As many other pundits and keyboard commandos have bemoaned, and I myself have stated in the past, to focus on creating “green” or otherwise environmentally friendly ammunition is to decidedly put the cart before the horse.
However, while the multi-year boondoggle that was the US Army’s program to develop the M855A1 EPR round that has led to the current split between the Army and the Marines over what ammo to use, the idea of a “green” ammo refuses to die.
The Army Goes Green
The M855A1 and the M855A1 EPR were both developed with a secondary objective, produce more environmentally friendly ammo. However it seems that this initiative is being pushed into a more front and center role. With the release of what I initially thought was a joke, and who can blame me it’s not like the media researches much these days, apparently this is not only real but has a whole list of requirements and phases already drawn up.
The BAA, or Broad Agency Announcement was released on November 30th of last year and is open for submissions until February 8th of this year.
TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Weapons
OBJECTIVE: Develop biodegradable training ammunition loaded with specialized seeds to grow environmentally beneficial plants that eliminate ammunition debris and contaminants.
DESCRIPTION: Currently the US Army manufactures and consumes hundreds of thousands of training rounds. These rounds are fired at proving grounds and training ranges in the United States and around the world. In addition, special forces conduct day and night training exercises utilizing these training rounds. These rounds include low velocity 40mm grenades; 60mm, 81mm, and 120mm mortars; shoulder launched munitions; 120mm tank rounds; and 155mm artillery rounds. The projectiles, and in some circumstances the cartridge cases and sabot petals, are either left on the ground surface or several feet underground at the proving ground or tactical range. Components of current training rounds require hundreds of years or more to biodegrade. Further, civilians (e.g., farmers or construction crews) encountering these rounds and components do not know if they are training or tactical rounds. Proving grounds and battle grounds have no clear way of finding and eliminating these training projectiles, cartridge cases and sabot petals, especially those that are buried several feet in the ground. Some of these rounds might have the potential corrode and pollute the soil and nearby water. The solution sought by this topic is naturally occurring biodegradable material to replace the current training round materials, eliminating environmental hazards. This SBIR will prove out the technology and replace current training round components with biodegradable parts. The biodegradable materials identified can be utilized by private industry to manufacture biodegradable water bottles, plastic containers, or any other composite or plastic product(s) on the market today. The US Army Corps of Engineers’ Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) has demonstrated bioengineered seeds that can be embedded into the biodegradable composites and that will not germinate until they have been in the ground for several months. This SBIR effort will make use of seeds to grow environmentally friendly plants that remove soil contaminants and consume the biodegradable components developed under this project. Animals should be able to consume the plants without any ill effects.
PHASE I: In Phase I the contractor develop a process to produce biodegradable composites with remediation seeds that can be used to manufacture 40mm-120mm training rounds. These Training rounds shall meet all the performance requirements of existing training rounds. The contractor should also explore avenues to produce biodegradable composites with remediation seeds for use in products outside the defense sector.
PHASE II: In Phase II the contractor will prove out the fabrication process and manufacture prototypes that demonstrate the process is ready for industrial use. Provide a sufficient number of prototypes for the government to perform ballistic tests.
PHASE III: Contractor will coordinate with PEO Ammunition and ammunition prime contractors to establish a transition path for the SBIR technology.
However what is truly stunning is that the budget numbers being thrown around for this.
The DON typically awards a Firm Fixed Price (FFP) contract or a small purchase agreement for Phase I. In accordance with SBIR Policy Directive section 4(b)(5), there is a limit of one sequential Phase II award per firm per topic. Additionally, in accordance with SBIR Policy Directive section 7(i)(1), each award may not exceed the award guidelines (currently $150,000 for Phase I and $1 million for Phase II, excluding DTA) by more than 50% (SBIR/STTR program funds only) without a specific waiver granted by the SBA. Therefore, the maximum proposal/award amounts including all options (less DTA) are $225,000 for Phase I and $1,500,000 for Phase II (unless non-SBIR/STTR funding is being added).
That’s right, just for research and development of this terrible idea, is roughly $1,725,000 just for research and development of a “seed planting bullet” and none of that guarantees that anything will actually come of this research. However this whole project is flawed from the beginning and here’s why.
While I acknowledge these are supposed to be training rounds why are we worried about biodegradable materials, let alone seeds in the bullets? Is there a demonstrable case of actual pollution of the surrounding environment and water sources around these proving grounds and training ranges affecting people and making them sick? Despite so many warnings about lead contamination has anyone ever died because of high amounts of lead in the air at a training range?
To me this seems like yet another useless costly program designed to keep Liberals happy and so-called “green” companies flush with money. Remember the whole Solyndra scandal? Why does this seem like yet another attempt to prop up “green” technologies and companies with no real benefit to anyone, especially our troops.
Let’s put aside the issue of how absurd these rounds are for a moment, seed planting bullets? and move onto some real questions. First of all if these are going to be training rounds they need to match the accuracy and recoil impulse of real ammunition.
If the bullet is lighter or has a significantly different flight path then what the troops will be using then all of that training will be for nothing. They will be more used to the performance of their training rounds and it could severely impact performance and accuracy if these training rounds don’t behave like real rounds.
Next let’s look at the technical issues. Not only does the “seed bullet” have to be able to survive shock and impact of tens of thousands of pounds of pressure when fired, but it also has to deal with the impact of hitting a target, dirt, stone, or otherwise. Somehow they expect these seeds to magically survive all of this and then sprout. How?
Apparently these seeds will be “bioengineered” to sprout several months after being fired. That does not sound like a problem at all. Furthermore by the time the seeds sprouted, woulding the range just be in use again anyway, damaging if not destroying the seedlings sprouting? There are so many issues with how this program intends to accomplish the goal of planting seeds with bullets. Making the rounds biodegradable is hard enough, but then trying to plant seeds with them after being fired?
Green Bullets For What?
But who is this for? What benefit does this really provide? Is there some real issue that is being addressed here or is this just more tree hugging nonsense being pushed to the forefront?
If the Army was really concerned about lead pollution or dropped shell casings there’s already proven solutions out there. Copper rounds have demonstrated that they are more than capable of performing just as well as lead rounds and can be made entirely without “poisonous” lead. Meanwhile new advancements in bullet casing designs would allow for easy clean up and potential reuse of cases expended on the range with a simple magnet.
If there is so much lead and copper just smashed into the ground at these ranges and proving grounds I have to wonder why there are not reclamation efforts done to dig up and reclaim the materials. But maybe I’m just thinking in too simplistic terms.
Maybe if we start using “biodegradable” bullets and “green” ammo we can get Leftists and gun control fanatics to shut up about guns and start embracing our Second Amendment rights.
What are your thoughts on this. How do you see this mess playing out? Sound off in the comments below.