Modern Firearms - Large caliber ammunition

Large caliber ammunition (cartridges) for heavy machine guns and anti-material sniper rifles

Below is the list of the most common ammunition types for large caliber (above 10mm) sniper / anti-materiel rifles and heavy machine guns, with brief historical notes and basic ballistic data. Please note that some numbers are rounded and are for comparative purposes only.


.408 Chey-tac / 10.4x77

.408 Chey-tac is a relatively new cartridge, purpose-designed for long-range sniper and anti-material work. It provides effective range close to 2 000 meters, and can be used against human and material targets alike. The only weapons to fire this ammunition are specially built precision rifles, usually bolt-action repeaters (although one or two semi-automatics also exist in this caliber). This cartridge is in limited use with elite counter-terrorism and VIP protection units in several countries across the world.


Designation Bullet weight, g Muzzle velocity, m/s Muzzle energy, J Comments
  19.76 1 067 11 260  
  27.15 915 11 365  

.416 Barrett / 10.5x83

.416 Barret is a proprietary cartridge, designed by Ronnie Barrett (of the Barrett rifles fame) to circumvent California state laws that prohibit citizens from owning long range target rifles chambered to .50 BMG ammunition. The .416 Barrett is based on the .50BMG case shortened and necked down, loaded with low-drag precision made bullets. So far it asw no noticeable military or special operations use, although it has significant potential for very long range (up to 2 000 meters or even further) sniper work.


Designation Bullet weight, g Muzzle velocity, m/s Muzzle energy, J Comments
  25.9 990 12 730  

.460 Steyr

This cartridge is also based on the .50 BMG case shortened and necked down. It was developed in Austria to provide extra-long range capabilitues for target and tactical shooters. So far no reports emerged on its service use, although the cartridge shows significant potential in its niche, with possible effective range extending up to 2 200 - 2 400 meters.


Designation Bullet weight, g Muzzle velocity, m/s Muzzle energy, J Comments
  34 945 15 200  

.5 Vickers / 12.7x81 / .5V/565 / 12.7x81SR Breda

The .50 Vickers cartridge emerged in 1921, as a new type of ammunition for heavy machine guns, intended for AA and ant-armor work. It was adopted by British army for use in AA (ground- and naval use) role and in light tanks. In tank use it became obsolete by the middle of WW2, and in Naval AA use it served a bit longer. Version of this cartridge, but with semi-rimmed case, was known as .5 Vicker export or .5V/565, and it was also used by several other European countries for aircraft and ground-based heavy machine guns (hence the alternative designation 12.7mm Breda, as the Italy was a major user of 12.7x81SR ammunition). It was used in a number of a heavy machie guns, mostly of British and Italian origin, and became obsolete soon after WW2.


Designation Bullet weight, g Muzzle velocity, m/s Muzzle energy, J Comments
Mk.IIz 37.6 775 11 280 Early British AP
.5V/565 36.5 760 10 540  

.5 Vickers class D / .5 Vickers HV / 12.7x120SR

The .5 Vickers class D ammunition (also known as .5 Vickers High Velocity) was developed in mid-1920s as a more powerful round for AA and anti-armor use. It was used in a limited production Vickers Class D heavy machine guns only, and is obsolete since the end of WW2.


Designation Bullet weight, g Muzzle velocity, m/s Muzzle energy, J Comments
  45 927 19 330  

.50 BMG / 12.7x99 Browning Machine Gun

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The .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) cartridge is one of the most sucessfull rounds in its class. Orginnally developed in 1918-1920 as a cartridge for a large caliber AA / anti-armor machine gun, it was standartised by US Army in 1921 along with Browning M1921 heavy machine gun, and is still in active service. It is also widely used in aircrafts during WW2 and Korea, and is still in wide use by various land and naval forces around the world. Most widespread weapon to fire this cartridge is a venerable Browning M2HB machine gun of US origins; few other machine guns were later developed to complement or replace M2HB but none succeeded so far. Since 1980s, the .50BMG also became increasingly popular as a long-range sniping / anti-material round, and several specialised loadings were recently developed for this purpose, such as Mk.211 Mod.0 Multi-purpose round by Raufoss. Another specialized round is SLAP (Saboted Light Armor Penetrator) with sub-caliber .30 / 7.62mm tungsten projectile inside plastic discarded sabot. This round can penetrate about 34mm of steel armor at 500 meters range (90 degree impact angle) and up to 23mm of same steel armor at 1200 meters.

