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Ballistic Knives: Mechanisms, Applications, and Legal Considerations.

ballistic knives

Spring-powered ballistic knives gained brief notoriety in the United States during the early to mid-1980s, often marketed as the “KGB Ballistic Knife” despite lacking any evidence of actual use or issuance by the Soviet Union’s KGB, who likely found the design impractical. Since the 1980s, several U.S. companies have produced variations of these knives in limited runs, mostly for their novelty or collector appeal. There has been no documented case of these knives being used in a violent crime.

What is a ballistic knife?

Ballistic knives, a topic surrounded by intrigue and controversy, have captured the attention of both weapon enthusiasts and lawmakers around the world. At its core, a ballistic knife is a specialized combat knife with a detachable blade that can be ejected to a limited range by the press of a trigger or switch, typically powered by a spring mechanism or compressed air. This unique capability distinguishes it from conventional knives and has led to a variety of uses, both practical and recreational.

ballistic knife


Advantages of Ballistic Knives

The primary advantage of ballistic knives lies in their ability to engage targets from a distance, of approximately 5 meters (16 feet), with greater force than a conventional knife thrust or throw. A distinguishing feature is their capacity to project the blade at speeds reaching 63 km/h (39 mph), significantly augmenting their effectiveness compared to traditional throwing knives. However, once discharged, the device becomes inoperative, necessitating the possession of multiple knives. Upon firing, a ballistic knife blade can penetrate wooden boards to depths of 35–40 mm, ample for reaching vital organs.

ballistic knife buy online

Image credit: Photo 214381244 | Ballistic Knife © Couperfield |


Despite their unique capabilities, ballistic knives exhibit drawbacks. Prolonged compression of the spring mechanism can lead to residual deformation, rendering them unsafe for extended periods in a cocked position. Additionally, they have a short effective range and are sensitive to contamination and corrosion due to close tolerances between moving parts. Moreover, the high speed of blade ejection poses a risk to users if mishandled.ballistic knives

Ballistic Knife: Design and Mechanics

Ballistic knives feature intricate designs and mechanics that distinguish them from conventional edged weapons. These knives operate on a launching mechanism capable of projecting the blade with considerable force.

ballistic knife amazon

Image credit: Photo 214381294 | Ballistic Knife © Couperfield |

Basic Components and Materials

Typically comprised of a handle housing the launching mechanism and a detachable blade, ballistic knives are constructed from durable materials chosen for their strength and weight characteristics. High-grade steel is often favored for blades due to its strength and edge retention properties, while handles may incorporate metals, hard plastics, or composites for durability and grip.

what is a ballistc knife
Image credit: N.S.Armory

How Ballistic Knives Work

Ballistic knives employ various launching mechanisms, commonly spring-loaded systems. In a dormant state, the blade is secured within the handle by a locking mechanism. Activation, typically initiated by a button or lever, releases the lock, allowing the compressed spring to propel the blade forward. Some models utilize compressed air or gas for blade ejection, offering alternative means to achieve similar results.

ballistic knife for sale

Image credit: Photo 214381255 | Ballistic Knife © Couperfield |

Variations in Design Across Different Models

Ballistic knives have seen various iterations and improvements over the years, with each design aiming to enhance performance, safety, and ease of use. Some models incorporate features like adjustable power settings, allowing users to control the force behind the blade’s ejection. Others focus on compactness and concealability, catering to the needs of those who prioritize discretion. Despite these variations, all these knives share the defining characteristic of a detachable, projectile blade, making them a unique category of weaponry.

pilum ballistic knife

Image credit: Photo 214381276 | Ballistic Knife © Couperfield |

Deployment Mechanism

Spring-Operated: The most common mechanism, where a coiled spring inside the handle is compressed and released to propel the blade.

spring operated ballistic knife

Gas-Driven: Utilizes compressed gas to eject the blade. These models can sometimes offer adjustable power levels for blade ejection.

gas driven ballistic knife

Handle and Housing

Material Variations: Handles can be made from a variety of materials including but not limited to metal, plastic, or composite materials, affecting the weight and grip of the knife.

Ergonomic Designs: Some models feature ergonomically designed handles for better grip and control during use.

Safety Mechanisms: To prevent accidental deployment, ballistic knives may include safety locks or buttons.

Integrated Tools: Variations include adjustable power settings, compact and concealable designs, and integrated tools such as screwdrivers or bottle openers.

homemade ballistic knife

Can civilians own ballistic knives?

Civilians generally cannot own ballistic knives in many countries, including the United States. The Federal Switchblade Act, amended in 1986, specifically prohibits the possession, manufacture, sale, or importation of ballistic knives. This law applies across the entire U.S., although additional restrictions or allowances might vary by state.

In other countries, similar restrictions are often in place due to the perceived danger and potential for misuse associated with these weapons. It’s important to check local laws and regulations if you’re considering acquiring any type of specialized knife to ensure compliance with legal standards.

Are ballistic knives illegal?

The legal status of ballistic knives varies widely across jurisdictions, with regulations ranging from strict prohibitions to more permissive approaches. In the United States, federal law prohibits their manufacture, sale, and possession, with additional state-level restrictions. Similarly, countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany classify these knives as prohibited weapons, while others may regulate them under broader weapon laws.

ballistic knife.

