The US Army's New 3D-Printed Grenade Launcher Is Straight Out Of Science Fiction

Building a gun out 3D-printed parts is so 2013. Now, the United States Army has managed to 3D-print an entire grenade launcher, and it looks roughly like an assault rifle in the popular video game Halo. Also, the new weapon is named RAMBO.

All images: US Army

RAMBO is an acronym for Rapid Additively Manufactured Ballistics Ordnance. Along with a handful of other agencies, US Army Research spent six months building the 40mm grenade launcher which is designed to resemble the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher. All 50 of the parts on the gun, except the springs and fasteners, were 3D-printed out of steel, aluminium and other materials:

Even the rounds were 3D-printed, albeit without explosives added:

The nature of additive manufacturing enabled the Army to change up the design on the fly. This came in handy during the grenade launcher's first live-fire test last October. TL;DR: The weapon worked! Now here's the Army describing the grenade launcher's performance:

The testing included 15 test shots with no signs of degradation. All the printed rounds were successfully fired, and the printed launcher performed as expected. There was no wear from the barrel, all the systems held together and the rounds met muzzle velocities within 5 per cent of a production M781 fired from a production-grade grenade launcher. The variation in velocities were a result of the cartridge case cracking, and the issue was quickly rectified with a slight design change and additional 3-D printing.

You can imagine some insane future where soldiers are 3D-printing weapons for specific missions based on their objective and conditions. You might also worry that this technology could find its way into the wrong hands. It was scary enough when libertarian gun enthusiasts were printing one-shot pistols in their garages. Imagine a wannabe terrorist 3D-printing a damn grenade launcher in his basement.

3D-Printed Guns Getting Better, Scarier

A couple years ago, when a 25-year-old law student in Texas said he was going to 3D-print a gun, nobody took him seriously. Then, he actually did it. And then, a lot of people started doing it. Now, it's so easy that some protestors are going make a gun inside the Texas State Capitol with a special gun machine. This is scary stuff, and it's going to get worse.

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The encouraging thing is that the equipment needed to 3D-print something with the complexity and durability of a grenade launcher is prohibitively expensive. We're talking, like, many millions of dollars. It's unclear what the Army plans to do with this grenade launcher breakthrough. If anything, it could serve as a proof-of-concept for other 3D-printing projects. It's also just futuristic as hell -- in scary way!

[US Army]

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    I wonder whether they'll look to 3d printing for prototyping then just use normal manufacturing processes to mass produce the weapons. I'd think cost wise it's cheaper to 3d print a single (or small batch) of items whereas it's cheaper to mass produce thousands the old fashioned way.

      At the moment, definitely. But I think pretty soon we'll start to see more serial production via 3D printing initially with just machining of important finished surfaces.

        If you look at weapons like the AK a lot of parts are made out of stamped sheet metal. 3d printing can't get down to that price.
        M16 variants use resin cast in moulds. Again 3d printing can't hit that price.
        It is good for prototyping where you don't have to make moulds as the moulds themselves are very expensive.

          Yeah I know that, 3D printing wont get much action from the stamped metal parts or large castings, I was thinking more complex parts. Plus the price will go down and the speed will go up eventually, with no need for molds or expensive custom tooling there wont be much stopping a prototype from becoming serial production, just load up the edited program and fill the machine with metal dust or whatever it takes.

          3d metal printers are in the range of 15lb(6.8kg) of material per hour, AR15 uppers are around 300g so 20 of them an hour isn't bad

          Last edited 10/03/17 10:23 pm

        Possibly as the 3d Printing technology improves and becomes cheaper in volume.

    I can see there being a small Humvee or crate mounted "Fabrication Unit" beinbg developed within the next few decades, where special forces or whoever needs it can print special use weapons in the field. No need to carry round a large variety of specialist explosives or weapons when you can print one fairly rapidly. Of course, not going to help in a instantanious firefight situation ("Hold on a little longer, the Anti-tank launchers nearly done printing!"), but for long term missions. Also, if a game similar to Ghost recon took this idea and ran with it, it could be an awesome gameplay mechanic!

    and it looks roughly like an assault rifle in the popular video game Halo.

    Which Assault rifle from Halo?
    If you're going to name drop one of the most well known videogame franchises, you better back up those claims.
    Because from where i'm sitting it looks like you're reaching for something to give you those extra clicks and that's just pathetic to me.

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