Designation Bullet weight, g Muzzle velocity, m/s Muzzle energy, J Comments
M2 AP 45.8 857 16 820  
M8 API 40.4 888 15 900  
M903 SL:AP 23.3 1 220 17 360 Saboted Light Armor Penetrator
Mk.211 Mod.0 43.5 888 17 125 Raufoss Multi-purpose projectile (AP-I-Explosive)

12.7x108

This round was developed in USSR by early 1930s especially for the new heavy machine guns, to be used in ground support and AA roles, and latter also in aircraft armaments. Originally chambered in Soviet DShK-38 heavy machine gun, this cartridge found a wide acceptance in eastern hemisphere, asia and Africa. Machine guns for this round are still manufactured in Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and a number of other countries. Russia and China also developed several anti-material (sniper) rifles in this caliber. Ammunition in 12.7x108 is also manufactured in many countries around the world, but mostly in Eastern hemisphere.


Designation Bullet weight, g Muzzle velocity, m/s Muzzle energy, J Comments
B-32 48.3 820 16 240 AP-I bullet with hardened steel core
BS 55.4 820 18 625 AP-I bullet with tungsten carbide core

13.2x95 and 13.2x99 Hotchkiss

This round was developed in France during late 1920s especially for the new heavy machine guns. It was adopted by French army in 1930 along with the Hotchkliss heavy machine gun, and before WW2 it also gained popularity throughout several European countries and in Japan, mostly for AA or aircraft applications. After WW2 its popularity rapidly declined in favour of the American 12.7x99 / .50 BMG round, to which Hothckiss round has more than passing similarity. Today 13.2mm ammunition in both varieties (with 'long' 99mm and 'short' 95mm cases) is completely obsolete. No guns and ammunition in this caliber are made for many years.


Designation Bullet weight, g Muzzle velocity, m/s Muzzle energy, J Comments
- 52 800 16 640  

14.5x114

This formidable cartridge was developed in USSR shortly before WW2 for use in antitant rifles. While those rifles became obsolete by the 1942, it was decided to develop a machine gun firing this ammunition, to use it against low-flying combat aircrafts and variuos lightly armored ground targets. Such weapon was developed in USSR by 1944 but it sook several more years to finalize its design, and it was adopted by Soviet army shortly after WW2. It was (and still is) used as infantry support weapon, AA weapon and also a primary armament of many armored vehicles and personnel carriers (BTR-70, BTR-80). Standard loading for this cartridge is an AP-I (Armor Piercing Incendiary) bullet, with steel or tungsten carbide core. Penetration for such cartridge is usually quoted as 20mm or rolled steel armor at 800 meters at 90 degrees. Other types of bullets also exist, including API-T (tracer), MDZ (Instaneous Incendiary / Explosive, to be used against unarmored aircrafts). For many decates the Vladimirov KPVT was the only weapon in use to fire this cartridge (it was manufactured in USSR and China, and widely used throughout Warsaw pacdt countries and elsewhere). Today this old but formidable weapon is also accompanied by few anti-materiel rifles in this caliber, and a new indegenous Chinese AA machine gun.


Designation Bullet weight, g Muzzle velocity, m/s Muzzle energy, J Comments
B-32 63.5 990 31 120 AP-I bullet with hardened steel core
BS-41 66 990 32 340 AP-I bullet with tungsten carbide core
BZT 62 990 30 380 AP-I-T bullet

15x106 ZB / Besa

This formidable cartridge was developed in mid-1930s by Skoda factory in Czechoslovakia, for the proposed new heavy machine gun manufactured by ZB factory in Brno. Before the start of Ww2 this heavy machine gun was adopted in UK for tank armament as 15mm besa machine gun, and guns and ammunition in this caliber were manufactured in UK under license throughout first half of the WW2. Before WW2 Czech-made machine guns in this caliber were also exported in limited numbers to Yugoslavia and Iran. Apparently, no guns in this caliber were manufactured after WW2 and today this cartridge is completely obsolete.


Designation Bullet weight, g Muzzle velocity, m/s Muzzle energy, J Comments
  75 895 30 200