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3D technology will play a major role in how weapons of the future are manufactured, the Defense Department's deputy director for strategic technology protection and exploitation, Kristen Baldwin said. She continued, "Weapon parts could be quickly prototyped using 'additive manufacturing' in which 3D parts are created from digital data models that are fabricated by the successive layering of materials. Additive manufacturing could play a role in the development of hypersonic weapons."
Speaking at the November 8, 2019 Defense One-sponsored panel on next-generation manufacturing, Baldwin noted that traditional manufacturing in which parts are forged by machining and turning is much slower.
But additive manufacturing would allow researchers and developers to test prototypes in an iterative fashion, so that an optimal design could be rapidly created, she said.
Baldwin said the U.S. is engaged in a global competition to develop these and other technologies—including artificial intelligence—and DOD's goal is to maintain its technological overmatch.
She said maintaining this overmatch is something a national imperative for all who can see the future and want to maintain economic and national security.
DOD's Additive Manufacturing Goals
Baldwin outlined four department priorities for additive manufacturing — security, human capital, capturing new technology and adopting new technology:
- DOD is working hard to ensure future technology is secure. That means protection of intellectual property and critical information, ensuring a secure supply chain and building cybersecurity into every system. In past years, that wasn't really done in a systematic fashion.
- The department needs to develop and grow the workforce that will use additive manufacturing and other advanced technologies. DOD personnel need to have the proper training and education to develop these technologies and use them in novel ways.
- DOD has to work with industry and academia to ensure it's up on the latest technology. That means public-private partnerships — not just with big defense industries, but also small businesses and startups. DOD's Manufacturing Technology Program is one way the department brings these partners together.
- Leadership needs to see the potential that new technologies can bring to the warfighters. Also, these technologies need to be adopted throughout DOD. A March 21 memorandum from the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment directs the use of additive manufacturing in support of materiel sustainment throughout the department at all the depots.