7.62x39 vs. 5.56x45 : Which Cartridge is More Effective?
7.62×39 vs. 5.56×45: Which Cartridge is More Effective? This article dives into a detailed comparison of two widely used cartridges in automatic firearms.

5.56×45 mm and 7.62×39 mm are the most popular automatic firearm cartridges. First the NATO assault rifle cartridge. The second is commonly associated with the AK-47 and its clones.

Due to its time-tested quality, many armies and police groups use these two cartridges. Good firing range, precision, and lethality have made ammunition popular. Both cartridges have unique attributes.

Both are good in specific ways. Internet debates regarding which cartridge is best to continue today. Finding the truth in a discussion is tough. Much depends on the shooter’s training, weapon expertise, and the weapon itself in actual battle.

Automatics/assault rifles are nearly typically built-in 5.56 (NATO) or 5.45 (Soviet/Russian systems), while sniper weapons and machine guns are still presented in 7.62×51 (NATO) or 7.62×54 ( Russia). First, we’ll discuss intermediate cartridges’ pros and cons.

When did the most common intermediate cartridges appear?

5.56×45 mm and 7.62×39 mm are standard intermediate cartridges. The Soviet intermediate 7.62×39 mm 1943 type is the grandfather. 

The USSR’s development of the 7.62-mm intermediate cartridge opened new doors for constructing automatic weaponry. This cartridge was adopted in 1949 for the Kalashnikov assault rifle, AKA The AK-47. Post-war, the 7.62×39 cartridge was frequently used with the AK. So widely that in the 1960s, NATO countries had to consider adding it as an automated cartridge.

However, it never came to that. In large part due to the appearance of the intermediate low-pulse cartridge 5.56×45 mm. This cartridge was developed in the USA in 1959 and went into production in 1961. 

The cartridge was created based on the existing hunting ammunition .223 Remington. As with the Kalashnikov assault rifle, ammunition proliferation was facilitated by developing effective small arms. For this cartridge, Eugene Stoner developed almost all of his small arms models, including the famous M16 assault rifle

The cartridge was widely supplied in NATO countries in the 1970s, and by the mid-1980s, it had become standard for all NATO countries. The same conclusions preceded the development of intermediate cartridges in the USSR and the USA. Existing rifle cartridges were potent for modern models of automatic weapons. 

Standard NATO cartridge 7.62×51 mm was overly heavy, affecting troop ammunition. This was unacceptable under new war conditions. Intermediate cartridges lowered weapon bulk, recoil, and burst fire range. The 7.62-mm cartridge weighed more than the 5.56-mm.

7.62x39 vs. 5.56x45 : Which Cartridge is More Effective?

16 vs. 12 grams doesn’t seem like much. One hundred cartridges made a 400-gram difference. Consider the shooter’s eight regular magazines. The discrepancy is much more pronounced because portable ammo has gained a kilogram.

This is already very important for long march-throws. So, until 1974, the USSR also made a caliber 5, 45×39 mm intermediate low-pulse cartridge that is even lighter at 10 grams. 

Also Read:

AK-47 vs. M16: Which one is Better?

What are the pros and cons of cartridges 7.62×39 and 5.56×45

Both intermediate cartridges are utilized by world militaries today. It’s hard to say which is superior for the typical shooter, owing to bias and personal preference.

To avoid this, it is common practice to rate ammunition in three main categories: power, recoil, and accuracy. With these categories, it is easier to make comparisons since all three parameters can be quickly evaluated both in theory and in practice.

The low-impulse intermediate cartridge 5.56×45 mm has advantages. Its bullet is nearly twice as light as 7.62×39 mm. Despite increasing flying speed, recoil impulse decreased.

7.62x39 vs. 5.56x45 : Which Cartridge is More Effective?

This had a positive effect on the accuracy of shooting from automatic weapons. The automatic machine is trivially less shaky when firing in bursts. 

It became more comfortable for the shooter to fire, scattering decreased, and therefore, the probability of hitting the target increased. In addition to everything else, the trajectory of the board has improved due to the higher speed of the bullet. 

A shooter using 5.56mm ammo is easier to aim, as fewer corrections for windage or elevation need to be made. This is especially important for long-range shooting. 

The average speed of the bullet of the 7.62×39 mm cartridge is 720 m/s; for the bullet of the 5.56×45 mm cartridge, it is 1006 m/s. At 100 meters, neither cartridge reduces the bullet’s trajectory, but at 250 meters, the 7.62 mm bullet is decreased by 40 cm.

