US Army’s 3D Printed Grenade Launcher: Meet RAMBO

In recent years, the US Army has been exploring the potential of 3D printing technology to enhance their weapons systems. One such innovation is RAMBO, a 3D-printed grenade launcher that holds the promise of revolutionizing military applications for additive manufacturing.

The Rapid Additively Manufactured Ballistics Ordnance (RAMBO) caught the attention of the public when it was unveiled in early 2017. The cutting-edge weapon is nearly entirely 3D-printed, with the exception of a few key components such as springs and fasteners. Its design was engineered by the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC).

By developing and successfully testing the RAMBO grenade launcher, the US Army aims to showcase the capabilities of 3D printing in both the laboratory and the field. This groundbreaking weapon has the potential to pave the way for further advancements in military technology, potentially lowering production costs, and allowing for quicker iterations of designs and prototypes.

Historical Background

The U.S. Army has had a longstanding interest in advancing their weaponry through technological innovation. In recent years, the advent of 3D printing has opened up new possibilities in the field of military ordnance. The 3D printing technology provides the potential to create complex, customized parts at a lower cost and shorter lead time compared to conventional manufacturing methods.

One of the notable achievements in the use of 3D printing in weapon development is the creation of RAMBO, a 3D printed grenade launcher. The RAMBO, or Rapid Additively Manufactured Ballistics Ordnance, is an almost entirely 3D printed 40mm grenade launcher showcasing the potential of additive manufacturing in military applications [source].

The development of RAMBO was spearheaded by the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) [source]. The project aimed to demonstrate the viability of 3D printing for the creation of functional military grade weaponry. RAMBO serves as an inspiration for further research and development in the area of additive manufacturing for military applications.

During the testing phase, the 3D printed grenade launcher and its additive manufactured ammunition were proven successful. According to reports, the grenades displayed nearly no degradation after being fired 15 times [source].

RAMBO’s development builds upon the long history of the M203 grenade launcher. The M203, which has been in service since the late 1960s, is a single-shot reusable 40mm grenade launcher typically attached under the barrel of an assault rifle [source]. As a successful demonstration of 3D printing technology in weapons manufacturing, RAMBO extends the legacy of the M203 and paves the way for future innovation in military ordnance.

Development of the 3D Printed Grenade Launcher

U.S. Army researchers have developed a highly innovative 3D printed grenade launcher that demonstrates the potential of additive manufacturing in producing functioning weapon systems. The 3D printed launcher, called RAMBO, is a result of a collaborative effort between multiple Army departments and organizations.

Technologies Used

An assortment of advanced technologies and materials was employed in the creation of the RAMBO grenade launcher. 3D printing or additive manufacturing served as the cornerstone of this project. Several parts of the launcher, including the barrel, receiver, and trigger components, were produced using various 3D printing methods, such as selective laser sintering (SLS) and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS).

Besides the launcher, the ammunition used in RAMBO was also 3D printed. Researchers at the U.S Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC) successfully live-fire tested the 3D printed grenade, proving the compatibility and reliability of the entire weapon system.

Design Process

The development of the 3D printed grenade launcher underwent a meticulous and iterative design process. Through continuous collaboration with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, the Army Manufacturing Technology Program, and America Makes, the national accelerator for additive manufacturing and 3D printing, the team refined the design until RAMBO was functional and reliable.

Throughout the design process, certain challenges surfaced, such as finding the right materials and optimizing their respective properties to ensure the durability of the parts while maintaining the required level of functionality. In order to assess the performance of the launcher, several prototypes were produced and tested, enabling continuous improvements to be made to the 3D printed weapon system.

Overall, the successful development and testing of the 3D printed grenade launcher RAMBO demonstrate the significant potential of additive manufacturing in expediting and streamlining the creation of complex and functional military weapon systems.

Ammunition Compatibility

The RAMBO 3D printed grenade launcher, an updated version of the older M203, is designed to demonstrate the compatibility and versatility of 3D printing technology in the military sector. In addition to the launcher itself, the US Army is also researching the possibilities of 3D-printing ammunition for the weapon. This development allows for a fast and cost-effective production process, making the RAMBO a groundbreaking innovation in military technology.

At two RDECOM research and development centers, researchers have been able to produce 3D-printed ammunition for the RAMBO grenade launcher. This is particularly important because the launcher relies on single-shot, reusable 40mm cartridges, traditionally attached beneath the barrel of an assault rifle or a similar weapon(source).

