Thursday, December 31, 2015

How 3D Printing Will Revolutionize The Military

T.X. Hammes, War On The Rocks: 3-D Printing Will Disrupt The World In Ways We can barely Imagine

In the last few years, additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing, has transformed from an interesting hobby to an industry producing a wide range of products. It is on the path to causing major disruptions in global trade — and changing the international security environment. The explosion of additive manufacturing means it is virtually impossible to provide an up-to-date list of materials that can be printed, but a recent top ten list includes: metals, such as stainless, bronze, steel, gold, nickel steel, aluminum, and titanium; carbon fiber and nano-tubes; stem cells; ceramics; and food. Researchers are exploring the application of 3-D printing to fields from agriculture and biology to design and manufacturing. MIT developed a $7,000 multi-material printer than can print ten materials in the same object during a single fabrication process. As businesses learn to use these multi-material printers, the range of products they will be able to print will expand exponentially.

WNU Editor: The part of this report that caught my attention was its analysis on the implications for the military (and it is a must read) ....

.... The implications of additive manufacturing for the battlefield are immense. Researchers at the University of Virginia have 3-D-printed a drone in a single day and by adding an Android phone made it autonomous — all for $2,500. Using artificial intelligence available today, such a drone could identify a distinct object such as an aircraft or fuel truck using on board multi-spectral imaging before engaging it with an explosively formed projectile. In short, autonomous, cheap weapons systems will range for miles, hunting and engaging specific targets. Think of them as IEDs that hunt you. If aspirations for greater printing speed are met, a factory with only 100 printers and sufficient raw materials could produce 10,000 such autonomous drones a day. The implications for ground forces are obvious — thousands of drone strikes on vehicles, ammunition dumps, fuel trucks, and other soft targets. This threat will not be limited to short-range drones. Long-range air and undersea autonomous drones are being produced today, and manufacturers are competing hard to reduce the price. Thus naval and air forces will also be at risk from cheap, smart, long-range weapons.