USA — Picatinny engineer pursues improved hand grenade

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. — As far as the design of the basic hand grenade goes, essen­tial­ly it has been frozen in time. The first pull-pin design with a lever and delayed fuze dates back to May 1915 and is often referred to as the grand­fa­ther to the cur­rent vari­a­tion.

Sol­diers engage in grenade train­ing. The hand grenade is famil­iar to the gen­er­al pub­lic by virtue of its fre­quent appear­ance in count­less war movies. Yet the basic tech­nol­o­gy is almost 100 years old. A Picatin­ny arse­nal engi­neer wants to give a mod­ern face-lift to the warhorse of war­fare.
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Exist­ing grenade design.
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“The basic tech­nol­o­gy is almost 100 years old,” said Richard Lauch, a Picatin­ny Arse­nal engi­neer, refer­ring to the Mills Bomb No. 5. 

The Mills bomb is the pop­u­lar name for a series of promi­nent British hand grenades. They were the first mod­ern frag­men­ta­tion grenades and named after William Mills, a hand grenade designer. 

Lauch, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, has been on a mis­sion to mod­ern­ize the hand grenade so that it is safer as well as eas­i­er to use and cheap­er to produce. 

Dur­ing the last year and half of his Marine ser­vice, Lauch was pri­ma­ry marks­man­ship instruc­tor in the Weapons Train­ing Bat­tal­ion at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Calif. 

While he was assist­ing in train­ing recruits on the prop­er use of the M67 hand grenade, Lauch became inti­mate­ly famil­iar with what he saw as the grenade’s deficiencies. 

The cur­rent grenade fuze design only allows for a right-hand­ed user to throw it in the upright posi­tion. A lefty has to hold the grenade upside down to safe­ly pull the pin. 

Also, the cur­rent fuze con­sists of an explo­sive train that is in-line from pro­duc­tion through usage; thus, it is always “armed.”

In a grenade, the explo­sive train is the sequence of events that begins when the han­dle is released. That ini­ti­ates a mechan­i­cal strike on a primer, which ignites a slow-burn­ing fuze to pro­vide time for the grenade to be thrown before the fuze sets off the pri­ma­ry explosive. 

In an “in-line” explo­sive train, the sequence is always in-place and ready. Until it is removed, a pin in the han­dle is the only thing that pre­vents the sequence from being initiated. 

Lauch believes his design is safer because a lefty or righty holds the grenade no dif­fer­ent­ly, and because the grenade can only be armed by rotat­ing the explo­sive chain in line. 


Lauch came to the Arma­ment Research, Devel­op­ment and Engi­neer­ing Cen­ter, known as ARDEC, in 2008 after work­ing sev­er­al years in pri­vate industry. 

About a year and a half lat­er, his idea came to Lauch after he read about an injury to a Sol­dier who was train­ing at Fort Dix, N.J. A year and a half after, he sub­mit­ted a patent appli­ca­tion for his project. 

The Sol­dier at Fort Dix, a lefty, was prepar­ing to throw an M69 prac­tice grenade and was hold­ing it in an invert­ed posi­tion with the vent port toward her face. Even though the mas­ter sergeant was wear­ing pro­tec­tive eye­wear, when she pulled the pin, the fuze det­o­nat­ed and debris vent­ed, burn­ing her face and blind­ing her for three weeks. 

“What struck me most was that a Sol­dier, miles from home for what was sup­posed to be tem­po­rary train­ing, was now sit­ting in her bar­racks room blind­ed,” Lauch said. 

Dur­ing Lauch’s research, he noticed that for hand-emplaced devices, the fuze safe­ty pol­i­cy for a new fuze design requires an out-of-line explo­sive train until it is ready to be armed. 

“When I start­ed explor­ing a means to make the grenade ambidex­trous, it led itself to an out-of-line design. There was no way around it with what I was doing,” Lauch said. “Some­thing was going to have to rotate. It was just one of the things that hap­pened to fall into place with what we are striv­ing to do.” 

Lauch’s patent appli­ca­tion design includes a safe­ty that requires two dis­tinct actions to arm the grenade. 

The first motion ensures that users have a firm grip and con­trol of the lever before they can arm it. 

The sec­ond motion “arms” the grenade by rotat­ing the explo­sive train in-line. If the tac­ti­cal sit­u­a­tion were to change, the Sol­dier just revers­es the sec­ond step and the grenade is re-safed. Cur­rent­ly, re-saf­ing a grenade requires try­ing to rein­sert the some­times-deformed safe­ty pin, which is not eas­i­ly done. 

Anoth­er rea­son Lauch was deter­mined to make an improve­ment was that Sol­diers have been known to make their own mod­i­fi­ca­tions to grenades when they know there is poten­tial for an accident. 

“I know that if any­one ever got on my chop­per with a grenade, the crew ensured they all taped the pins in with duct tape so there was no room for an acci­dent,” Lauch said. 

