William Bos, Isaiah Johnson, Agathe Labadi, Mateo Maya, Nicholas Novak, Martina Sclaverano, Weapons and Tactics
Alya Fathia Fitri, Brantley Williams, Editor; Jennifer Loy, Chief Editor
September 24, 2023
The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT for countries with strict gun control regulations and security agencies screening for firearms. Recent advancements in 3D-printed ammunition are reaching unexpected levels of sophistication. Manufacturing this ammunition doesn’t require regulated or legally controlled components. 3D-printed projectiles and casings will likely elude traditional metal detecting systems used in airports or government buildings. 3D-printed ammunition will likely be smuggled into countries where obtaining ammunition is difficult, like European and East Asian states, and used by individuals to carry out targeted killings undetected.
CTG is on HIGH alert for the potential of smuggling and assembling 3D-printed ammunition by lone wolf attackers and for the HIGH insider threat toward licensed ammunition manufacturers. The sophistication of 3D-printed ammunition indicates designers with backgrounds potentially in mechanical, material, and chemical engineering collaborated to create 3D-printed cartridge components like casings and primers. The prospective terrorists are VERY LIKELY producing these designs for their availability, portability, ease of use, low energy, and noise signatures of 3D-printers. These threat actors will ALMOST CERTAINLY circulate manuals on how to assemble and print these components. This makes the threat of targeted killings in countries with strict gun control MORE LIKELY during politically tense times like electoral campaigns and social upheaval.
CTG analysts have recently discovered disturbing advancements in 3D-printed ammunition posted on public social media forums. These collective groups have published the process to produce new designs on .stl files which are used in conjunction with computer aided design software. Developments include the production of shell casings, primers, large fin-stabilized projectiles capable of carrying a payload, and complete cartridges. The rapid technical innovations present significant challenges to security, weapons detection, export control, and governance. While these developments are in their testing phases, the potential for widespread, uncontrolled proliferation has prompted CTG to issue a preemptive Flash Alert to give law enforcement and policymakers the appropriate time to respond.
The complexity and technicality of ammunition likely shows that developers very likely possess engineering and chemistry backgrounds. The use of hobby grade filaments without melting and managing internal pressure also highlights the ingenuity of the inventors. 3D-printed ammunition developers are almost certainly in contact with each other, allowing the network to cooperate and improve designs quickly. The easy access to open-source methods, materials, and blueprints will very likely develop a network of experts and threat actors. New users and developers will likely create competition, accelerating this technology. The accessibility of 3D- printers in Europe and East Asia will likely facilitate the recruitment of new designers. Independent enthusiasts will likely translate the technical manuals, CAD software, and .stl files into German, French, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Italian, and then spread them through encrypted communications like Telegram or Signal. There is a likely chance that 3D-printed ammunition will enable violent crime in places where gun use is not a norm. In other places like East Asian countries, it will likely enable supplying criminal groups with accessible firearms. Small, independent donations will very likely assist development through services like Utreon or Paypal. Independent engineers are likely to accept design commissions from individuals or groups to fulfill specific requirements. Physical copies of designs will almost certainly not be sold to avoid legal complications. Increasing financial incentives will likely attract designers with technical backgrounds to profit from developing these designs. Disenfranchised university students with engineering backgrounds will be financially motivated to produce 3D-printed ammunition.
In its current form, it is unlikely that 3D-printed ammunition will be used for mass shootings. It will likely be used for targeted assassinations. While weaker than conventional ammunition, 3D-printed ammunition is capable of dealing lethal damage to its target. It is likely threat actors will use close-range tactics to carry out targeted killings. Future advancements in materials science and 3D-printing will likely result in an increase in lethality and rate of fire of new designs. Future designs will likely incorporate explosives to increase lethality due to the velocity limitations of current 3D-printed ammunition. These designs will very likely be combined with rudimentary 3D-printed suppressors due to the vast majority of projectiles traveling below the speed of sound.
Depending on the quality of the 3D-printer, new iterations of designs could be produced in a few hours. This technology requires less manufacturing, personnel, and resources than conventional weapons/ammunition. The ability to rapidly iterate new designs with 3D-printers will likely complicate forensic investigations and is very likely undetectable by conventional X-ray metal detectors. Forensic units will very unlikely be able to trace the bullet to the manufacturer due to its homemade origin and illicit large-scale production. Illicit arms traffickers will very likely illegally export large quantities of illicit 3D-printed ammunition cheaply due to their lighter weight.
The flexibility of 3D-printers will very likely allow designers to adapt existing ammunition designs to new platforms. Potential applications include the production of old/obsolete firearms with less restricted legal status. Antique handguns are likely to be reactivated by new production of 3D-printed ammunition and used in illegal activity. As 3D-printed designs are particularly suited for large-diameter, low pressure rounds, non-state organizations will likely print munitions weapons, like stolen tear gas grenade launchers or non-lethal flare launchers. Criminals are very likely adapting these new designs for blank-firing handguns chambered for 8mm Pistole Automatik Knall (P.A.K.) ammunition to circumvent existing restrictions on acquiring conventional ammunition.
CTG recommends that European and East-Asian Law Enforcement agencies conduct sentiment analysis to monitor online forums to detect early signs of intentions of potentially using 3D-printed ammunition.
CTG recommends that CAD software companies like Fusion360 or Solidworks cooperate with international policing organizations like Europol and Interpol to restrict dual-use designs.
CTG recommends that international law enforcement agencies like Europol and Interpol conduct specific investigations into anti-authoritarian social networks interested in 3D-printing.
CTG recommends monitoring locations with access to the technology needed to create 3D-printed ammunition like Technical Universities, Industrial parks, manufacturing companies, 3D-printing shops, and collaborative workspaces.
CTG recommends that law enforcement, military police, and private security personnel be informed of these developments with a special focus on identifying essential components for production.
CTG recommends that buildings with special security measures like airports, embassies, courts, and institutions enhance their security awareness to protect the High-Value Target (HVT).
CTG recommends that the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) be expanded and cover this topic.
CTG recommends data protection companies and governing institutions in Europe to expand the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) addressing the potential risks of using, sharing, and downloading .stl files.
CTG recommends that intelligence and security services document websites and map social networks used for 3D-printed guns and ammunition as the quality and lethality have proved to grow exponentially.
CTG recommends that local governments create incentives to cooperate with law enforcement rather than counter-productive technical regulation, as this could exacerbate the anti-authoritarian nature of the community.
CTG assesses that the current threat climate is HIGH given the rapid development of ammunition and the potential to avoid traditional security infrastructure against smuggling. Areas with high costs of living, restrictive firearms laws, low amounts of illicit firearms, and highly educated populations are the most likely to encounter these new weapons systems. Advancements in manufacturing technology will very likely increase the lethality and proliferation of 3D-printed ammunition. Private security and law enforcement agencies in major airports, events, and political rallies, should be put on HIGH alert for firearms that could bypass metal detectors. CTG’s OSINT teams will continue to analyze and monitor any further developments of 3D-printed ammunition.
Analysis indicates there is a HIGH PROBABILITY the lethality and proliferation of 3D-printed ammunition will increase over time, with a HIGH PROBABILITY threat actors will attempt to smuggle these weapons past airports and security personnel. The threat actors will ALMOST CERTAINLY use these weapons for high-profile assassination attempts. Extremist groups will LIKELY mass produce 3D-printed ammunition, VERY LIKELY circumventing existing international firearms regulations.