Modern Intermediate Calibers 016: The 5.8x42mm Chinese

In the mid-1950s, the People’s Republic of China followed the Soviet Union’s example and adopted the intermediate 7.62x39mm round. This decision substantially helped to promote that cartridge’s ubiquity throughout the world, as millions of cheap Chinese-made SKS and AK rifles were exported to every corner of the globe. However, at the very end of Chairman Mao Zedong’s regime, an effort was started to develop a new, modernized caliber that would improve performance and conserve materials versus the 7.62×39. That program resulted in the 5.8x42mm caliber, standardized in the late 1980s with the DBP-87 and DBP-88 rounds. Unusually, the 5.8x42mm used a system with two different overall length standards, one of about 58mm for the DBP-87 rifle cartridge, and the other of about 62mm for the DBP-88 support round. This allowed the marksman’s rifle to shoot the DBP-87, if necessary, but also allowed for a longer, lower drag bullet to be put in the DBP-88 case, improving the ballistics of the QBU-88 marksman’s rifle and the QJY-88 general purpose machine gun.

By the 2000s, this “one and a half” caliber system was proving suboptimal, and so a program to develop a new universal round for both the QBZ-95 assault rifle and QBU-88 marksman’s rifle was begun, resulting in the DBP-10 projectile, which combines the best aspects of the DBP-88 and DBP-87, while being compatible with all weapons. This DBP-10 round is the standard infantry caliber for the People’s Liberation Army today, although stockpiles of older ammunition still exist.

On to the ballistics:

aTsOefg pIkPNYB Yll5FkX IBjrXDE

Despite having better performance than 5.56mm at extended distances, the 5.8mm DBP-10 cartridge isn’t much heavier, at just 12.9 grams per shot (7.5% more).

Note: All ballistic calculations are done with JBM’s Trajectory calculator, using the ballistic coefficient appropriate to the projectile being modeled, and assuming an AR-15 as a firing platform. Also, keep in mind that there is no single true velocity for a given round; velocity can vary due to a large number of factors, including ambient temperature and chamber dimensions. Instead, I try to use nominal velocity figures that are representative of the capability of the round in question.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • ostiariusalpha

    That DBP-10 is amazing for only 300 ft/s! LOL! Seriously though, this is great work, Nate. The cartridge seems to settle comfortably between the 5.56 NATO and 6.8 SPC in energy, but with slightly better ballistics than either. 有声有色! The Chairman would be pleased.

    • J

      What about 5.56×42 mm necked down from 6.8×43 spc?
      6.8×43 (left); 5.56×42 (center); 5.56×45 (right).

      • ostiariusalpha

        Could be a contender, but you’d have to convince the logistics folks that the lower throat life is worth it. Otherwise, it looks like a fine varminting round.

        • iksnilol

          I’ve always been curious why a saboted round hasn’t been done. Like, think a 9.3×39 with a 5.45 saboted bullet. Then you can just change a mag to to go from longer distance performance to up close CQB hush hush shoot through walls/armor stuff.

          • ostiariusalpha

            I’m not sure why. Perhaps no one has managed to perfect the separation of the projectile from the sabot yet, which always seems to impart a degree of inconsistency to the external ballistics. Not enough to be noticeable with a pistol round at 25m, but on a rifle bullet aiming at 400m, it could be opening up the group size to an unacceptable level.

    • …Damn typos.

    • gunsandrockets

      They did have the advantage of seeing what came before and designing from a clean sheet.

  • Vitor Roma

    Hummmm, the chinese may very got it right, slightly more power and ballistics compared to the 5.56 for an extra 100 meters of effective range. The M855A1 is a great round, but I think they missed the chance of going a bit heavier like 69gr for better ballistics.

    • J.T.

      It all comes down to how it performs on target. That extra energy means nothing if the round just passes through and doesn’t tumble.

      • Tritro29

        Once again the tumbling aspect can be mitigated by the round hitting a bone or being deflected by joint or penetrating through a mortal axis (bullet hits enters neck, enters the kidneys etc etc etc.

