Modern Intermediate Calibers 016: The 5.8x42mm Chinese

Nathaniel F
by Nathaniel F

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:

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 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. He can be reached via email at

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  • ArjunaKunti ArjunaKunti on Aug 17, 2016

    What if we put a 5.56 mm 'CETME like' very long bullet with 1/5.5 caliber/length ratio to the 5.56x45 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.

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    • ArjunaKunti ArjunaKunti on Aug 30, 2016

      @Arathar 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 Fox Hunter on Aug 22, 2016

    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.