In fact, I recently purchased two cans of 5.45x39 caliber ammunition with each can containing 1,080 rounds of Russian-made ammunition from Century Arms International for the amazing price of $106 per can. I doubt you could buy 1,080 rounds of 5.56 caliber ammunition for $106 dollars or even $158 dollars if you were directly related to the president of a major ammunition manufacturing company.
Two years ago the retail price for a case price for 1,000 rounds of 55-grain XM193 .223 FMJ ammunition was anywhere from $439 to $499 per 1,000 rounds. And one particular retail vendor was recently selling a 1,000-round case of Federal 5.56 ammunition for $799.97. Either way, no matter how you do the math the 5.45x39 ammunition is less expensive.
Yes, I know. Large law enforcement agencies buy ammo on special discounts and bulk discounts. They could still save money using 5.45 vs. 5.56/.223. Also, smaller agencies often require individual officers to buy their own ammo out of their allowance or out of pocket. Buying 5.45 instead of 5.56 for training could help those guys a lot.
Finally, the price of 5.56 is not heading anywhere but up. And that's if you can even get the stuff. Between two wars, the worldwide demand for copper (brass), and the panic buying in the gun enthusiast community that's been spurred by fear the government will restrict ammo sales, 5.56 rounds are not just expensive but really hard to find in quantity.
In contrast, 5.45x39 ammunition is generally available. And it's cheaper today than it was two years ago.
My point is that I would rather have a patrol or tactical rifle that went bang when I pulled the trigger, than have an armory full of rifles that I can't load.
Also, since 5.45x39 ammunition comes in sealed steel cans, this ammunition is ideal for long-term storage and will not be damaged if your storage facility is flooded. Oh and you can use a magnet to pick up the empty cases when you clean up your range after a training session because 5.45x39 ammunition is made with steel cases.
It Fits Your Stuff
The same optics and accessories that work on M16/M4-style rifles and carbines in .223/5.56 can also be used on the Smith & Wesson M&P15R.
This means that you can use the same optics, forward vertical grips, flashlights, rifle cases, tactical vests, and magazine pouches that you use for any M16 rifle or M4 carbine.
I installed a variety of optics including a Trijicon ACOG TA11 and an Aimpoint Comp M3 on my M&P15R. I am also a big fan of the Aimpoint Micro T1 and have no doubt that this optic would work very well on the Smith & Wesson M&P15R in any caliber.
In fact, next to using flip-up iron sights, using an Aimpoint Micro T1 will enable you to carry the lightest full-size M4 style carbine possible as long as you don't overload it with other accessories. In addition, you can use a removable carry handle on the M&P15R in 5.45x39. In fact, I just ordered one from Smith & Wesson.
I Bought One
If you are willing to think outside of the box, the Smith & Wesson M&P15R carbine in 5.45x39mm can be used to significantly cut patrol rifle training costs. Because this caliber is dramatically cheaper in price than American .223/5.56 caliber, I even suspect that in time you can pay for the rifle through the savings on ammunition.
To save even more money you can purchase the upper receiver of a Smith & Wesson M&P15R in 5.45x39 (from Smith & Wesson) and install the top portion of the Russian caliber rifle on any M4 carbine that is chambered in 5.56. If you have trouble mating an upper receiver in 5.45x39 to an M4 lower receiver in 5.56 caliber, Smith & Wesson suggests that you change the hammer spring to make the two parts fit properly. Smith & Wesson includes a hammer spring with every upper receiver in 5.45x39.
As a result of this test and evaluation, I purchased a Smith & Wesson M&P15R rifle in 5.45x39 caliber because I enjoy shooting M4 Carbines and I hate to limit this activity because I can no longer afford to blast away with .223/5.56 ammunition. Buying an upper receiver or a complete M&P15R rifle in 5.45x39 enables a dedicated M4 carbine shooter to continue training and cut costs.
Nick Jacobellis is a former police officer who was physically disabled in the line of duty while working undercover as a U.S. Customs agent. He is a frequent contributor to POLICE Magazine.
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