        The whole doesn’t do enough damage mantra is something i’ve heard enough in my life, yet no one is asking to get hit by one of the three current military small calibres.

        • Devil_Doc

          Agreed, but doesn’t it say something that a large number of people who have shot at other people with with 5.56 find it lacking?

          • crackedlenses

            This assumes that said people hit their targets.

          • FarmerB

            I know people that patch up bad guys. They are astonished how many (5.56) bullets they pull out of guys that are still breathing (and sometimes fighting on the table).

          • ostiariusalpha

            That is simply an observation selection effect; naturally, no one that the 5.56x45mm had killed would end up getting operated on. You can patch up bullet wounds of any caliber out of a patient that has been hit in non-vital areas, especially with a military ball round that doesn’t fragment or fails to tumble.

          • FarmerB

            Of course – but they don’t make the same observation about 30mm cannon shells.

          • ostiariusalpha

            It is indeed more of a truism for smallarms, but weirdly enough people do survive being shot by Apache 30mm cannon fire. Usually the gunner gives them a second salvo to finish them off.

          • FarmerB

            You’d be amazed at some of the damage they see and the guy’s still breathing (of course, most casualties that survive are not direct hits). I’ll spare the squeamish the details.

          • CommonSense23

            Ask them what round they were shooting them with. That’s going to be the key takeaway.

          • FarmerB

            855, I presume. They were pulling the bullets out, not firing ’em in.

          • CommonSense23

            There be your problem. 855 is a horrible round.

          • Tritro29

            If we were to believe the now infamous iraqi RPG wannabee footage, yes sometimes the 5.56 can punch through clean as well as the 5.45…

          • CommonSense23

            The issue is the round not the caliber. M855 is a horrible round. .

    • lowell houser

      I think the M855A1 wins on points hands down. Groups well, punches through steel body armor but still reliably rips apart upon entering soft tissue. If it gives up a little extra range in the process oh well.

    • Renato H. M. de Oliveira

      Being lead free was a main point of M855A1’s design.

      Having to depend on less dense metals meant that projo’s length had to be increased to keep mass, for external ballistics’ sake.

      With COAL limited to M855’s 57.40 mm / 2.260″, projos had to be seated deeper in the case, causing difficulties with the pressure peak/curve and propellant volume.

      An extra 7 grains without lead, tungsten or whatever would result in even more problems with projo length, case intrusion and etc.

      Not to mention that the projo would probably have external ballistics different enough that sights would have to be replaced.

      In short, quite a lot of PITA.

      • Yeah, designing low density bullets, especially low drag ones, is a PITA.

  • Matthew Cole Canil

    I seem to recall(from a Bullpup Issue of magazine with a article on the Chinese weapon family) some bullet construction issue with this platform or at least its predecessor rounds that kinda nerfed hydro-static shock properties though compared to some 5.56 in use. Anyone got more on the comparison of bullet construction and impact damage for both rounds? A marginal in KE can be more than rendered null by bad impact behaviors I would think.(Over penetration, low tumble, low expansion or fragmentation ect?

    • You are correct. Basically, the DBP-10 is optimized for penetration, and even official Chinese sources state that it has inferior tissue disruption characteristics.

  • MrFN

    QBU-88 is best, I would sell my left nut for one.
    Just look at that!

    • iksnilol

      You can get them in 5.56 in Canada.

      • Cal S.

        It would figure. I hope Trump takes the import embargoes off.

        • One of Trump’s core economic plans is reducing Chinese imports, so that seems unlikely.

      • MrFN

        *books flight*
        *remembers Chinese embargo still exists*

        • Giolli Joker

          *comes back with maple syrup to drown his sorrows”

    • DW

      QBU88 is considerd utter trash by Chinese soldiers. They repotedly would rather have QBB95 (LMG variant of QBZ95) for better accuracy.
      You can find those reports online but in Chinese only.

    • gunsandrockets

      I’d be more interested in seeing importation of the Singapore bullpup.

    • A Fascist Corgi

      It looks like they finally added a decent magazine release, but the safety selector is still all the way in the back of the buttstock.

