In a nutshell: In recent years, 3D-printed firearms have attracted controversy to the relatively new fabrication technology. Now some groups are designing 3D-printed weapons capable of firing explosive payloads. This new tier of weapons appears to be in its infancy but could develop into something more practical and dangerous.
A recent report from Vice highlights multiple people and groups trying to use 3D printing to make cheap and effective rocket and grenade launchers. So far, the designs haven’t spread, much less appeared in conflict zones, but are advancing steadily.
A company called D&S Creations recently posted a video on YouTube demonstrating its attempts to recreate the AT-4 recoilless anti-tank rocket launcher. The designers managed to 3D print explosive rounds capable of neutralizing a tank but are far from getting a 3D-printed launcher to fire them accurately and safely.
Initial tests required a wire attached to the launcher to guide the rocket to its target, and even that couldn’t keep it from flying off in random directions. Furthermore, the designers had to trigger the launcher by remote out of safety concerns, which proved well-founded when it exploded during one of the trials.
Still, D&S told Vice it has a workable anti-tank bomb design that it could theoretically utilize with a drone. One team member suggests that governments could use them for cheaper munitions or help the Ukrainian army fight against Russia’s invasion.
However, unlike some groups that publish 3D-printed gun blueprints, D&S doesn’t plan to release all of its work publicly. The group’s tests used munitions that fall within legal ATF regulations, and essential design components will remain proprietary.
Another hobbyist has tried to 3D print multiple rocket launcher designs, including the M202 FLASH, which Arnold Schwarzenegger famously used in the 1985 film Commando. A YouTube video shows the knockoff M202 eventually achieving a fair degree of range and accuracy, but the designer has kept the payload of its ammunition within legal limits.
There is some concern that 3D-printed anti-armor weapons could end up in warzones or the hands of criminals, but it seemingly hasn’t happened yet. Violent Mexican cartels have used improvised grenade launchers and weaponized drones, but the ATF has yet to find a 3D printer in any of their secret factories. Firearms manufactured with 3D printers have appeared in the hands of rebel fighters in Myanmar, but so far, no usable missile launchers have been found.
Meanwhile, Relativity Space is still trying to launch a space rocket constructed mainly from 3D-printed material. As of now, the Terran 1 rocket has suffered two launch delays. A successful launch could lead to faster and cheaper deployment of future spacecraft.