EXCLUSIVE: Army developers offer insight into new “self-destructing bullet”

An M2 Browning .50-caliber machine gun sits on a range lane at Fort Chaffee, Ark., Aug. 2 2015, during Operation River Assault, a bridging training exercise involving Army engineers and other support elements to create a modular bridge on the water across the Arkansas River. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

A new “self-destructing” round has been developed for use in combat environments, with the main goal of minimizing unnecessary collateral damage.

The new bullet- known as the “Limited Range Projectile”- is designed to be less of a hazard to bystanders while still keeping bullets lethal, as they self-destruct after a set distance in order to limit the damage it would do beyond the intended target.

The brains behind the bullet are Brian Kim, Mark Minisi, and Stephen McFarlane, civilian employees at the U.S. Army’s Picatinny Arsenal. The three developed the new projectile, using a .50 caliber bullet round as a starting point. The patent for the “Limited Range Projectile” design was approved in 2015.

In an interview with Popular Military, designers Minisi and Kim, said the design allows the bullet to disintegrate using chemical separation after a set range. Under the approved patent, there are two ways to make a “Limited Range Projectile”. The first is to put a tiny pyrotechnic in the bullet (akin to thermite) which ignites when the primer is struck. The pyro acts as a sort of delayed fuse- heating up the round, making it unstable by heat-assisted deformation of the copper jacket, which in turn causes the round to lose stability and speed- eventually breaking up altogether.

While the technical details are a little tricky to the average person, the new design doesn’t skimp on effectiveness. According to the designers, the new bullet design performs nearly as well or better than existing .50 caliber bullets and is capable of penetrating 3/8″ steel armor.


When asked why the .50 caliber platform was chosen, Minisi said that “bigger is easier when doing bullet design.”

Right now the bullet is not available in a manufactural form as it is still undergoing testing. The test bullet is also still confined to the M2 Heavy Machine Gun but the designers see several applications down the road once “more design confidence is established.”

While many new military technologies are at risk of being reverse-engineered (or outright stolen) by foreign powers such as China and Russia, the designers didn’t seem too concerned. When asked if they were worried about their idea being stolen, Minisi jokingly replied “I’m sure the Chinese are already working on it.”

While the design was created as reduced range ammunition, it currently suffers from lack of funding. While a program for reduced range ammunition already exists, the current ammunition uses a mechanical method of separation instead of chemical making it more suited for a training environment because of a lesser risk of fire.  The current ammunition created by the “reduced ammunition program” is allegedly considered more favorable to DoD because it is less expensive but it has one fatal flaw- it requires users to re-zero their weapons to fire accurately.

Despite the lack of funding, the .50 caliber Limited Range Projectile the designers appear confident in their ammunition and plan on continuing more testing to bring their designs to life- hopefully by the pallet-load and into the weapons of US servicemembers around the globe.

Additional information on the projectiles can be found here.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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