One of the benefits of 3D-printed ammunition is the ability to create customized rounds for specific missions or purposes. The lightweight nature of the materials used and the rapid production process have the potential to reduce the logistical burden on military personnel while still providing a formidable weapon system.

While the RAMBO 3D-printed grenade launcher is still under development, the US Army has demonstrated its commitment to integrating this technology into their arsenal. As 3D printing continues to advance, it is expected that more weapon systems and their components will follow suit, offering increased flexibility and cost savings to the armed forces.

Benefits and Challenges


The US Army’s 3D printed grenade launcher, RAMBO (Rapid Additively Manufactured Ballistics Ordnance), demonstrates noteworthy advantages:

  • Customization: 3D printing allows for easy design modifications.
  • Rapid prototyping: Faster production times lead to quicker tests and improvements.
  • Cost-effective: It could potentially lower manufacturing costs in the long run.
  • Portability: RFAB technology enables mobile manufacturing and repair of parts, enhancing mobility for military units.

Potential Issues

Along with the benefits, there are challenges that need to be considered for the RAMBO 3D printed grenade launcher:

  • Material limitations: Certain materials might not be strong enough to withstand the wear and tear of military use.
  • Consistency: Ensuring reliability and consistent performance remains crucial.
  • Dependability: Testing parameters need to be expanded to address various combat scenarios and conditions.
  • Intellectual property: Securing and protecting the designs from unauthorized reproduction is essential to maintaining security.

The development and implementation of the RAMBO 3D printed grenade launcher offers both promising potential and challenges. Addressing these concerns could pave the way for more innovative applications in military technology.

Future Prospects

Impact on Military Operations

The introduction of the 3D-printed grenade launcher, known as RAMBO (Rapid Additively Manufactured Ballistics Ordnance), has the potential to revolutionize military operations by offering several key advantages:

  • Cost Efficiency: 3D printing can greatly reduce production costs compared to traditional manufacturing processes.
  • Customization: The technology allows for easy modification and adaptation of weapon components to suit specific mission requirements.
  • On-Demand Manufacturing: 3D printing makes it possible to produce weapons and equipment on-site, reducing the need for large inventories and long supply chains.
  • Decreased Weight: Through the use of lightweight materials and optimized designs, 3D printed weapons can be made lighter than their traditional counterparts, enhancing soldiers’ mobility and endurance on the battlefield.

Further Developments

While RAMBO represents a significant milestone in 3D-printed weaponry, future advancements are already being explored. These developments may include:

  • Higher Performance Materials: As new and improved materials become available, their incorporation into 3D printing processes could lead to stronger, lighter, and more durable weapon components.
  • Integrated Electronics: The combination of 3D printing and advanced electronics may give rise to weapons with built-in communication, tracking, and targeting systems, further enhancing their capabilities.
  • Increased Range and Power: Continued research in ballistics and materials science has the potential to increase the effective range and power of 3D-printed weapons, making them even more viable in combat situations.
  • Autonomous Systems: The integration of artificial intelligence and automated systems could allow for the development of advanced 3D-printed weapon systems that can operate independently or with minimal human intervention.

These prospects, along with ongoing investments in research and development, indicate that 3D-printed weaponry is poised to become a major factor in military capabilities in the coming years.


The development and testing of the U.S Army’s 3D-printed grenade launcher, known as RAMBO, has shown promising results in the realm of military technology. This innovative move toward utilizing 3D-printing technology can lead to a more efficient and cost-effective production process. Furthermore, it could potentially revolutionize the way modern weaponry is manufactured.

The successful live-fire tests of RAMBO conducted by the US Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC) have showcased the potential of 3D-printing technology in developing reliable and combat-ready weapon systems. The ability to quickly design and prototype weapon systems and make rapid iterations can significantly reduce timeline and costs associated with traditional manufacturing methods.

While the U.S. Army has not confirmed whether the 3D-printed grenade launcher will see combat missions or even further production, its development signals a clear investment in advanced manufacturing technologies. As 3D-printing continues to mature and evolve, it is expected that the military will increasingly adopt and integrate this technology in various aspects of their operations.

Overall, RAMBO represents only the beginning of what could be a transformative era for the defense industry. As military organizations continue to explore and adopt newer technologies like 3D-printing, the implications for the future of warfare and weapon systems can be immense. With continued research and development, the potential advantages of these innovations could extend far beyond the bounds of the battlefield.

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