AMS Spring 2023

US Military Might: Will 3D Printing Provide the Technological Leg Up?


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dodThe military and technology go hand in hand. We’ve all seen the sci-fi movies where the evil opposition developed or obtained a form of super technology that we had to top in order to survive. Today, our military faces a competition regarding who has the biggest budget, as well as a race to harness the brightest minds of each country for innovation and invention that have the potential for military benefit.

According to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the military may be getting behind the times — and that’s not acceptable.

“We are entering an era where American dominance in key warfighting domains is eroding, and we must find new and creative ways to sustain, and in some areas expand, our advantages,” Hagel said in a memo to Pentagon officials.


US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel

This concern (reported by Reuters) was highlighted in a speech at the Reagan National Defense Forum Saturday in Simi Valley, with Hagel delivering plans for the Defense Innovation Initiative that includes “an effort to develop and field new systems using technologies such as robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, Big Data and three-dimensional printing.”

military 2While 3D printing continues to make spectacular headlines with items that represent great breakthroughs that are very serious, often spectacular, and sometimes outlandish, there are multitudinous venues for 3D printing to change the world, considering the self-sufficiency angle.

It’s well-recognized that 3D printing is causing a revolution in manufacturing, but it’s also changing the landscape of how we get things ‘on our own.’

With smaller 3D printers, we can print from our home or office without jumping through a bunch of hoops. While the government has obviously taken note of the technology overall, they are busy fine tuning the concept on their own level.

In terms of space, how is 3D printing ‘revolutionary?’ Astronauts can use 3D printers while in space to do a number of things, from creating tools and parts for maintenance to using materials already in space (like lunar regolith, or moon dirt) to 3D print the materials to build entire substations where humans could dwell indefinitely.

And how does it best apply to the military? Again, the idea is self-sufficiency through 3D printing, with attention paid to the fact that the technology can be more affordable in some ways. If you can’t get what you need readily, make it. And this can apply to the front lines. While there is still always the issue of materials, with 3D printing soldiers can be afforded the ability and option to produce tools and parts needed – when they aren’t available in outlying areas of the world.


The military has already gone to the lengths of developing their own 3D printers, and while 3D printing has very much been the pet of the intellectual, scientific, technogeek crowd, the military will no doubt be relying on the academic and information technology world for expertise.

“In the near-term, it [the initiative] will invite some of the brightest minds from inside and outside government to start with a clean sheet of paper, and assess what technologies and systems DoD ought to develop over the next three to five years and beyond,” said Hagel.

imagesBudget is a constraint for most of us — that includes the military — and anyone who watches the news hears about military spending over and over and over. While the national debt grows and grows, it may just be that something has come along which boasts not only savings on the bottom line, but represents great progress and benefit.

“Continued fiscal pressure will likely limit our military’s ability to respond to long-term challenges by increasing the size of our force or simply outspending potential adversaries on current systems, so to overcome challenges to our military superiority, we must change the way we innovate, operate, and do business,” stated Hagel.

The only thing is: we aren’t the only country to be discovering 3D printing. It’s happening all over the world, and you can bet our military isn’t the only one to be integrating it.

“We all know that DoD no longer has exclusive access to the most cutting-edge technology or the ability to spur or control the development of new technologies the way we once did. So we will actively seek proposals from the private sector, including those firms, and from those firms and academic institutions outside DoD’s traditional orbit,” said Hagel.

3d printed drone for naval use

3d printed drone for naval use

As we have reported previously, military uses for 3D printing are already being explored and expanding, as the Army has had access to use the technology for several years already with 3D printers on the ground in Afghanistan, allowing for printing of parts without waiting on long delivery times. The Navy also envisions the use of 3D printing on ships for spare parts, miniature combat drones, and even organs or other body parts while out to sea.

How do you see 3D printing helping to accelerate the US military stance? Discuss it with us in the 3D Printing and the Military forum over at



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