3D Printed Weapons to be Produced by US Department of Defense

By on January 15th, 2017 in research

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 3D printed explosives!
3D printed explosives!

A very curious solicitation from the US DOD requests “explosive” 3D printer materials. 

The US Department of Defense is a massive organization that’s constantly requesting vendors to supply all manner of equipment and supplies. To do so, they operate a sophisticated solicitation system where you can see in some detail their requests. 

Now Solicitation DoD 2017.1 N171-060, “Development of Explosive Feedstock for Commercial-off-the-Shelf (COTS) 3D Printers”, seeks “explosive feedstock”. From the description: 

The U.S. Navy requires a near-term, affordable solution to develop explosive feedstock for use in the additive manufacturing (3D printing) of warheads, propellants, and pyrotechnic systems.


Explosive formulations for use in military applications have traditionally utilized elastomeric (polymer) materials, which provide the requisite mechanical, chemical, and aging properties necessary for ordnance. Thus, a gap has formed between additive manufacturing of explosives for use in Navy ordnance and the availability of feedstock applicable to explosive printing. 

Why is the US Navy asking for this material? They explain here: 

The development of explosive feedstock for use in commercial-off-the-shelf 3D printer systems would enable the replacement of existing manufacturing processes in particular for low production volume, smaller ordnance items that would yield significant cost savings (= 25% cost reduction per item) to the Navy. Therefore, the proposers shall provide a business case analysis that projects the costs of the proposed energetic feedstock and that feedstocks production costs at a range of volumes produced (on the order of 100 to 1000 items). 

This turns out to be the same reason industry often looks toward 3D printing: low volume manufacturing can be less expensive than traditional methods. 

The US Navy is looking for a solution that meets their needs, which are considerable. Their requirements include a capability for “aging”, as such ordnance might be unused for many years yet still require extreme reliability if used. 

The project is divided into three phases: 

  1. Develop and demonstrate a concept
  2. Develop a practical system to produce the explosive material
  3. Implement the new technology in a production setting

What’s interesting about this proposal is that the requested material is intended to be used in “everyday” 3D printers. One can imagine a field base equipped with such a 3D printer; it could then, with this material, produce ordnance of required shapes on demand, perhaps from digital designs sent from headquarters. 

Another interesting aspect of this material would be the safety considerations. It’s possible the material could be explosive before printing, and thus would require hefty storage methods and handling processes. It could be more dangerous than storage of metal powders, currently one of the trickiest safety problems in the 3D printing space. 

One more thing: don’t expect to see this stuff at your favorite 3D printer filament outlet anytime soon. 

Via SBIR (Hat tip to Mike)

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!