The bullet’s trajectory of the 5.56 mm cartridge is gentler and provides a longer-range effective direct shot. At a distance of up to 250 meters, it practically does not decrease. Despite all this, the most prevalent automatic cartridge remains the Soviet 7.62×39 mm, which expanded thanks to the AK-47 and its licensed and unlicensed clones.

This ammunition also has some good things about it. First, and most obviously, is the weight of the bullet. This caliber is the best to use if you shoot at a target with body armor. A heavy bullet keeps its power much better at long ranges, making it a better killer and stopper.

Lower ricochet risk and more stable obstacle clearance are advantages of 7.62×39 mm ammunition. The bullet boldly overcomes thickets, leaves, and branches, while the 5.56-mm bullet can drastically change its trajectory due to a minor block.

Boards and bricks for 7.62mm ammo are often surmountable. When hitting a bone, such a bullet is more dangerous. Low-pulse intermediate-caliber cartridges impact soft tissues more severely.

The 7.62×39 mm cartridge has a higher recoil. Strong recoil makes it difficult to make a clear second and third shot, depending on the weapon and the shooter’s ability to fire accurately in bursts.

Low-pulse intermediate cartridges have a flatter trajectory, making it easier for mass armies with a conscription system to train. Not for nothing is the 5.45 mm cartridge, Russia’s most popular. The military is considering returning to 7.62 mm or producing new ammo.

If we sum up the results by comparing the three main criteria, everything here is quite simple. The intermediate cartridge 7.62×39 mm wins in power but loses to 5.56×45 mm in accuracy and recoil.  For the average shooter, the intermediate low-pulse cartridge 5.56×45 mm and its Russian counterpart 5.45×39 mm are preferable when firing at long distances.


In conclusion, the article provides a comprehensive overview of two of the most popular intermediate cartridges used in automatic firearms: the 5.56×45 mm and the 7.62×39 mm. The history, development, and characteristics of these cartridges are discussed, along with a detailed comparison of their advantages and disadvantages.

While the 5.56×45 mm offers greater accuracy and a flatter trajectory, the 7.62×39 mm is favored for its power and ability to penetrate body armor. Ultimately, the choice between these cartridges depends on the shooter’s specific requirements and the firearm’s intended use.


What are the primary differences between the 5.56×45 mm and 7.62×39 mm cartridges?

The 5.56×45 mm cartridge is lighter and has a higher velocity, offering better accuracy and a flatter trajectory. In contrast, the 7.62×39 mm cartridge is heavier and has a slower velocity, providing greater penetration and stopping power.

Which cartridge is better for long-range shooting?

The 5.56×45 mm cartridge is generally better for long-range shooting due to its flatter trajectory and higher velocity, which minimizes bullet drop and wind drift.

Which cartridge is more commonly used in military and law enforcement applications?

Both cartridges are widely used in military and law enforcement applications, but the 5.56×45 mm is more commonly used by NATO forces, while the 7.62×39 mm is more commonly associated with Russian and Eastern European forces.

What are some popular firearms that use the 5.56×45 mm cartridge?

Some popular firearms that use the 5.56×45 mm cartridge include the M16, M4 Carbine, and various AR-15 variants.

What are some popular firearms that use the 7.62×39 mm cartridge?

Some popular firearms that use the 7.62×39 mm cartridge include the AK-47, AKM, and various AK-74 variants.

Are there any drawbacks to using the 5.56×45 mm or 7.62×39 mm cartridges?

Both cartridges have their drawbacks. The 5.56×45 mm cartridge may lack the stopping power desired for certain applications, while the 7.62×39 mm cartridge may have more recoil and a less accurate trajectory.

What factors should be considered when choosing between the 5.56×45 mm and 7.62×39 mm cartridges?

Factors to consider include the intended use of the firearm, the shooter’s preferences and capabilities, and the availability of ammunition and firearms chambered for each cartridge.

Is there a preferred cartridge for military and law enforcement applications?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as different agencies and organizations may have different requirements and preferences. However, the 5.56×45 mm cartridge is more commonly used by NATO forces, while the 7.62×39 mm cartridge is more commonly used by Russian and Eastern European forces.

What are some common misconceptions about the 5.56×45 mm and 7.62×39 mm cartridges?

Some common misconceptions include the idea that the 5.56×45 mm cartridge lacks stopping power and that the 7.62×39 mm cartridge is inherently more accurate. In reality, both cartridges have their strengths and weaknesses, and the choice between them depends on the shooter’s specific requirements and the firearm’s intended use.

Are there any notable developments or advancements in the 5.56×45 mm and 7.62×39 mm cartridges?

Yes, there have been various developments and advancements in cartridges over the years, including improvements in bullet design, powder composition, and manufacturing processes. These advancements have led to increased accuracy, reliability, and terminal performance for both cartridges.