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Army fields safer smoke grenades

Sugar replaces sulfur to ease impact on soldiers, environment

May. 7, 2007 - 06:01AM   |   Last Updated: May. 7, 2007 - 06:01AM  |  
Colored smoke permeates the mock battlefield at Forward Operating Base Normandy, Iraq, during a medical first responders course. The Army has now fielded smoke grenades fueled by a sugar-based mixture instead of sulfur to further protect soldiers.
Colored smoke permeates the mock battlefield at Forward Operating Base Normandy, Iraq, during a medical first responders course. The Army has now fielded smoke grenades fueled by a sugar-based mixture instead of sulfur to further protect soldiers. (James J. Lee / Staff)
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The ingredients that go into making the colored smoke grenades used by soldiers everywhere are being reconcocted into a formula that's safer for soldiers and the environment, according to an Army press release.

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The ingredients that go into making the colored smoke grenades used by soldiers everywhere are being reconcocted into a formula that's safer for soldiers and the environment, according to an Army press release.

Two of the colors used in the M18 smoke grenade — yellow and green — have been fielded and are using a sugar-based mixture.

The project manager for Close Combat Systems at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., evaluated the chemicals in the dyes that make the green, red, yellow and purple smoke plumes and the sulfur-based fuel that generates the heat.

"Our scientists came up with a sugar formation to replace the sulfur previously used in most smoke grenades employed by the U.S. military," Col. John L. Koster, project manager for CCS, which oversees the Army's M18 Smoke Grenade family, said in the release.

Scientists found changes to the red and violet M18 smoke grenades to be more challenging. The new dyes were burning and not producing enough colored smoke to meet the strict military standards.

"This effort calls for removing potentially harmful dyes and other materials from smoke grenades," Koster said.

When a traditional grenade ignites, he said, the dye inside vaporizes and condenses to form a colored cloud. The original formulation in most smoke grenades relied on a sulfur-based fuel to generate just enough heat to vaporize the dye.

"The smoke could cause a burning sensation if inhaled, and the dye residue could potentially have a harmful effect on the environment," Koster said.

Army scientists have identified numerous possible changes that will remove the sulfur and also reduce weight and manufacturing costs, the release said.

The sugar-based smoke compositions burn slightly hotter than the sulfur-based ones, and decompose faster, keeping the smoke from vaporizing.

To keep the new smoke compositions burning long enough to make good smoke, starter patches are being tested to replace the more complex pellet ignition system.

In addition, the older pellet ignition system had some reliability issues. The change to the starter-patch system makes ignition more reliable because of the increased contact with the smoke composition. The intimate contact greatly increases ignition reliability at colder temperatures, the release said.

According to Koster, the violet smoke grenades almost meet the required military standards, but additional testing and development is required to assure a high-quality product for soldiers.

The M18 red smoke grenade is in the earlier stages of development and possesses additional challenges to the replacement effort.

For now, pyrotechnic experts say changes to the smoke grenade will make training and deployed scenarios safer for soldiers, and will help protect and preserve the land on which they train and fight.

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