Tag Archives: 3D printing

Call for Input: Establishing the 3-D Printing Beachhead

Scott Cheney-Peters and I had the chance to join Ben Kohlmann, of Distruptive Thinkers, and the U.S. Navy Warfare Development Command (NWDC), for a conference call on 3-D printing‘s potential in the fleet. The conver sation, in terms both of research beforehand and its execution, was quite informative for we two amateurs.

A Beachhead… On The Beach:

The challenges of 3-D printing will define the nature of its deployment.  One problem I arrived upon after some research for the talk was the potential issue with stability.  One of the potentially most useful technologies for ships, Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) uses layers of metal dust layered meticulously one-over-the-other as an object is produced.  Despite my earlier enthusiasm for putting 3-D printers on everything – from destroyers to cruiser to potentially even larger ships – some may be inappropriate as platforms for a process that will depend on precision due to their instability. No one wants to destroy 30 hours of work on a pump body with one good roll from sudden heavy seas.  This makes shoreside facilities the most appealing venue for 3-D printing’s initial beachhead.

Critical Questions:

To build a better catalog of stakeholders for NWDC and to get critical technical advice, I’ve been contacting the fleet’s Regional Maintenance Centers and some assorted other support facilities for input.  However, our community here at CIMSEC is just as rich in professional expertise, experience, and insight.  Therefore, we’re hoping to leverage the input of you, our readers, just as we’ve been able to build off the expertise of the others working on this issue.  Here are our questions:

Help us fill in the 3D printing blanks!
                                                            Help us fill in the 3-D printing blanks!

1.) What kind of maintenance problems are most frustrating, that involve mass part replacements or high-fail items?

2.) Which kinds of parts are hardest to find or build?  Are there any small-to-medium-sized parts that you’ve found expensive or difficult to replace? 

3.) If so, what materials are they made out of?  We are particularly interested in mono-material items.

4.) Is there anything the Intermediate Maintenance Activities (IMA) can’t do that 3-D printing might facilitate beyond merely producing new parts?

Scott has brought up other challenges with 3-D printing: the quality and limitations of usable materials, training and operations, and certification of the printed products for use (due to variability of quality).  These administrative and manning details are worth considering as well if you have additional input, concerns, or suggestions.  One particularly helpful IMA head suggested that the Navy’s many CNC-mill operators already have the technical knowledge to operate 3-D printers.  Some of the solutions for figuring out how to best use these technologies as they mature may well involve just realigning existing capabilities.  

Welcome to Sequestration: Making the Business Case

The story of one particularly frustrated program office head reminded me that sequestration will have a real effect on a potential roll out.  While we once may have said, “millions for defense but not one cent for tribute,” we must now pay tribute to our financial constraints.  The objective is to find the greatest savings or capability margin that 3-D printings can give us.

The business case is absolutely critical to this technology being taken seriously.  There will be no grand LCS-style science project.  If the best answer is a Portabee or Replicator 2 reproducing broken belt clips, buckles, and assorted other tertiary gear, so be it.  While we’d love to roll in a 900K duel-laser DMLS machine to print whole pump bodies, the likelihood that such funding is available is marginal… unless the case can be made for it.  Being able to replace GTE turbine-blades on demand would be a nice trick.  If we can certify it for commercial aircraft and human skulls, maybe it won’t be so hard to certify for load-bearing use.  However, clearly laying out the advantages in flexibility, cost, and time that 3-D printing could create over the short- and long-term, and the viable procedures for leveraging those advantages, are the keys to making a prototype deployment of 3-D printers a reality.

Engineers talk to CIMSEC about what they want from 3-D Printing.
          We need to tame our untrammeled enthusiasm with marketable practicality.


We look to you, CIMSEC members and friends, to help us push this project forward.  If you know likely interested parties, let me know.  If you have a solid business case, or problem that 3-D printing could solve, write and submit your findings to the editorial board.  Of course, you can always comment below to add to the conversation.  We think 3-D printing is likely to be a valuable step forward in the Navy’s future, and a few non-engineer amateurs can only go so far.  

