USNI News polled its writers, naval analysts and service members on what they consider the most important military and maritime stories in 2017.
The following is part of a series. Please also see Top Stories 2017: Navy Acquisition, International Acquisition, Navy Operations, Marine Corps and Coast Guard Acquisition, International Operations and New Administration.
For the Marine Corps, 2017 represented a major step towards achieving the vision of future operations it laid out in last year’s Marine Corps Operating Concept. It deployed its F-35B Joint Strike Fighter around the globe, sent the first-in-class USS America (LHA-6) on its maiden deployment to the Pacific and the Middle East, and conducted a massive amount of experimentation to understand the technologies, skills and procedures the service would need to fight and win in the future.
Marines with 1st Marine Division repair an unmanned aerial vehicle after a flight attempt at Camp Pendleton, June 15, 2017. The Marines built, The Nibbler, a four- rotor UAV with a 20-minute flight time capable of looking over hills and around buildings providing an intelligence advantage over the enemy. US Marine Corps Photo
Marines with 1st Marine Division repair an unmanned aerial vehicle after a flight attempt at Camp Pendleton, June 15, 2017. The Marines built, The Nibbler, a four- rotor UAV with a 20-minute flight time capable of looking over hills and around buildings providing an intelligence advantage over the enemy. US Marine Corps photo.
THE PENTAGON – Marines who recently completed a deployment to U.S. Central Command in support of Operation Inherent Resolve brought with them 3D printers to make their own small quadcopters, learning lessons both on hybrid logistics models and counter-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations. Read More
Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Bailey on Jan. 2, 2016. US Marine Corps Photo
This post has been modified to reflect that only USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB-3) will be modified to support MV-22 operations, not the Navy’s two Expeditionary Transfer Dock ships.
THE PENTAGON – Marine Corps operations are set for some big changes in 2017 with the deployment of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter overseas, a move towards distributed operations as called for in the Marine Corps Operating Concept, and the potential addition of more ships to move Marines around high-threat areas, the deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations told USNI News. Read More
A 3D printed aircraft has successfully launched off the front of a Royal Navy warship and landed safely on a Dorset beach off HMS Mersey. UK Royal Navy Photo
LONDON — While U.S. Navy sailors have trialed the use of additive manufacturing (3D printing) technology to build a miniature quadcopter aboard USS Essex (LHD-2) and fly it around the hanger deck, it’s their British counterparts who were first to launch a 3D-printed fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle from a ship. Read More
A ship model created using additive manufacturing, a process both the Coast Guard and Navy are investigating. US Navy Photo
The Navy and Coast Guard are getting closer to incorporating additive manufacturing — commonly known as 3D printing — into their respective services, Navy and U.S. Coast Guard officials said during a panel discussion at the Navy League’s 2014 Sea Air Space exhibition at National Harbor, Md. on Tuesday. Read More
In June, Wisconsin engineer Michael Guslick made headline news when used a 3D printer to fashion a working firearm modeled on the AR-15. Although it was later revealed that he had only printed the weapon’s receiver assembly, those in the Sea Services would do well to pay attention as the technology of 3D printing has the potential to affect a broad swath of the way the Navy and Marines do business. From naval architecture to logistics to the delivery of emergency medical care, the possible effects of 3D printing are far-ranging and profound.
At its most basic, 3D printing—or additive manufacturing—is about starting with nothing and using base materials to build up to a finished product. Most models use nozzle jets to spray the base materials layer-by-layer, not unlike the way inkjet printers create color photos on a sheet of paper. That contrasts with the traditional technique of subtractive manufacturing—starting with large blocks of the base material and whittling them down through various processes to get to the end product. According to an article in The Economist, that traditional route typically cuts away and wastes up to 90 percent of the base material—a cost made all the more dear when using high-grade metals for military components, such as titanium for aircraft. In the same article, The Economist reported that researchers at European aircraft manufacturer EADS, demonstrating the use of titanium powder to print the same parts, used just 10 percent of the raw material.
Smart defense companies already have begun to incorporate additive manufacturing into their production lines, and not only for the cost savings. If a printer is large enough the manufacturer can print components as a whole rather than requiring further assembly later. That allows designers to create both intricate internal structures to develop extremely strong parts, and more rounded shapes for system components such as ducting and piping, which increase system fluid-flow efficiency and eliminate unnecessary system volume. It also removes the need for brackets and flanges for handling and for surfaces to bolt or weld the pieces together. For those very reasons the Navy is already using “a number of printed parts such as air ducts” in F/A-18s. It is also for those reasons that the long-term trend will likely be toward larger 3D printers that can take on greater portions of the overall job. The shipyard of the future may well be an enormous printer.