    • A Fascist Corgi

      I can’t tell where the magazine release, the bolt release, the safety selector, and the charging handle are located.

    • Friend of Tibet

      you can get one in Canada, my best friend have one 😛 Chambered in 5.56

  • crackedlenses

    Interesting. Have you read any reports on its performance in actual use?

    • Cal S.

      Well, since the Chi-coms have only had paper or unarmed subjects to use them on since 1953, I’m gonna say no…

      • Tritro29

        Both rounds have been used regionally in Burma with both KIA/Burmese using some and more recently internationally, in Sudan and South Sudan where Chinese PK’s have been firing them in anger against both sides while Sudanese troops have been using them against the SSA back in the late 2000’s. Round hasn’t caught up with both sides, probably more due to Chinese political sensitivity.

        Also the rifle has been used against Uyghurs and the Uyghurs don’t like it…

        • Friend of Tibet

          Coorection: “Also the rifle has been used against RADICAL Uyghur terrorists”, because I personally know few Uhyghurs freidns and some of them are serving in China Police forces just saying….

          These minority radicals can not represent majority uhyghurs haha

          • Tritro29

            I have no political point to make and to be honest, your “special” Uyghurs=Our “special” Chechens, so basically we’re in agreement.

          • Friend of Tibet


      • FarmerB

        Vietnam? India?

        • Cal S.

          In Vietnam they were still using the SKS, weren’t they? Or at least weapons with the 7.62x39mm.

          • FarmerB

            I don’t know. I was simply pointing out that China was in wars with India and Vietnam since 1953 (against Vietnam in 1979 – not as a participant in the “Resistance War Against America” or whatever they call it)

          • Jay

            The 5.8 round was not introduced in service until late eighties, long after the wars with Vietnam. The early rounds were also different, with the main purpouse being defeating body armor at longer ranges, so are not representative to how the current Chinese amunition.

          • DBP-10 is definitely optimized for armor penetration at the expense of tissue disruption.

  • kingghidorah

    I tried getting some at both Cabela’s and Walmart. Both were out of stock.

  • Guygasm

    These barrel lengths are significantly different than the 5.56 compared. Not as easily ignored as the 20″ vs 20.4″ on the 4.85×49 and no comment on the reasoning. What’s up?

    • Those are the barrel lengths for the QBZ-95 assault rifle and QBU-88 marksman’s weapon. Sorry, I should have made that more clear.

      • mig1nc

        I thought it was pretty obvious. Comparing them to the M4A1.

        • Guygasm

          I thought the point was to compare two cartridges (i.e. all else equal) not different rifle platforms.

          • Initially, it was, and that was made easy by the fact that every round (besides 7.62×39) was designed for the AR-15. However, we’re now in the territory of historical rounds and rounds not designed for the AR-15, and so we have to pick and choose, or else the graphs would be unreadable. For example, in my .280 article, I had to substantially expand the graphs in size and make other time consuming modifications to them because there were just 8 different data sets.

            If I did 5.8x42mm out of the host platform, plus out of a 14.5″ BBL AR, plus out of the QBZ-95A carbine, plus out of a 25.2″ barreled QBU-88, plus out of a 20″ BBL or whatever, I would be tripling or even quadrupling the number of data sets.

            How would I manage 15 or more data sets on a single static graph? I couldn’t. That’s without getting into how I would calculate muzzle velocity from those other barrels. It’s doable, but it would be a problem.

            I am hoping that if I can get an animated graph working, where readers can choose what data sets to display, then we can start adding a ton of extra data sets like what you describe.

    • James Young

      Remember these are bullpups, so they’re generally going to have an advantage in barrel length.

      • Guygasm

        Bullpup configuration is separate from the cartridge performance. I’m still missing why the two cartridges shouldn’t be compared at equivalent barrel lengths. Either can be fired from a bullpup with a long barrel.

        • See my comment below. Adding so many data sets would be impractical.

  • Cal S.

    Um, question? Why only heavy 5.56x45mm? What about 55gr M193? I’d have to believe that a lighter bullet with 3mm more powder behind it would outperform a heavier one with less powder.