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy.  The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

MFP 4: Emerging Technology and Naval Warfare

What emerging technology is going to most profoundly change the way naval warfare is conducted, and why?

This is the Fourth in our series of posts from our Maritime Futures Project.  For more information on the contributors, click here.  Note: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.

Unmanned aviation made many advances in 2012...but will it radically change naval warfare?
Unmanned aviation made many advances in 2012…but will it radically change naval warfare?

CDR Chris Rawley, USNR:

Most of CIMSEC’s readers are familiar with Moore’s Law as it relates to integrated circuits increasing in power while falling in cost. Some may have also heard of Kryder’s Law, which deals with shrinking costs for magnetic memory. Other related concepts include Koomey’s Law, which says that battery requirements for a fixed computer load continue to fall and the Shannon-Hartley Theorem, which impacts data transmission speeds. These laws have resulted in increased capability and falling prices for commercial and consumer tools reliant on computing power. It’s a given that military hardware is also becoming more high tech and miniaturized. So why does the cost of military technology continue to skyrocket? There are a number of reasons for this dichotomy, the primary being the U.S. military’s unresponsive and byzantine joint acquisition systems. Those problems aside, the Navy (and DoD) need to figure out how to leverage laws of technology to reduce inflation in new military hardware. One way to do this is with smaller, more numerous, and cheaper systems – many of them unmanned – which can operate distributed over large geographic areas. At Information Dissemination, I frequently discuss a concept for future naval warfare called distributed maritime operations (DMO).  DMO as I see it will use highly distributed, highly connected – but independently commanded – small footprint fighting elements. In the same way that special operations forces have used similar concepts to fight a global terrorist threat, I believe DMO will allow small naval forces to work together in a variety of scenarios to produce out-sized combat effects.

LT Drew Hamblen, USN:

Anti-ship ballistic missiles and the implications of Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) proliferation will shake up carrier battle groups – specifically the ability of UASs to numerically overwhelm manned assets. How will a carrier air wing confront 3 air wings’ worth of unmanned aircraft that have twice the on-station time and no pilot-fatigue limitations?

Marc Handelman, WA, U.S.:

– Naval drones (Surface, Sub-surface, Aerial)
– Power-projection exploitation capabilities (battlespace control, sustainment, and attack via drones)
– Tiny sensors known as MEM (microelectromechnical) devices such as DARPA’s SmartDust project to facilitate ISR exploitation and communication.
– The ONR-funded Sea Jet Advanced Electric Ship (obvious efficiencies in power management, logistics, acoustic signature reduction, et cetera)

Felix Seidler, seidlers-sicherheitspolitik.net, Germany:

Cyber-warfare is going to change things soon. The world’s best warships are worth nothing if the IT systems supporting command, control, communications, intelligence, etc. are offline. Hence, navies will have to pay greater attention to safeguarding their IT. For example, malware intrusions into the targeting and control software for all kinds of sea-launched missiles could not only miss their target, but be redirected to strike their ship of origin instead. For the present and the future, the joint forces approach must also include a nation’s cyber warriors.

YN2(SW) Michael George, USN:

As we are still in the early ages of the internet and wireless technology, I believe that there will be an increasingly important role both play in our country’s defense.

Sebastian Bruns, Fellow, Institute for Security, University of Kiel, Germany:

I think cyber warfare, although more of a concept than a technology is providing the basis for the most profound change in naval warfare. The concept is diffuse, difficult to understand, and impossible to directly feel (cue Donald Rumsfeld’s “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns”). In fact, cyber warfare’s challenges, opportunities, and limitations have not been fully grasped. If cyber is understood as a domain, I would compare our current state of mind (and understanding of the subject matter) to the early 1910’s perspective on air power: There has not been a full-fledged cyber war, much like there had not been an appreciation of airpower until World War I. At the same time, the generation of sailors and flag officers that is currently rising through the ranks has already been sensitized (largely by growing up with cyber technology) towards the subject matter; air power and space power did not provide a comparable perspective. It seems logical to quickly adopt cyber warfare concepts and embrace them as part of institutional and individual, strategic and tactical learning.