Image credit: Photo 214381288 | Ballistic Knife © Couperfield |

Overview of Legality in Various Countries

Ballistic knives are subject to a wide range of regulations that differ significantly from one country to another. In some jurisdictions, they are classified alongside conventional knives and are regulated under general knife laws. However, due to their potential as projectile weapons, many countries have enacted specific statutes or regulations that address these knives directly. For instance, in the United States, federal law prohibits the manufacture, sale, and possession of ballistic knives, with additional restrictions varying by state. In contrast, other countries may have more lenient laws or even no specific mention of this type of knife, treating them under the broader category of weapons or prohibited items.

balistic knife

Image credit: Photo 214381303 | Ballistic Knife © Couperfield |

Changes in Legal Status Over Time

The evolution of laws concerning this type of knives reflects changing perceptions of their threat level and public safety concerns. Initially, when ballistic knives first appeared on the market and in public awareness, there was little to no legal recognition or regulation. As their presence became more noted, particularly with sensationalized accounts of their use in criminal activities or as tools for espionage, lawmakers began to scrutinize their status. Over time, this led to a patchwork of legislation, with some countries tightening restrictions, while others maintained a more permissive stance. The legal landscape continues to evolve as new considerations emerge, such as advancements in knife technology and shifts in societal attitudes towards weapons and self-defense.

are ballistic knives illegal

Image credit: Photo 214381288 | Ballistic Knife © Couperfield |

United States

Ballistic knives are federally illegal to manufacture, sell, or possess as per the Federal Switchblade Act amendments in 1986. Additionally, many states have their own laws further restricting or outright banning their possession and sale.

United Kingdom

Under the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, ballistic knives are classified as offensive weapons and are illegal to manufacture, sell, possess, or import.


Ballistic knives are prohibited weapons under the Criminal Code of Canada. It is illegal to own, import, or sell ballistic knives.


The importation of ballistic knives is prohibited under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956. Their legal status may vary by state regarding possession and use, but generally, they are considered prohibited weapons.


Historically associated with Soviet military use, ballistic knives are heavily restricted and largely illegal for civilian possession and use without specific permissions.


Ballistic knives are considered prohibited weapons under the German Weapons Act. It is illegal to carry, manufacture, trade, import, or possess them.

illegal knives

Image credit: Photo 214381312 | Ballistic Knife © Couperfield |

Applications of Ballistic Knives: Combat Use

While ballistic knives theoretically offer combat and utility applications, their practicality is limited by legal constraints and safety concerns. Special forces units typically rely on firearms equipped with silencers rather than ballistic knives. Despite this, ballistic knives hold appeal for collectors due to their unique mechanisms, historical significance, and craftsmanship. Interest in collecting these knives remains niche, primarily among enthusiasts appreciative of their mechanical innovation and historical context.

Currently, ballistic knives are not used by any special forces unit in the world due to their complete equipping with firearms equipped with silencers. Despite their potential for high-speed blade projection, the practical limitations and safety concerns have led to their absence in modern military arsenals. These knives have been prohibited in the USA since 1986, after Congress passed the relevant legislative act, reflecting concerns over their speed and potential misuse.

ballistic knife sale

Image credit: Photo 214381330 | Ballistic Knife © Couperfield |

Book Spotlight on Amazon: Ballistic Knife

Looking for an in-depth exploration of one of the most secretive weapons used by special forces? Check out “Ballistic Knives: Weapons for Secret Services and Special Forces” on Amazon. Published on February 20, 2017, this paperback dives into the fascinating history and mechanical design of ballistic knives. Known for their unique ability to launch a blade at high speed, these knives have been shrouded in mystery and controversy. The book provides a comprehensive overview, detailed illustrations, and the operational tactics behind these formidable tools. Perfect for enthusiasts and professionals alike, it offers a rare glimpse into the world of espionage and covert operations weaponry.

Ballistic knives first made their appearance in the Western collectors’ market in the 1980s, characterized by a hidden, powerful coil spring within the handle. A trigger mechanism launched the blade, sending it flying several meters with significant force. Rumors circulated that these knives hailed from the Soviet Union, crafted as secret weapons for the KGB or elite units like the Spetsnaz. By the late 1990s, the potential danger of ballistic knives led to a widespread ban across many countries. However, a German blade manufacturer sought to enhance the supposedly Russian design, as the prototypes in this book illustrate. The origins, developers, and primary users of these weapons remain shrouded in mystery. This book delves into these aspects, exploring the effective range, the inherent dangers of ballistic knives, and presenting the main variants.

Weapons for Secret Services and Special Forces

Image credit: Wolfgang Peter-Michel, Publisher Books on Demand.

Speznas Ballistic Knife Test (video)

Video credit: Adam Celadin

In conclusion

The realm of ballistic knives is characterized by a delicate balance between innovation, controversy, and regulation. These specialized combat tools offer unique capabilities, allowing for precise engagement at a distance and high-speed blade projection. However, their practicality is often overshadowed by legal restrictions and safety concerns, leading to their absence in modern military arsenals and limited deployment in other applications. Despite this, these knives retain a niche appeal among collectors and enthusiasts, who are drawn to their mechanical ingenuity and historical significance. As laws and societal attitudes continue to evolve, the future of ballistic knives remains uncertain, yet their legacy as objects of intrigue and contention endures.

Author: Aleks Nemtcev | Connect with me on LinkedIn


Ballistic Knife Prohibition Act of 1986

Ballistic knives 15 U.S. Code § 1245  

Ballistic Knives: Weapons for Secret Services and Special Forces Paperback – February 20, 2017

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