All images: US Army

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.

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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 40-millimeter 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, aluminum, 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, however. 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:

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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 percent 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 nuts were printing one-shot pistols in their garages. Imagine a wannabe terrorist 3-printing a damn grenade launcher in his basement.

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!

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[US Army]