Rex Buddenberg, Naval Postgraduate School:

Before projecting forward, it may help to look back an equivalent amount of time to see what technologies changed maritime business (warfare included) in the past half-century – essentially since WWII. Some of these technologies, like radars and fathometers, are
gadgets. Others are information systems, such as radionav systems like Loran, GPS, digital GPS, and AIS and its work-alikes including USMER, AMVER, MOVREP, and those built around OTH-Gold, Link 14/11.

Still other technologies constitute the potential components of information systems, chiefly communications. The maritime VHF system has revolutionized the SAR business in the USCG in our lifetimes. And, integration with accurate navigation, has revolutionized it further. For instance, when I was stationed on the Oregon coast, a distressed mariner could give us a pair of Loran TD (time/difference data-points) and a fathometer reading (essentially as a checksum) and we could fly a helo right to him … regularly. This phenomenon has attracted the term ‘maritime domain awareness (MDA)’ albeit without a decent usable definition. Now look ahead a bit…

Can I get these in tablet form?
Can I get these in tablet form?

Gadgets: The march of new gadgets will, of course, proceed. The change here will be that the gadget will increasingly export the data rather than only provide a local display. To do that, the gadget will have an internet interface (like webcams). Example: remember PDAs … like Palm Pilots? They had no comms ability to speak of, other than a serial line to sync with local computer. But once the PDA functionality was integrated with the cellphone infrastructure, PDAs morphed into smartphones. I’ve got a PDA … its sitting up on a high shelf.

Systems: The implementation of new systems will also proceed. But there is a sea change in the offing, one that has already occurred elsewhere and is about to occur here: integration and interoperability.  Most of the systems above are ‘stovepipe’. The chief characteristic of stovepipe is the locking of a single application (e.g. position reporting) to a single comms system (channels 87B and 88B) to yield something like AIS. The comms channels cannot be used for anything else, such as distress or weather comms, and the systems are usually hard to maintain throughout their life-cycle because you can’t form-fit swap in new components without changes cascading through the system. To get a whiff of the future, look in your office or your residence – we have ‘internet plumbing’ which is application-agnostic. It supports a myriad of applications (messaging, video, scrabble (my wife’s current fixation), … the list is long and ever-changing. The appearance of a new application does not require changes in the underlying comms plumbing. This has partially emerged in the maritime world, but will become ubiquitous, perhaps in the next decade (the technology exists, the problems have to do with infrastructure and mentalities).

The telltale here will be rise of the internet … in this case in the internet’s extension to platforms at sea. We see the harbingers of that now, such as ADNS in Navy. This is the single biggest enabler of integration of the rest.

The operational effect of the increase and integration of information systems is more intelligent application of industrial capability. In slang, less turning circles in the ocean. And in slogan, we might be able to “take the search out of SAR”.

CDR Chuck Hill, USCG (Ret.):

For the Coast Guard’s operations, in both peace and war, the most important aspect is likely to be processed vessel track information. Given the ability to track every vessel in the EEZ, identify it, and correlate it to its past history including the cargoes it has received, would be the ultimate goal. Over-the-Horizon radar/Satellite/AIS (Automatic Identification System)-derived information may eliminate the search in search and rescue (SAR), allow us to know where all the fishing vessels are, and allow us to recognize anomalous voyages that might be smugglers. To do this effectively we need to be able to track small vessels as well as the large.

In wartime this will also make blockade enforcement more effective, and permit prompt response when vessels are attacked.