    That’s why the effective ranges and ballistic drops of the 5.56x45mm and 5.45x39mm outperform the 7.62x39mm.

    • It would only outperform it in trajectory, and only for a little while. I didn’t include M193 in any of these because its ballistics are pretty bad. Plus, M855 is my baseline.

  • Timothy G. Yan

    – it’s the DVP-88 for the heavy load, and it’s 61mm total length, that’s only for the first generation. The 2nd gen and on are all 58mm long. The 77gr weight is also for the 1st gen only. The later version has 75gr bullet.

    • Hi Tim,

      Thanks for commenting. I don’t speak/read Mandarin, but aren’t “V” and “B” romanizations ambiguous?

      Chinese sources give a weight of 4.6g for DBP-10.

      • GhostTrain81

        I don’t think there is “v” in the standard romanization system.

        From a language perspective, “DBP” sounds more correct. The B is for 步 which is romanized “Bu.”

        Strangely this character means “step,” as a rifle in Chinese is known as a “步枪” or “Step Gun,” … I am unaware of how this terminology came to be 😀 .

        • Timothy G. Yan

          “V” is the Chinese .mil designation for AP ammo. DVP-88 is the correct name. The “B” is shorthand for “Bu Bing”, which means “Infantry”, or “Bu Qiang”, which means “(infantry) rifle”.

          • I didn’t think the Chinese used roman characters in their designations…

          • FWIW, Chinese Wikipedia calls it “DBP-88”:×42mm

          • Timothy G. Yan

            It’s Wikipedia…..not a reliable source.

          • Hence “FWIW”.

            I am still curious if there is an “official” romanization or not.

          • Ken

            The PRC has “pinyin” Romanization, which is official.. It definitely is a “b” sound.

            DBP stands for Dàn, Bùqiāng, Pŭtòng which literally translates to “bullet, infantry rifle, standard.”

          • Timothy G. Yan

            The Chinese .mil uses a lot of PinYin abbreviation, but not for 100% of everything. I believe the letter V is one of those that doesn’t come from PinYin. They just pick an unused letter to use.

          • In support of “DVP-88”, here’s a source that uses that romanization:


            Wasn’t able to get to it earlier, as it was saved on my home hard drive and I was out and about.

          • Another source that – oddly – use the romanization “DVP-88” exclusively, but Chinese characters for weapon names:


        • Some equivalent of “right, left, left, right, left” I imagine.

      • Timothy G. Yan

        N, I was talking about the different generations of the DVP-88 heavy balls. The later production has a 75 gr bullet and a 8mm total length.

        • Oh, I didn’t realize. Interesting, do you know why the weight reduction occurred?

          • Timothy G. Yan

            Probably to made it fit into the infantry rifle magazine for compatibility. The 2 grain weight difference is probably has no effects on the BC.

    • Hi Tim,

      You are 100% right about the designation. That is strange.

  • Kivaari

    Is the bore diameter actually .228 or is the 5.8mm designation just a way of keeping it from being confused with the 5.45 and 5.56?
    I am waiting for someone to say the Chinese didn’t do the right thing since the 7.62×39 is so superior in performance to any of the .22 caliber rifles.

    • I believe it’s a .228/.236 barrel, but not sure.

    • Tritro29

      The Chinese like the Russians still have production of M43 and M43 firing rifles as well as Chinese-sized stocks of both weapon and ammo. There’s no one over the other, both calibres go hand in hand. Even in South Sudan Chinese soldiers have taken type 81’s along with their type 95-2. Makes sense from a commonality standpoint.

      • Kivaari

        It certainly makes sense to produce both. There is a huge market out there which has used and desires to continue to use the M43 based weapons. Just because there are better alternatives in existence doesn’t mean the older rifles can’t do the job. Some nations will field more models than others. It must give the logistic people fits.

  • Toxie

    So why are we reporting in grams and joules in the US, where we the readers think in Ft-lbs and Grains?

    • TFB has an international readership, and was started by a Kiwi besides.

      I use both sets, depending on what makes sense.

      And anyway, anyone who likes foot-pounds has never actually tried to (properly) calculate energy in Imperial.

