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Example with a context (news article, ISIS is manufacturing weapons at an alarming rate):

IS is manufacturing the weapons at an alarming rate, using everything from fertilizer to military grade explosives.

I can understand the term military explosives perfectly well (materials used by the army people that explode when detonated), but what is grade supposed to mean?

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  • They're not just using fertilizer to make "home-made" or crude explosives, which take barrels full to produce the explosion; they're using so-called "plastic explosives" like C-4, of which only a few pounds can produce immense explosions. The word should probably be hyphenated to make it clearer: military-grade. Jun 28 '15 at 13:35
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Two definitions of the term "grade" from TFD are:

  1. A position in a scale of size, quality, or intensity: a poor grade of lumber.
  2. An accepted level or standard.

In this case, "military grade" means it's of the same quality generally demanded of military explosives. The term "military explosives" refers to explosives actually used by a military. If a military uses explosives that are very low-quality, they're still military explosives. In contrast, if a non-military organization makes high-quality explosives for mining, they're not military explosives.

Whether ISIS-made explosives are military or not depends only on if the speaker considers ISIS to be a military or not, not on their quality. However, in this case the reporter wanted to point out that ISIS was making high-quality explosives that are similar to the explosives of national armies. The term "grade" means that the speaker is talking about the quality of the explosives, instead of about who uses them.

(Similar terminology is used in the nuclear context: "weapons-grade uranium" refers to uranium that is pure enough to use in a nuclear bomb, even if it's not actually being used in a weapon. Again, "-grade" is about the quality of the uranium, as opposed to its actual use).

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    +1 In the same way, we speak of 'professional-grade' electronics and 'consumer-grade' (which these days tends to mean pro-grade five years ago). Jun 28 '15 at 0:46

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