionals.

As with any type of ammunition, users should research their specific firearm’s compatibility and intended application to ensure the best performance and safety.

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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