Army Invents Short-Range Projectile that Self-Destructs in Flight

ardec self-destructing bullet projectile

U.S. Patent 9,121,679 B1, “Limited Range Projectile.” (Photo: Brian Kim, Mark Minisi and Stephen McFarlane/Picatinny’s Small Caliber Munitions Team)

Employees at the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC, developed a new system for range-limited small arms projectiles. They’re bullets that self-destruct after traveling a set distance.

The team, including Brian Kim, Mark Minisi and Stephen McFarlane, worked together to on several proof-of-concept methods for disabling projectiles in flight.

All three methods use a pyrotechnic charge that sets off when the round is fired, burning like a fuse inside the projectile. Depending on the pyrotechnic material used, different burn speeds can be set to control the distance the projectile travels before setting off a secondary reaction that destroys or destabilizes the bullet.

“It was essentially my idea to create a self-destructing small caliber round akin to the larger caliber ones,” said Minisi. “The type of reactive materials to use and how to test it was Steve’s idea. Brian was instrumental with executing the effort, particularly the modeling and simulation to confirm the concept.”

Designed for use in densely-populated areas, the technology could prevent missed rounds from continuing beyond their targets and harming bystanders. The technology scales with small arms ammunition from 5.56 NATO to .50 BMG and can be applied to larger projectiles up to 155mm shells.

See Also: DARPA’s EXACTO System in Action, Self-Guided .50-Cal Projectile!

The team focused on .50-caliber projectiles for their models. .50 BMG is a popular round for snipers because of its effectiveness at long ranges–the same range that makes it a liability in populated areas.

“The biggest advantage is reduced risk of collateral damage,” said McFarlane. “In today’s urban environments others could become significantly hurt or killed, especially by a round the size of a .50 caliber, if it goes too far.”

The team developed three ways to make projectiles fail mid-air. Each system is ignited by the powder charge behind the projectile, and it can be applied to self-contained cartridges as well as with bigger gun systems that used bagged charges.

One way is to put the reactive layer under the bullet’s jacket, making it aerodynamically unstable after it ignites. Another way is to have the reactive layer vent gas out like a jet, destabilizing the bullet. The third way is to have the reactive charge detonate inside the projectile, splitting the front of the bullet from the base.

While self-destructing bullets aren’t going into production just yet, the Army is locking in the proof-of-concept designs with patents, awarding credit to Kim, Minisi and McFarlane. “This was the first patent we applied for that has been approved,” said McFarlane. That in itself is an accomplishment.”

About the author: Max Slowik is a writer with over a dozen years of experience and is a lifelong shooter. He has unwavering support for the Second Amendment and the human right to self-defense. His ambition is to follow Thomas Paine, as a journalist by profession and a propagandist by inclination.

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • john m March 2, 2016, 4:17 pm

    You guys are taking this way too seriously. Yeah, its a waste of time and money but thats not a new concept for our military. Its a cool invention regardless of the “why” factor, it will likely never make it off the range anyway (figuratively speaking).

  • Emil Blatz February 26, 2016, 11:38 pm

    The answer to a question no one is asking.

  • Tripwire February 26, 2016, 11:51 am

    Well the Army needs to spend those tax dollars or they won’t get more.

  • Bobo February 26, 2016, 11:07 am

    A PC bullet. How much money have they spent on this silliness? With the government money is no object. Added cost to manufacturer such cartridges? Will the soldier carry a variety of bullets with different ranges?

  • CWO John Miller (RET) February 26, 2016, 10:36 am

    Destabilizing long range projectiles for TRAINING isn’t a bad idea, some Guard & Reserve ranges can’t accept 50 cal
    as it exceeds the range safety fan. The idea of a self destruct bullet / projectile isn’t new, as almost all of our 40mm HE
    Bofors ammo had a trace leading to a destruct @ 12,000 yards (or so) The WW II German aircraft cannons (13mm
    15mm & 20mm) had a destruct element as they were firing over their own populace. At one time the Army developed
    a limited range 50 cal with fins on the rear of the bullet, this put the 50 fan the same as the 7.62 NATO safety fan,
    but they NEVER shared the ammo with the Reserve component that needed it !!!!! I’d expect this “NEW” bullet
    will suffer the same fate !!!! Ole CRAB

  • Bill February 26, 2016, 10:16 am

    So, you blow up a 50 BMG at say, 200 yards, and all the kinetic energy of the bullet just vanishes? Fire the round, it flys several hundred yards, then turns into a fast moving cloud of shrapnel. Sounds like a long range shotgun to me.

  • John S February 26, 2016, 8:16 am

    This is a REALLY STUPID idea. Once the enemy figures out that we are using ammo that self-destructs and becomes harmless beyond a certain range, then all THEY have to do is remain outside of that range and they are free to fire upon OUR troops all day long with no consequences. How DUMB can you get?

    • CWO John Miller (RET) February 26, 2016, 3:19 pm

      Valid point, one incident I’m familiar with in Viet-Nam, a Special Forces camp had 60mm Mortars as their
      “HEAVY WEAPONS” with a max range of approx 1750M, Charlie would stay out of harms way !!! Then
      one gunner used a canteen CAP (NOT CUP) of gasoline down the tube & dropped one downrange !!!!
      The increased range from the gas, put the HE into Charlie’s black Pajamas !!! Ole CRAB
      (the SF Gents were sneaky)

    • JOHN C February 26, 2016, 11:34 pm

      Well, actually it won’t used for that type of military operation. This is being developed to use against U.S. citizens some day when who ever it is in power calls for the national police to take over the populace.
      Are there other useful albeit limited applications? Sure. It is just a feeling but I suspect it will be used here before it is used over there! (I hope not but think about how much easier it would be to protect soft targets with this option)

  • tim February 26, 2016, 7:07 am

    what a joke, china is building aircraft carriers and we are making garbage like this to minimize hurting someone,,,,america is lost

  • Bill H February 26, 2016, 6:57 am

    This is a waste of time to keep the Obama administration happy with the “less lethal bullet” concept. It will drop if Trump gets in. Hitlery will have it tested on the people who didn’t vote for her.

  • Joe McHugh February 26, 2016, 5:30 am

    Well, there it is folks. A politically correct bullet! Say a prayer for the American fighting man.

  • Will Drider February 25, 2016, 9:33 pm

    For a military application (who these genius’s work for) it is a very stupid idea. Lets say they make short, med and long range self destruct rounds an keep the standard round for general use. What load out round will be carried? What if mission is changed while en route? Maybe two mags of each and locked and loaded with rounds for the terrain traveled over to the target. It does matter what amount of core you replace, all four types of ammo will have a different point of impact from the same sight setting. Tested with a .50 BMG. Well lets see applications. I think our Snipers are accurate enough to hit what their aiming at. They use a match quality round (a ballistic baseline) that all other computations and scope adjustments are keyed on are now more difficult. Its common to have to engage targets at extremely different ranges quickly, they want us to swap rounds/mags with each treat? Aside from human targets the .50 BMG is an anti material round, remove mass you decrease effectiveness. How about the Crew Served M2, belt feed! Who’s changes out boxes of ammo to engage targets at differen distances in a battle? Not since we fought tge Red Coats did we have enemy troops on line at te same distance.
    The Inventors want to limit collaterial damage but in fact they are burdening the prosecution of war and most likely to the endangerment of our Forces. I want every round to inflict the maximum amount of damage to the target and fragment/shrapnel cover the area.

    LE may have limited application for contained events but again nothing ever goes as planned.

    Is this a precursor to civilian ammo liability. Think about that!

  • Martin B February 23, 2016, 2:34 pm

    If only they can make the bullets explode once inside a felon’s body, that would be a marketable product.

    • H. Max Hiller February 24, 2016, 11:02 pm

      It occurs to me that anyone struck by one of these bullets prior to it reaching its maximum disatnce would likely suffer a secondary wound based on the projectile’s self-destruct feature. That alone is going to create Geneva Convention conflicts.

      • Richard February 26, 2016, 8:18 am

        This is a misguided concept that will cause more issues than it resolves.

      • Maddog20470`` February 26, 2016, 5:42 pm

        I agree. You expressed my thoughts! Stupid Idea! Pentagon, How can YOU waste more Taxpayer money??

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