Army explosive experts have ginned up a smaller version of the thermite grenade that works like a tiny blowtorch, capable of cutting through steel obstacles.
The Scalable Thermite Breaching Tools effort has been in development for about a year to give soldiers a lighter alternative to carrying heavy breaching tools or even cutting torches, said Nino Bonavito, chief of the Chemical Biological Center, Energetics Branch at the Army's Combat Capabilities Development Command.
"The point is to make it as light as possible for the soldiers to carry," Bonavito told Military.com on Thursday at a Pentagon technology demonstration.
"Essentially, instead of a guy having to carry around a backpack full of cutting tools or a torch system ... or using high explosives and making a lot of racket, you can bring one of these little things and have the same utility," he said.
Currently, the U.S. military uses the AN-M14 TH3 Incendiary Grenade, which is designed to burn a hole through steel and other obstacles.
It's effective but not very precise.
The new scalable breaching tool is being designed to be about half the size and weight of the incendiary grenade but also feature a nozzle at one end so soldiers can use the thermite jet as a cutting tool, Bonavito said.
It can be mounted on a makeshift selfie stick to protect the operator's hands, he added.
The device is capable of cutting a hole in an inch-thick steel plate. A custom nozzle allows the operator to cut in straight lines as well, Bonavito said.
"So, if I want to cut through a deadbolt or if I want to cut through a piece of rebar, punching a little hole in it isn't going to do it. You've got to be able to cut through the entire diameter of it," he explained.
The effort is still in testing, but program officials hope to make it available to soldiers by 2021, Bonavito said.
"I'd say within the next two to three years, we want to have it in soldiers' hands, whether we start with Special Forces or we start with combat engineers," he said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.