Dr. Robert Farley, Professor, University of Kentucky:

The expansion of unmanned vehicles (air, surface, and sub-surface) has the potential to work tremendous changes in how we think about naval warfare. We’re already seeing this in littoral projection, and beginning to see it in ASW (anti-submarine warfare). As navies work through the theoretical implications of unmanned vehicles, they’ll begin to develop platforms capable of taking greatest advantage of the technologies, extending both eyes/ears and reach.


LCDR Mark Munson, USN:

Earlier this year, Admiral Greenert, the US Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations, declared that “Payloads were more important than Platforms.” I’m interested in how this plays out in terms of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). Traditionally the mission of sensors onboard planes, ships, and subs has been subordinated to the operation of those platforms. Is the Navy’s BAMS (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance) UAV going to be just a P-3 without an aircrew onboard, or will it represent a new approach to collecting the information needed to generate actionable intelligence?

It’s been a long time since the U.S. Navy has fought a sustained war at sea, and no one has actual experience in how our current and future sensors need to be used to generate the intelligence required to engage capable enemy at sea. Unfortunately, the model successfully developed by our counterparts ashore during the last decade was in a permissive air environment. It allowed lots of UAVs to provide Full Motion Video (FMV) to intel analysts, developing a pattern of life for terrorist targets that could be fused with other data in order to generate actionable targeting data, but this most likely would not apply to a fight at sea against a capable enemy.

Bryan McGrath, Director, Delex Consulting, Studies and Analysis:

Although it is hardly an “emerging” technology, electric drives will profoundly change naval warfare. They will make submarines even quieter than they currently are, and they will serve to reverse the precision-guided munitions (PGM) imbalance with China by enabling future generations of electric weapons.

LT Alan Tweedie, USNR:

Directed energy and rail guns, while requiring massive up-front R&D costs will produce fantastic combat capability. The ability to have nearly unlimited ammunition without replenishment will make our fleet more capable of conducting sustained operations against enemies.

LT Chris Peters, USN:

I think one of the bigger upcoming changes will come from the installment of rail guns on DDG-1000 and beyond. These could be game-changers in power projection when you combine TLAM (Tomahawk Land Attack Missile)-like range with the cost per round of 5” (NGFS) Naval Gun Fire Support shells.

LT Scott Cheney-Peters, USNR:

3D printed drone
Drones from desktop 3D printers are quickly becoming reality.

I mentioned the general trend of increasing data integration in MFP 3 – essentially the Navy capitalizing on the spread of what’s possible with the information revolution.  On the logistics and design side, we’ve waxed on about the effects 3D printing will have.  But as far as actual naval warfare, I’m going to have to agree with those thinking about directed energy weapons and rail guns as the most likely to have a nearer-term impact on the tactical level.  Both have technical hurdles to overcome, but when they do, they’ll shake up the modern calculus of naval engagements – giving surface vessels a much greater ability to hold their own in a fight, and greatly increasing the potential of drones once component miniaturization and energy reductions have sufficiently advanced reduced to allow their outfit aboard.  Bryan McGrath has a good run down over at Information Dissemination on directed energy and electric weapon systems (DEEWS). Finally, the greatest potential for disruption in naval warfare comes from the use of unmanned systems in myriad combinations that are hard to predict but fascinating to think about – for example the combined cyber warfare assisted by drones.

LTJG Matt Hipple, USN:

Perhaps Scott Cheney-Peters and I are beating a dead horse here, but 3D printing in a big way. I know I’m beating an extra-dead horse when I include automation. 3D printing drastically changes the required logistical chain for both ground and naval forces. It changes the way the entire supply system would work, the kinds of people it would employ, and the navy’s relationship with industry. With an influx of business partners that consider themselves problem “hackers”, the Navy will hopefully get a fresh new perspective on life.

I say automation in the smaller big way because, rather than revolutionizing warfare, it is merely a ramping up of speed and density with a decrease in size. Now, my one caveat is that if laser technology becomes sufficiently powerful, fast, and accurate enough to end missile and aircraft threats at great enough range, we potentially have a game-changer with the return of naval gunnery and a real emphasis on submarine warfare as the counter.

