DefenseMaritime Industry

US military leverages AM to enhance operational readiness

The recent panel discussion at the Sea-Air-Space Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, featured experts from the US Navy, Marine Corps, and defense industry more broadly

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During a panel discussion at the Sea-Air-Space Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, featuring experts from the US Navy, Marine Corps, and defense industry, the US Department of Defense (DOD) recognized the transformative potential of additive manufacturing in enhancing material readiness and operational logistics, particularly for deployed forces.

Retired Vice Admiral Ann Rondeau, President of the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), moderated the panel which discussed the integration of AM technology to create a warfighting advantage. Rondeau emphasized that AM is not a novel concept for the Navy or Marine Corps, as adapting and innovating on the move has long been part of their operational strategy. The discussion also revisited a 2019 study by the NPS Warfare Innovation Continuum that explored logistics in contested environments and highlighted AM as a critical area of focus.

During the panel, US Marine Corps Brigadier General Forrest Poole spoke about the Marine Corps’ efforts in leveraging AM to enhance expeditionary operations. He specifically mentioned the XFAB and Tactical Fabrication (TACFAB) kits, which are portable AM systems developed for use in forward environments, allowing Marines to conduct essential maintenance and address logistical challenges in the field.

Matthew Sermon, from the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), addressed the application of AM in submarine operations. He highlighted the strategic importance of AM in reducing logistical delays and enhancing the manufacturing process for submarine parts, though he noted that parts critical to safety under the Submarine Safety Program (SUBSAFE) are not yet being produced at scale via AM. Sermon underscored ongoing efforts to test and validate AM materials that meet rigorous safety standards.

The panel also featured insights from industry representatives, including Jesse Boyer of Pratt & Whitney, who discussed the defense industry’s role in advancing AM technology. Boyer emphasized the need for collaboration between AM providers and military stakeholders to tailor AM solutions to specific needs and ensure the effective application of AM across various military contexts.

Lieutenant Zachary Vrtis, an NPS Ph.D. student and member of the Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education (CAMRE), shared his experiences with AM research and education. He highlighted the importance of educating military personnel on AM technologies to foster innovation and practical applications in operational settings. Vrtis also mentioned CAMRE’s role in testing AM technology through various naval exercises and training programs, which aim to prepare Sailors and Marines to utilize AM effectively, and the recently opened Advanced Manufacturing Center at NPS which will faciliate the exploration and expansion of AM education and research in support of the Navy and DOD.

Overall, the panel underscored the strategic importance of AM in modernizing defense capabilities, enhancing logistical efficiency, and empowering military personnel with innovative tools to address challenges in deployed environments. The discussions highlighted both the current applications and the future potential of AM in transforming military operations and logistics.

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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