      • Sunshine_Shooter

        That last statement is false. In engineering school, we used both systems a lot, but tended to use ft*lbs more since problems were usually given in imperial units and converting from US to metric and back again gives two unnecessary points of failure.

        Granted that was in school, not the real world (nothing is in metric out here).

        • I don’t see how converting to metric and back gives unnecessary points of failure relative to just calculating in Imperial, especially when you are given units of grains and feet per second.

          .5 * gr/15432 gr/kg * ((ft/s)/3.28 (ft/s)/(m/s))^2 = J

          Compared to

          .5 * gr/225218 gr/slug * (ft/s)^2 = ft/lb

          Isn’t that different, especially if you have the conversion units memorized.

          I could see how you’d use the latter if you were ONLY ever given units of Imperial, but that doesn’t happen that much in the firearms industry.

          • Sunshine_Shooter

            Well, failure points on homework and tests. 2 chances to screw up a conversion and lose points. We generally stayed in the units we were given, whether imperial or metric.

          • Sure, that makes sense. But in a mixes unit environment, I find it much easier to just standardize on Joules.

  • gunsandrockets

    A 25 inch barrel and the bullpup configuration both make more sense when combined.

  • Joe Schmo

    I’ve always been curious about the 5.8×42 round. I haven’t been able to find much information on it, but it is very interesting. I would definitely buy a Chinese rifle chambered in 5.8×42 if there was no ban on imports, just to have something unique.

    Do you have many English sources for others to read up on?

    • I have a translation of an article on the DBP-10. I’ll need to ask the translator if I can share it.

  • Friend of Tibet

    some photo of 5.8mm operators

  • ArjunaKunti

    What if we put a 5.56 mm ‘CETME like’ very long bullet with 1/5.5 caliber/length ratio to the 5.56×45 case. This long bullet containing a 4 mm hardened steel core would weight approx 5 grams (77 grains) with jacket, giving a slightly better ballistics than 5.8×42mm DBP-88 heavy round, maybe easily reaching 1000 meters effective range!

    The inner construction should be like the Soviet 5.45 7N10 or 7N22 type bullets with the following modification: Small ‘pointed assimetry’ so called ‘spoon tip’ should be applied to the tip of the steel core hidden under a small plastic ballistic cap or under an open tip (like the MK 262 bullet), giving the bullet consistent ballistic performance with hard target penetration and getting very good soft target energy transfer also!

    With these details I think we can get very close to the ‘ideal infantry round’.

    The over all length of the cartridge would be approx. 68 mm therefore the Chinese Military choosing this solution could use 5.56 NATO cartridges instantly during a conflict but other forces could not use this improved ammunition.

    • At an OAL of more than 10mm longer, normal 5.56mm would not reliably feed in the magazines, as the stack wouldn’t be supported right.

      A 5g bullet of that length and shape might also be tough to balance and stabilize.

      • ArjunaKunti

        So what are the max. possibilities regarding OAL and bullet mass improvimg 5.56 this way? Can you advise some sources in this topic?

        • I don’t think there are a lot of easily-accessed sources discussing the pros and cons of caliber configuration; that’s part of why I am writing this sequence.

          Certainly, you could do something like load a 70gr 5.45 projectile into a 5.56mm case and fire it through an appropriate diameter bore. That would be a good place to start.

    • Arathar

      No, far far far from it. EPR construction is better. Also bottlenecked metalic cartridges are completly outdated.

    • Arathar

      I also can add that our company build and tested plastic tipped spoon tip bullets it verry early stages of development. They are a cool concept, but not usefull today. EPR is better, fragments way more early and faster than spoontip could tumble. Which is the reason why we didnt developed them any further. But still they look cool.

      • ArjunaKunti

        What is EPR ammunition exactly?

      • ArjunaKunti

        Do you mean cartridges like the M855A1 ? What arebtheir benefits above the spoon tip ones? Were the spoon tip bullets more or less effective against hard targets then their spitzer versions?

  • Fox Hunter

    If the chicoms were smart, they would dump all that old ammo into the world market, let the Russians did after the fall of communism.