Marines recently used 3D printing technology to make a head cap for the rocket motor on a key mine-clearing device.
Then they blew it up.
Over the summer, the program manager for ammunition at Marine Corps Systems Command printed the head cap, for use on the M58 Mine Clearing Line Charge, or MICLIC.
The MICLIC uses a rocket-projected explosive line charge that clears lanes for advancing Marines.
The head cap is part of the system’s rocket motor that propels and explodes the line charge.
The Corps has used the M58 MICLIC for years. It blows a nearly 9-yard wide by 110-yard long lane through obstacles, especially land mines.
Then-Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson noted in an anthology of Marine Combat operations in Afghanistan from 2001–2009 that the MICLIC was a key asset in getting through improvised explosive device-laden areas.
“It does a hell of a lot more damage, they’re a lot more formidable than a tank at some level,” Nicholson said.
He noted at the time there were 15 such systems in the entire Marine Corps, five of which were in Afghanistan at the time, and until then they’d never been used in combat.
“Again, 1,700 pounds of C4 launched by the MICLIC can open a pretty nice lane to move the forces through, but we needed them,” Nicholson said.
On May 28, 2008, Marine combat engineers with Battalion Landing Team 1/6 were the first to use the MICLIC in Afghanistan to breach the mud-brick walls of a 19th-century British fort, in use by the Taliban.
By printing the head cap, developers hope to give a remote solution for making parts but also save time and money.
But the way that manufacturers build the head cap is “both timely and costly,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Justin Trejo.
Back in 2019, PM Ammo started research on the materials it would need to 3D-print its own head cap.
A prototype head cap, developed with Naval Surface Warfare Center Corona Division, was the result.
In 2021, the team built a stainless steel version and then launched the rocket motor at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona in the summer, according to the release.
“The rocket motor fired off just as intended and the line charge detonated as it is supposed to, which was a significant moment for us,” Trejo said. “In the future, we’d like to attempt to 3D print the head cap with its nozzles attached.”
The Marines, along with the other services, have been pushing deeper into 3D printing for necessary items, especially for hard-to-get parts they’ll likely need on a future battlefield.
To support those efforts, the Corps created the Advanced Manufacturing Operations Cell in 2019. The help desk is available for Marines needing support for 3D printing and other sustainment items, according to the release.
And this is far from the first item built and tested for use by Marines.
Marine Corps Times reported back in 2016 that then-head of Marine aviation Lt. Gen. John Davis, told Congress that the Navy and Marine Corps were 3D-printing parts for the aging F/A-18A-D Hornets.
In 2018, Marines with I Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Pendleton, California, used 3D printing to build a barracks room in 40 hours, Marine Corps Times reported.
The 500-square-foot hut used the world’s largest concrete 3D printer at the U.S. Army Research and Development Center.
As COVID-19 rampaged across the world, Marines and sailors in Okinawa, Japan, used 3D printing to make protective gear such as face shields and face mask frames to combat the pandemic.
In the first wave, they produced more than 400 face shields and 4,800 face mask frames.
And in July, Military Times reported that a Marine was the first in the military to receive 3D-printed teeth from reconstructive jaw surgery.
*Correction: This article has been updated to accurately identify the Marine brigadier general who spoke about the first uses of the MICLIC in Afghanistan.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.