The Pentagon wants to buy mortar rounds that grow plants

In what sounds like a page straight from the script of a Tim Burton film, the Pentagon has issued a solicitation to industry seeking biodegradable ammo that could also plant seeds.

No, this is not a Duffleblog post.

The solicitation, posted on the Small Business Innovation Research web site, states that the plan is to eventually replace “low velocity 40mm grenades; 60mm, 81mm, and 120mm mortars; shoulder launched munitions; 120mm tank rounds; and 155mm artillery rounds” with biodegradable versions with the intention of “eliminating environmental hazards.”

The US Army's M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round. | US Army photo

The US Army’s M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round. | US Army photo

“Components of current training rounds require hundreds of years or more to biodegrade [and] civilians (e.g., farmers or construction crews) encountering these rounds and components do not know if they are training or tactical rounds,” the solicitation states. “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 Pentagon is asking for biodegradable rounds that can also plant “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.”

The intent is to use the seeds to “grow environmentally friendly plants that remove soil contaminants and consume the biodegradable components developed under this project.” Furthermore, these plants supposedly will be stuff that animals can eat safely.

It is unclear how this R&D effort improves combat readiness.

Past efforts to use “green” technology have proven very expensive. According to a July 2016 report from the Daily Caller, the Navy’s “Green Fleet” used biofuel that cost $13.46 per gallon on USS Mason – and the biofuel in question was only about 5.5 percent of the total fuel taken on board. Regular fuel cost $1.60 per gallon.

ray mabus uss mason ddg-87 sea rep

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Armando Gonzales

This is not to say some “green” programs have been duds. The Defense Media Network reported in 2013 that the Army’s M855A1 5.56mm NATO round for the M4 carbine, M16 rifle, and M249 squad automatic weapon had turned out to be comparable to a conventional 7.62mm NATO round, like those used in the M14 rifle or M240 machine gun.

Still, the best that can be said for the “green technology” push is that the results have been very spotty.

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