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.
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.”