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Polymer-coated .50 caliber rounds weigh about 3.2 ounces, approximately 25 percent less than brass-cased rounds.

Ammo maker developing lighter rounds for special ops

MAC-ammo_rgbBy LISA MONTI

Ammunition makers have been trying for 50 years or more to develop bullets that are lighter to carry and transport than the conventional brass encased ones. Until recently, though, the right material to replace the brass hadn’t been invented.

When the owners of Mississippi Polymer Technologies in south Mississippi took on the challenge to produce lighter ammo, they considered it a sideline to their polymer manufacturing business. But with research and development funding from the U.S. Marine Corps, the focus shifted.

“One thing led to another and we wound up with MAC, LLC becoming a full-time investment in the ammunition business,” said Joe Gibbons, a company founder and manager of the Port Bienville Industrial Park plant. He and Nick Maljkovic, MAC’s president, worked together at Mississippi Polymer Technologies, which was bought by Solvay S.A. They opened MAC in 2007.

MAC has at least a couple of advantages over ammo manufacturers: the patented lightweight polymer called Radel to encase the round and experience in materials science. “That allowed us to make some breakthroughs that the more traditional ammunition guys weren’t able to do. They had no background to find the right polymer to replace the brass,” Gibbons said. “Right now our patents help protect us from competition.”

MAC also is developing and producing a subsonic round, the 300 AAC, for the Navy SEALS that can be fired silently.

The company has also achieved a major requirement by making the ammo stand up to extreme temperatures. “We appear to have solved that,” Gibbons said. “This is a big part of the reason for very heavy interest from ours and foreign militaries.”

The ammunition MAC developed and is producing is undergoing qualification testing primarily by the U.S. Marines and U.S. Special Ops groups. The polymer-cased rounds range in size from 5.56mm for standard rifles to the .50 caliber machine gun shells.

“We basically are a startup, slowly entering the field, primarily through special ops forces. They are doing the first field tests of our ammo,” Gibbons said.

The light weight of the polymer coated rounds makes it easier for soldiers and helicopters to haul and to move large quantities, Gibbons said.  A .50 caliber plastic rounds produced by MAC weighs about 3.2 ounces, approximately 25 percent lighter than the conventional brass ones.

MAC develops, manufactures and tests the ammo in a 30,000-square-foot facility on a five acre site inside Port Bienville Industrial Park in Hancock County. The privately held company has 16 employees who are all shareholders.

MAC is capable of producing 10 million .50 caliber rounds annually and can ramp up production as needed.

“Basically we are order driven. As orders come in we ramp up,” Gibbons said.

“I think we could probably grow it to 30 million at our facility. Ultimately if we grow more, we have to expand outside our current footprint.”

The production process starts with injection molding of the basic polymer portion of the round (“caselet”). “Then we machine the metal base, assemble the base to the plastic to make the case and then we load the ammo with propellant, primer and the projectile is last. Then we ship it,” he said. Typically the rounds are shipped via a Defense Department designated carrier.

The rounds are tested with automated equipment by MAC for waterproofing and for proper dimensions and they have to be fired to test for accuracy. Most firings are done indoors but some is done at private ranges near the facility.

MAC has a technology investment agreement administered by the Air Force and the Marines are its primary customer. Their use of the ammunition is part of the process of qualifying the ammo for use by other branches of the service. “It’s mostly special ops unit and primarily helicopter guys now,” he said. “As far as fielding right now, we expect it to be fully qualified.”

Once the ammunition meets qualification standards, federal law enforcement agencies including the FBI and Homeland Security will be able to buy it. Those agencies also are testing the ammo now.

“In the short term I think we’ll see a slow, steady growth of orders from special ops and we anticipate final qualification at the end of 18 months from the Marines. Then all the other units can start purchasing it,” Gibbons said.

About Lisa Monti

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