US Secretary of Navy Attends Groundbreaking for Naval 3D Printing Center Summit

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The third annual Accelerated Training in Defense Manufacturing (ATDM) and Navy Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence (AM COE) Summit was held October 10-12 in Danville, VA, at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR). On October 11, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro spoke to the 400 or so attendees, after which he attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the ATDM Regional Training Center (RTC).

The AM COE, opened a year ago at the second annual ATDM/Navy AM COE Summit, is located on the grounds of the IALR’s Center for Manufacturing Advancement (CMA), a 51,250 square foot site established in 2020 thanks to over $25 million in state and local funding. The ATDM currently operates at the CMA as well, but the RTC will be a standalone, 100,000 square foot facility (also on IALR’s campus), expected to open by 2025.

The Navy plans to eventually train 1,000 workers a year at the site, which is owned by the Danville-Pittsylvania Regional Industrial Facility Authority, a joint venture between those two municipalities located near Virginia’s border with North Carolina. Secretary Del Toro said the location was chosen because of the region’s “incredibly talented” labor pool.

According to DVIDS, in his remarks at the summit, Del Toro said, “These talented professionals fill a critical need in our nation by creating and developing data sets to manufacture mission-essential parts aboard submarines and ships through [AM], and training the next generation of innovators who will strengthen our warfighting readiness. The Department of the Navy is committed to advancing the President’s vision for a future that’s ‘Made in America’ with economic growth that works for working families. The President’s ‘Build America, Buy America’ initiative is expanding job opportunities across the country, and our Navy’s efforts in Danville directly support this.”

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the RTC, Whitney Jones, the director of the Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB), told the students attending, “This is not a moment, this is a movement. This building is yours. Own it. Improve it.”

At the event, Del Toro also bluntly told the Danville Register & Bee that, “This shortage of workers is really bad,” stressing that programs like the RTC are indispensable in addressing that need as quickly as possible.

Workforce development is perhaps the primary focus of the Navy’s current efforts to revitalize the SIB. During his keynote at Formnext Forum Austin, the US Navy’s Executive Director of Program Executive Office (PEO), Strategic Submarines, Matthew Sermon, said that the SIB “must be able to attract, hire, and train” 10,000 or so new members to its workforce every year in order to meet its production deadlines.

Submarine production has become the key flashpoint in the US’s strategic competition with China. As Reuters reported this week, “Analysts and regional defense attaches say evidence is mounting that China is on track to have its Type 096 ballistic missile submarine operational before the end of the decade…” The major differentiator with China’s new generation of nuclear-armed submarines is simply quietness, which makes the vessels infinitely more difficult to detect.

This highlights that, while the sites in Danville are achieving great progress in helping the Navy meet its long-term infrastructure targets, the job is far too big to be accomplished by a single region or even a single branch. It puts into perspective, for instance, the $111 million investment that Indiana University just committed to its R&D work on microelectronics and other cutting-edge manufacturing technologies over the next several years, as part of a partnership with Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Crane.

It is noteworthy, then, the extent to which Secretary Del Toro’s comments emphasized the role of Bidenomics in the US’s attempts to shore up the defense industrial base (DIB). While the connection between those ongoing developments has been clear from a continuous tracking of their parallel trajectories over the last couple of years, this may be the most direct linkage between the two implied by a statement from a government official.

Images courtesy of Chief Petty Officer Shannon Renfroe Office of the Secretary of the Navy, via DVIDS

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