The Revolution in Modern Warfare: Tactical Use of 3D Printing in Myanmar and Ukraine

By: Jamison Gaither 

Currently, the means by which wars are fought is changing dramatically.  It has been said that with 3D-printing, the only limit is one’s imagination, and militaries around the world have realized this and already begun incorporating it in various ways. In two current and geographically-distanced conflicts, decentralized technologies like 3D-printing are being utilized to create or enhance military capabilities. In Myanmar, self-fabricated, hybrid firearms such as the FGC-9 are used by rebel forces to supplement their low stocks of traditional firearms. In Ukraine, 3D-printed accessories and crowdsourced movements help to expand Ukraine’s offensive and defensive capabilities. These cases show, whether it be rebel groups or professional armies, that the cheap, decentralized nature of 3D printing is extremely useful for frontline forces, giving those who utilize this technology a dynamic advantage. 

Myanmar – How to Fight a War with 3D-Printed Weapons 

After a military junta in February 2021, various rebel groups began to resist the military, fighting to restore democracy. Yet, these forces lacked conventional firearms, so they proactively turned to the Internet for assistance. 3D-printed firearms have existed online since 2013, when an American, Cody Wilson, first fired his “Liberator” handgun, and significant developments have occurred amongst internet communities since then. One firearm in particular is key to the conflict in Myanmar, the FGC-9. Standing for “F*** Gun Control”, the FGC-9 was a dramatic evolution in 3D-printed firearms because it is a reliable, accurate, semi-automatic pistol-caliber carbine. Created with the intention of evading European gun laws, the FGC is completely assembled from 3D-printed components along with easily accessible, store-bought items. The firearm in its entirety can be printed and assembled in the privacy of one’s own home, utilizing processes like electrochemical machining (ECM) to rifle barrels cheaply and effectively. Furthermore, manufacturing support for this and other homemade firearms is easily accessible, organizations like Deterrence Dispensed and Defense Distributed providing access to file-sharing services and forums, and internet communities such as Reddit’s r/fosscad providing an international, decentralized network of research and development. The FGC itself has a roughly 200-page instruction manual written by its creators, detailing every step and process in creating the firearm. These internet communities were immediately utilized by Burmese rebellion forces as a means to offset their lack of traditional firearms, to great effect. 

Within a year of the military’s junta, Burmese fighters were pictured with FGCs. A thread on X was the first to compile the extent of the production and usage of FGC-9s in Myanmar. In response to this thread, an individual on Reddit with the username DaddyUMCD claimed to be the original poster of these images. They claim, throughout their comments and posts, to be a manufacturer of FGCs for rebel groups, and offer various insights into the decentralized production of these firearms. In one comment posted two years ago, they claimed that it took three days to produce a single carbine, and they had ten teams distributed across Myanmar producing these weapons. Strategically, FGCs are clearly used in coordination with traditional firearms, as one picture of weapons seized from a rebel weapons cache shows FGCs alongside AR-style rifles, and another shows rebels holding FGCs surrounded by allies holding hunting and Kalashnikov rifles.  

Moreover, combat footage released on social media shows the strategic value of FGCs when paired with these traditional rifles. One particular video, taken in the midst of an ambush, shows one combatant using a traditional AR-style rifle equipped with a telescopic scope, with two others using FGCs equipped with no optics. This arrangement is important, as it is likely the AR-style rifle is equipped with a scope because of its superior range and power, whereas the FGCs, firing a lower-powered round, are used to suppress the enemy. If such is the case, FGCs are acting as more than just temporary weapons for ambushes, eventually replaced by captured arms, but instead act as dedicated support weapons, complimenting traditional rifles. This results in a net-positive gain of weapons for rebellion forces, allowing for continuous increases in capabilities. Yet, however one views the usage of these firearms, one thing is certain: the FGC-9 is proving itself through the test of battle, setting a blueprint for how under-equipped and underfunded rebellious groups can wage a successful armed movement against better equipped government forces. 

Ukraine – How to Enhance Capabilities with 3D printing 

Ukraine, although underequipped compared to the military giant that is Russia, has no need for constructing its own firearms, as they have great international support supplying them with firearms, as well as an established weapons manufacturing industry since 2014. Still, support has fallen short for crucial munitions like artillery shells, leaving Ukrainians scrambling to devise solutions. Needing a cheap and rapid response, they have turned to 3D printing, utilizing the technology in various ways, increasing their offensive capabilities and defensive readiness.  

Offensively, 3D printers have been used to fabricate stabilization fins for drone-delivered grenades. Ukraine’s stockpile of Soviet-era weapons includes a large number of RKG-3 anti-tank grenades. Typically considered obsolete due to the grenade requiring a soldier to be within throwing distance of their target, a Ukrainian manufacturer designed stabilizing fins which can be attached to these grenades. This allows for these grenades to be dropped efficiently from quadcopter drones, the fins causing the grenades to fall straight down, directly onto their impact fuse. Another manufacturer developed a 3D-printed, drone-deployable bomb which can be filled with about 800 grams of C4 explosive. Such weapons are formidable anti-personnel weapons, holding much more explosive material than traditional hand grenades, with a shell that can be produced by anyone with a 3D printer. Such developments help to compensate for Ukraine’s lack of artillery shells, giving them a steady supply of cheap, easily produced anti-tank and anti-personnel munitions, albeit without the range and destructive power of artillery. Still, these developments provide Ukrainians with increased offensive capabilities against Russian armor and infantry, allowing for them to continue their fight. 

Organizations are not only increasing Ukraine’s offensive capabilities, but also designing, printing, and donating personal protection and medical equipment. These organizations are solely dedicated to assisting the Ukrainian war effort through 3D printing, decentralized groups such as Tech Against Tanks working to unite the 3D-printing community’s support. Published designs include molds for window barricades and shooting shields which can be printed and then filled with cement to create defensive structures. Personal protection and medical equipment are also published by this organization, creating cheap, easily replaceable equipment like elbow and knee pads, or necessary medical equipment like eyeshields or an eyewash attachment which can be screwed onto regular bottles. This organization also conducts research and development, designing much needed equipment like tourniquets, smoke grenades, and diversionary mines. Now, even professional armies should consider making use of 3D printing, as Ukraine has proved this technology can provide cheap and effective solutions no matter its field of use.  


In both of these cases, armed groups are supported by individuals and organizations using 3D printing to enhance their frontline capabilities. Myanmar has shown the FGC-9 can be a viable option for guerilla forces without access to traditional firearms, for its widespread, decentralized production is extremely difficult to root out, and it can serve as a feasible ambush and support weapon alongside traditional firearms. Ukraine is similarly using 3D printing, with private organizations researching and designing ways the technology can be used to increase soldiers’ capabilities. This has resulted in new life for obsolete munitions and an increased logistical capacity, as any 3D printer can be used to create anti-personnel bombs, defensive fortifications, or medical equipment. These conflicts have proven the viability of 3D printing in even frontline combat, likely being the first of many fought with 3D-printed weapons and munitions. The security implications of these developments cannot be overstated, for every positive aspect 3D printing provides to armed movements has also already been utilized by criminals to evade gun restrictions. Furthermore, radical groups are increasingly present in internet communities developing 3D-printed firearms, so it can be said this technology is here to stay, no matter one’s ideology or reason. These conflicts have cemented 3D printing as an extremely beneficial technology for armed movements, for it is only limited by the imaginations of its users, for better or worse.

Jamison Gaither is a Political Science and Public Affairs Master of Arts student at SLU-Madrid from Lafayette, Louisiana, USA.

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