One of the biggest budget concerns facing law enforcement agencies is the rising cost of ammunition. Even individual law enforcement officers have to be concerned about the cost of buying the ammunition they need to remain proficient with their firearms. When the skyrocketing cost of ammunition stretches your budget to the max you can cut back on training, you can stop carrying certain firearms, or you can become resourceful. I advocate being resourceful.

I'd like to discuss a somewhat unusual rifle choice that can help law enforcement agencies and individual officers realistically cope with the rising cost and shortage of .223/5.56 patrol rifle ammunition. I believe the solution to this problem is for law enforcement agencies to field the Smith & Wesson M&P15R M4-style carbine chambered in 5.45x39mm-the caliber used by the Russian Federation Armed Forces. Before you say this guy is crazy and turn the page, hear me out.

Great Training Tool

The semi-automatic M&P15R in 5.45x39 is virtually identical to the M&P15 (M4) in 5.56 caliber. In addition, this rifle is basically the same as every other M4-style carbine. This means that the manual of arms, sights, operating features, and the disassembly procedure are identical.

One minor difference between the M&P15R in 5.45x39 and an M16 rifle or M4 carbine in .223/5.56 involves the need to clean the barrel with a product like

M Pro 7, soap and water, or diesel fuel when you use mildly corrosive/corrosive 5.45x39 ammunition. Once the barrel is clean and dry the final maintenance step involves applying a light film of oil or lubricant to the barrel to preserve the steel and prevent corrosion.

As far as training to qualify is concerned, it is important to note that 5.45x39 caliber comes in different bullet weights just like the 5.56 caliber does with the most popular being the 53-grain load. It is also important to note that the Smith & Wesson M&P15 (M4) in 5.45x39 is just as accurate as any standard M4 carbine chambered in 5.56mm or .223 caliber. This means that you can practice with an M&P15R (M4) in 5.45x39 to reduce the cost of training and use an M4 in 5.56 as your actual patrol or tactical rifle. Both M4s have the same controls, the same look, the same feel, and even similar recoil.

Even the magazines used in the Smith & Wesson M&P15R in 5.45x39 look identical to 30-round M16/M4 magazines. Yeah, I know, that's a potential problem.

But it's easily solved. To prevent confusion, mark the 5.45 magazines with colored red tape or red paint. You can also identify the caliber of the magazines by examining the base plates.

Tactical personnel also need to take note that when the Smith & Wesson M&P15R in 5.45x39 and a standard M4 carbine in 5.56 were both test fired with a suppressor attached, the M&P15R in 5.45x39 proved to be a bit quieter than a suppressed M4 carbine chambered in 5.56.

Saving Money on Ammo

The M&P15R in 5.45x39 allows U.S. law enforcement officers the ability to train with a rifle that is virtually identical to their M4/M16/AR-15 patrol rifles in 5.56 except 5.45x39mm ammo is at least 50 percent less expensive than 5.56.

To prove this point all you have to do is compare the price of ammunition and you will find that a case of 1,080 rounds of 5.45x39 generally has a retail price of $154 to $187, with the most expensive case of 5.45x39 ammunition costing $239.[PAGEBREAK]

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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