How­ev­er, when the tape is removed it may unin­ten­tion­al­ly remove the safe­ty pin, result­ing in seri­ous injury or even death. In recent years the Army dis­al­lowed the tap­ing of grenade pins and start­ed a train­ing cam­paign to rein­force safe practices. 

“If we send a fin­ished prod­uct to the field and the warfight­er has to mod­i­fy or alter it for their mis­sion, then we did­n’t do our jobs very well,” he said. 

“It’s been going on for decades, from air­crew­men using a C‑Ration can to aid the belt feed on the door-mount­ed M60s to this,” Lauch added. “Instead of telling a warfight­er, ‘Don’t do that,’ we need to make it so they don’t want to make any modifications.” 

After bounc­ing his idea around the office, Lauch became frus­trat­ed that there sim­ply was no fund­ing for his con­cept because there was no writ­ten require­ment for a new grenade design. 

With troops in com­bat, the Army places a pre­mi­um on deliv­er­ing capa­bil­i­ties based on what com­bat troops say are their most press­ing needs. The Army has a detailed process to doc­u­ment these needs into writ­ten requirements. 

Lauch believes that the rea­son there is no real require­ment is because the Sol­diers are unaware that a bet­ter ver­sion could exist. 

“If you asked some­one in the 1880s how you could improve a horse and car­riage, they would tell you they would want it to go faster. They had no idea that the auto­mo­bile was next in line,” Lauch said. 

He became deter­mined to prove that he was at the cusp of some­thing great. Lauch worked dai­ly dur­ing his per­son­al time to bring his idea to reality. 

Lauch then turned to the Inno­va­tion Devel­op­ments Every­day at Army Research, or IDEA, Devel­op­ment and Engi­neer­ing Cen­ter also known as ARDEC, or IDEA pro­gram and one of the program’s “cat­a­lysts,” Andrea Stevens. 

An idea cat­a­lyst encour­ages and fos­ters ideas, help­ing to refine exist­ing ideas, to con­nect asso­ciates with oth­er ARDEC enti­ties, and advise asso­ciates on the inno­va­tion processes. 

With some guid­ance and work­ing with Stevens, paper­work was sub­mit­ted for more fund­ing and to acquire a patent for the new grenade design concept. 

“This is a great exam­ple of the advan­tage of hav­ing an inno­va­tion process and cat­a­lysts there to assist these engi­neers,” said Maria Allende, a Grenades and Mor­tars Fuz­ing Team Leader. 

Lauch received some fund­ing from the office of John Hed­derich, exec­u­tive direc­tor of ARDEC’s Muni­tions Engi­neer­ing Tech­nol­o­gy Cen­ter. Lauch pre­sent­ed his idea before the patent eval­u­a­tion com­mit­tee with just two days notice. The com­mit­tee liked what it saw and labeled it a high priority. 

On Dec. 29, 2011, a patent appli­ca­tion was filed. 

“We could have put him on any pro­gram,” Edwina Chesky, a Fuz­ing Sys­tems branch chief, said of Lauch when he first arrived at Picatin­ny. “Luck­i­ly we put him on grenade fuzes.” 

Lauch and Philip Gor­man, the com­pe­ten­cy man­ag­er for Fuze Divi­sion, agree that there is still a lot of work on the prod­uct that needs to be explored. Final dimen­sions and delay mech­a­nisms are still to be final­ized. A patent does not mean a prod­uct will end up in the hands of troops any­time soon. 


“There is still no doc­u­ment­ed require­ment from the field and there has been a resis­tance from the user to accept a rad­i­cal depar­ture from the old design,” Gor­man said. 

Lauch acknowl­edges that it takes a lot of per­suad­ing to gain accep­tance from Soldiers. 

“But at the same time, it is their opin­ions that you want because they will find any and every flaw you haven’t thought of and if they can’t find any you know you have a good design,” Lauch said. 

Cur­rent­ly, there are only 12 pro­to­types in inven­to­ry and fur­ther research is still need­ed. But Gor­man and Lauch believe there are fur­ther ben­e­fits besides improved oper­a­tional safety. 

“In the pro­duc­tion of the M67 hand grenade, inspec­tions are con­duct­ed to ensure that none of 20 poten­tial crit­i­cal defects relat­ed to the in-line assem­bly of the explo­sive train are present” Gor­man said. 

He said that with the improved safe­ty fea­tures, few­er inspec­tions need to be imple­ment­ed, cre­at­ing poten­tial cost-savings. 

Reduc­ing the num­ber of crit­i­cal defects to be inspect­ed reduces the amount of time spent on inspec­tions and testing. 

“At the end of the day, grenade fuzes are a real bear to make,” Gor­man said. “Dri­ven by the fact that you screw it in-line. This explores the pos­si­bil­i­ty to get rid of that in-line explo­sive,” he said. 

For the approval of his patent appli­ca­tion, ARDEC will receive a $200 inven­tion award. Lauch plans to donate the prize mon­ey to the Wound­ed War­rior Project to help oth­er injured Sol­diers like the injured mas­ter sergeant at Fort Dix that inspired Lauch to pur­sue his goal of putting a new grenade out in the field. 

U.S. Army 

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