Apr 11, 2016 | By Alec

Throughout the twentieth century, the military has been one of the main drivers behind scientific, engineering and medical developments, so it’s hardly surprising that the military is now also one of the main beneficiaries of 3D printing technology. As you might know, the US military – just like other significant powers in the world – is readily adopting 3D printing technology, for anything from drones to rocket engines and missile systems. But in a new report from the Cato Institute, written by a former U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer, the military should also keep a very close eye on threats created through 3D printing technology, which has the power to fundamentally change warfare.

The Cato Institute, of course, is a US libertarian think tank based in Washington and backed by the Koch brothers. Though sometimes criticized for their unwillingness to accept change, their report by retired Marine infantry officer T.X. Hammes is in fact all about change. Hammes is an expert of asymmetrical warfare, the type of war in which small powers (like the Taliban) fight a military giant by avoiding their enemy’s strengths altogether and only striking their weaknesses.

In his report, entitled Technologies Converge and Power Diffuses, he argues that terrorists and small enemy states can create an unprecedented range of military threats abroad and inside the US, using inexpensive technologies such 3D printing, nanotechnology drones, and artificial intelligence. “The convergence of these new and improving technologies is creating a massive increase in capabilities available to smaller and smaller political entities—extending even to the individual. This increase provides smaller powers with capabilities that used to be the preserve of major powers. Moreover, these small, smart, and cheap weapons based on land, sea, or air may be able to dominate combat,” he writes.

In response to these changes, the US will need to change their national strategies, procurement plans, force structure, and force posture. “The diffusion of power will also greatly complicate U.S. responses to various crises, reduce its ability to influence events with military force, and should require policymakers and military planners to thoughtfully consider future policies and strategy,” he says.

Of course it is sensible for any military force to adjust to and accommodate technological changes, but 3D printing is a serious game changer, Hammes argues. It can be used to 3D print anything from military-purpose drones that are ready to fly, and even seaborne or land-crawling drones that can attack from any side. Even explosion-based penetrators can be 3D printed: copper discs that are turned into tank-destroying weapons by harnessing explosive power. 3D printers, he argues, could easily be carried and set up near a battlefield, unlike existing military factories.

Now our desktop 3D printers aren’t exactly suitable for those kinds of creations yet, but 3D printing technology is improving at a staggering rate and is creating new possibilities constantly. “The global explosion of additive manufacturing means it is virtually impossible to provide an up-to-date list of materials that can be 3D printed. […] Additive manufacturing has gone from being able to make only a few prototypes to being able to produce products in large quantities,” he argues. “At the same time, additive manufacturing is dramatically increasing the complexity of objects it can produce while simultaneously improving speed and precision. Recent technological developments suggest that industry will be able to increase 3D printing speeds by a factor of a hundred, with a goal of a thousand fold increase.” And with technology prices decreasing constantly, how long will it take, Hammes wonders, for insurgents to set up a small factory to 3D print swarms of military drones?

Combine that with other upcoming technologies, such as small satellites and nanoexplosives (smaller, devastating explosions packed into ‘kamikaze’ drones), and it’s obvious that this could become a serious threat in the near future. Some of the newest drones can already stay in the skies for up to 40 hours – long enough to travel from one continent to the next and possibly threatening US civilians. “Many states, and even insurgent or terrorist groups, will be able to project force at intercontinental range. Very long-range drone aircraft and submersibles provide the capability to strike air and sea ports of debarkation—and perhaps even embarkation. The United States will no longer project power anywhere in the world with impunity. This will create major political problems in sustaining a U.S. military campaign both domestically and internationally,” Hammes argues.

Hammes thus paints us a very grim picture. What will happen to the safety of US allies, when a cheap 3D printed drone can threaten a tank? But of course it’s a two-way street. Like so many of its NATO and Asian allies, the US is already extensively looking into 3D printing, and how to combat it. Missile systems specifically designed to shoot down drones are already being developed. But thanks to the internet, there’s no such thing as complete military dominance anymore, Hammes argues. “The proliferation of these capabilities will greatly complicate U.S. responses to various crises and will reduce our ability to influence events with military force. […] The Department of Defense needs to run rigorous experiments to understand the character of such a conflict,” he concludes.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like:


John Galt wrote at 4/15/2016 1:03:37 AM:

Good the USGOV has lost its moral authority and it's monopoly on power needs to be destroyed

Joris Peels wrote at 4/11/2016 4:13:22 PM:

I wrote an article on 3D printed drone swarms and why we need to think about 3D printing and war: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/3d-printed-drone-swarms-future-war-joris-peels

Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to

3ders.org Feeds 3ders.org twitter 3ders.org facebook   

About 3Ders.org

3Ders.org provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive