The Army Is Redesigning Its Smoke Grenade For the First Time Since WWII

Despite the billions upon billions of dollars funneled into the hungry maw of the military over the past 70 years, some technology has remained the same since World War II—including the smoke grenade. Now, the Army is choosing a new version that, in theory, will be slightly less toxic than the "classic" model.

According to Kit Up!, army's smoke grenades have long used a mixture of a substance called hexachloroethane and xinc oxide in its smoke screens. The result is a composition "capable of pulling water from the atmosphere and doubling the amount of smoke produced." The downside: It also produced very toxic smoke-borne substance called zinc chloride.

The Army Is Redesigning Its Smoke Grenade For the First Time Since WWII

A U.S. army soldier from the Ghostrider Company, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment throws a smoke grenade. AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic.

The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center is leading the charge to replace it with one of four options, each of which uses a unique composition:

  • First, a zinc-free version that's similar to the good ol' grenade currently being used, except without all that acrid toxic smoke.
  • The second uses magnesium and aluminum to create a dense white cloud of metal oxides, which doesn't sound all that great either.
  • The third is based on lithium combustion technology, using lithium salt to whip up a cloud of smoke.

The fourth in particular sounds crazy: Because none of its ingredients are water-soluble, it wouldn't contaminate the water supply. Instead, it uses a plastic matrix to encapsulate the chlorine. Here's how Kit Up! explains it:

Because the rest of the plastic matrix is carbon, the smoke is filled with fine carbon particles giving a dark gray to black color. This unusual as the best smoke compositions are white, since white smoke reflects more light than darker smoke, resulting in a more effective smoke cloud.

So while none of these options sounds particularly great for either soldiers or the environment, each of them is using newer chemical technology to, at the very least, produce smoke that's less harmful to humans. The army is now testing each of the finalists into the ground—so it sounds like it may be a few months before we have a winner. [Kit Up!]

Lead image: AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic.