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Thanks to 3D-printing technology, troops could produce replacement parts on the spot, even putting heavy equipment such as an Abrams tank back into the fight faster and cheaper. An expeditionary capability to print parts will enable US military forces to extend the range of a brigade combat team. 

A US Army initiative will put strategic guidance out to the service and industry partners to indicate that Army leaders will be putting the resources, people and funding into advanced manufacturing technology in future funding plans.

Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy told armytimes.com: “We’re already doing it in 2021, but we needed to get more aggressive so we could have a comprehensive approach.”

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, composite materials and machine learning have already brought a new industrial revolution to private industry, according to Dr. Alexis L. Ross, a deputy assistant Army secretary for strategy and acquisition reform.

“This is a significant step forward in manufacturing and design,” Ross said, recalling one of the times she visited an Army vendor’s facilities where they were developing composite materials. “An interesting composite material where they were taking silicon and metal and essentially fusing it together,” she said. “And that silicon-metal composite ends up being flexible, light weight, resilient, heat resistant … it’s got these combinations of great physical properties.”

This technology is already available today in the civilian world. A Boeing 737 flying commercially can have parts throughout the airframe that are 3D printed. Other services, like the US Air Force, are already doing this as well.

US Army leaders hope advanced manufacturing will have two key benefits. First, it’s expected to reduce the cost of equipment and parts: “If you can produce them much faster, and have them on hand, you can reduce costs because you can be lighter,” McCarthy said.

Second, the technology could significantly enhance the Army’s logistics train, helping its forces fight further away from the U.S. industrial base.

Those parts, thanks to things like composite materials, could also weigh substantially less.

“A key principle in manufacturing weapons systems is how do you find ways to reduce the weight of the weapon system so it is faster and it can carry more weapons or avionics payloads, because you reduced the weight of parts,” McCarthy said.