What Is NATO Ammo?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), also named as the North Atlantic Alliance, is a military alliance between 30 member states. 28 of these are European, alongside the United States and Canada.

NATO is a system of security for each member state.

What Is NATO Ammo

Formed after World War II in response to the Cold War threat from the Soviet Union, the fundamental principle is for each nation to agree to defend each other if they are attacked by a third party. 

With the main emphasis being on military prowess and helping other nations through military means, there have been some distinctions made between ammunition used by NATO forces. 

This is known as NATO ammo.

Basically, NATO ammunition is in reference to the small-sized arms cartridges implemented by the NATO member states.

Interestingly, there are differences between these NATO cartridges and civilian examples.

Read on as we discuss what NATO ammo is in greater detail and discover the differences between this type of ammunition and others around the world.

NATO Ammo Explained

NATO ammo is just as the name suggests. It is ammunition used by each member state in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

When inspecting NATO ammo, you will find the NATO name on each cartridge. This is one simple way of distinguishing it from other examples of ammunition.

Although NATO is imprinted with the NATO name, that doesn’t mean that all NATO member-states use the same ammunition over and over again.

Each country uses a wide range of ammo in their small arms systems. All in all, there are five unique and specific cartridges that are standardized for member states to use.

These are:

  1. 9x19mm NATO
  2. 5.56x45mm NATO
  3. 7.62x51mm NATO
  4. 12.7x99mm NATO
  5. 5.7x28mm NATO

9x19mm NATO, 5.56x45mm NATO, and 7.62x51mm NATO contain civilian variations. These cartridges are linked to US civilians more than other states.

This is because the US has more guns per person than other NATO member states.

The 9x19mm (Parabellum) NATO

cartridges are used with guns such as:

  • .223 Remington
  • .308 Winchester

9x19mm NATO is the specification  used by the military for ammunition based on either 9.19mm Parabellum or 9x19mm Luger. 

9x19mm Parabellum ammo comes in a wide range of bullet weights, powder charges, and types of projectiles.

On average, 9mm NATO ammo produces around 4% more pressure than its commercial counterparts. Because of this higher pressure, the recoil is somewhat higher, too.

In a modern handgun, 9x19mm NATO ammo is typically safe to use. But, for older designs,  such as a Luger P08, or worn guns, this ammo should be avoided.

5.56x45mm NATO

is the military equivalent of a .223 Remington. This is, in fact, the standard service rifle cartridge of all NATO member states.

As with 9x19mm NATO ammo, 5.56x45mm NATO is loaded to a higher pressure overall than its civilian parallel.

Early incarnations of a .223 Remington are not deemed safe to use with 5.54x45mm NATO ammunition, but the modern 5.56mm or .223 weapons can be used safely. Currently, the .223 Remington is considered as a lower-pressure example of 5.56x45mm NATO, making it ideal for training and target practice. 

7.62x51mm NATO

acts as the military equivalent to .308 Winchester. Again, there is a difference between the military and civilian cartridges. 

Although the standardization is a little different, the difference of 3% in the maximum chamber pressure is only slight. 

12.7x99mm NATO

ammo is not something many civilians will ever use. This is the military parallel to .50 BMG, but it is sometimes designated .50 Browning. 

.50 BMG has been used in service by the US military since the early 1900s. Therefore, various pressure standards have been introduced over the years for the cartridge.

But, although there are these multiple standards, just about every .50 BMG military and civilian weapon today has the same ratings as NATO pressures. Simply put, you can shoot any 19.7mm NATO cartridge in any .50 BMG firearm. 

5.7x28mm NATO

cartridges are used for personal defense. Designed in 1990 by FN Herstal, they were first used in the FN Five-seven and FN P90.

Officially used by NATO since March 2021, the standards submitted to SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute) and CIP (Commission Internationale Permanente pour l’Épreuve des Armes à Feu Portatives or Permanent international commission for small arms proofing) have not changed.

Both have the same specifications in regards to the maximum pressure of 345 MPa or 50,038 psi. 

Generally speaking, there is no main difference in the pressure of civilian and military 5.7x28mm ammo. 

What Is NATO Ammo (1)

NATO Ammo VS Civilian Ammo: The Differences

While there are key differences between commercial and military-spec ammunition, there are actually some similarities. 

One similarity is the cartridge dimensions. NATO cartridges tend to contain the same measurements as their civilian counterparts.

Therefore, firearm chambers from a civilian weapon can accept and fire the cartridge and vice versa.

Take the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge and the .223 Remington cartridge. These are practically identical. But, that’s where the similarities tend to stop, and the differences start to creep in.

When we consider military cartridges, they often contain different types of powders and levels of performance. 

In the US, civilian cartridges generally follow the standards set out by SAAMI. But, cartridges made in other regions of the world typically follow CIP standards.

This is no surprise as SAAMI is a firearms testing and standards organization based in the US, whereas CIP is its European counterpart, based in Belgium. 

In general, there are a great deal of military cartridges that are illegal for civilians to own. This is mainly down to legislation against such ownership in certain regions.

In Summary

So, now you know – NATO ammo is simply the military equivalent of civilian cartridges. Aside from having NATO on their cartridges, military cartridges are almost indistinguishable from their civilian counterparts. 

Overall, if a civilian firearm is in good condition and considered modern, NATO ammunition can be safely used.

Matthew Osborn

Matt is an entrepreneur who has created and successfully exited multiple companies and brands. Now, he dedicates his time to Legionary, where he produces content on guns, family, and freedom.

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