LT Jake Bebber, USN:

While much will undoubtedly be written about advances in computer network operations, A2AD systems and space systems, the most profound impact in naval warfare will be the navy that best adapts to operating and fighting in a communications-denied environment. When satellites are shot down, when internet communications are blocked, and when radar emissions are masked or jammed, which navy will still be able to pull out the paper charts to get to where they need to be, fight, and win? So it won’t be an emerging technology that wins the next war. It will be the navy that best adapts to fighting much as we did during World War II, and before.

3D Printing/Drone Logistics Mash-up

Last Spring, the guys at CIMSEC wrote a series on how 3-D printing would revolutionize naval logistics. Their vision is much closer to reality than science fiction. The nexus of on-demand fabrication and unmanned vehicles was recently demonstrated in small scale at a venue where one would least expect to see cutting edge military concepts tested. In another example of performance art-turned dual-use UAS military application, at the Burning Man Festival this year, a social entrepreneurship project called Blue Sky allowed visitors to scan an image of themselves, sculpt a miniature likeness of the person with a 3D printer, and deliver it to the consignee with an experimental octo-rotor UAV. Despite challenges with wind, dust, and safety, the proof of concept demonstration was a success.

The ability to print and deliver parts on demand locally and rapidly deliver them to forward operating forces will greatly streamline naval supply chains. Last December, the Marine Corps VMU-1 squadron began logistics deliveries to remote combat outposts in Afghanistan with an unmanned version of the K-Max dual rotor helicopter. A contracted manned K-Max variant had previously flown thousands of logistics missions for U.S. Navy ships during the 1990s. The Marines’ two unmanned K-Max vehicles delivered more than a million pounds of cargo between December and May and have were so successful the trials have been extended until 30 September.

Reprinted with permission from navaldrones.com

Sea Ghost Enters the Fray

Is the stealth worth it?

On Friday Lockheed Martin announced its entrant, the Sea Ghost, in the hunt for the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) contract. On Sunday, Northrop Grumman’s X-47B, winner of the contract to demonstrate the feasibility of a carrier-based drone “launched from Pax River and flew for a planned 35 minutes. The aircraft reached an altitude of 7,500 feet and an air speed of 180 knots during its flight over the Chesapeake Bay before successfully landing back at Pax River.” The X-47B is testing operations in a land-based simulated carrier environment. Next year it will start carrier-based testing, followed by a demonstration of autonomous aerial refueling in 2014. The Navy expects whatever frame wins the UCLASS prize to enter the fleet in 2018. I’d like to take the moment to share a few unsolicited thoughts on the battle for the U.S. Navy’s carrier drone contract. With LM’s revelation, the field of contenders has most likely solidified into four, backed by well-known names:

  1. Lockheed Martin’s Sea Ghost
  2. Boeing’s X-45C Phantom Ray (or some follow-on design)
  3. General Atomics’ Sea Avenger
  4. Northrop Grumman’s X-47B Pegasus

Wired’s Danger Room has a good review of the contestants, and one similarity is worth noting. All but the Sea Avenger are of the “flying wing” variety, similar to the USAF’s B-2. This design confers some advantageous stealth properties through a reduced radar cross section, but comes at some cost of stability and handling. Instead, the Sea Avenger is essentially a souped-up version of General Atomic’s famous Predator drone.


While Navy has yet to release the contract’s request for proposal (RFP), detailing the requirements and criteria by which the contenders will be judged, the NAVAIR website states the Navy is looking for an, “aircraft system providing persistent Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and strike capabilities.” This closely matches the capabilities highlighted by the aforementioned companies’ websites.


Demonstrating the future of carrier aviation, but can it be done cheap enough?

With this, and with the shrinking range of carrier-based strike aircraft in general, in mind, the most attractive attributes will be stealth, range, mid-flight refueling (to further extend range), ISR capabilities, and the ability to carry stand-off weapons. By eliminating the weight and crew limitations of a strike aircraft, a UAV can greatly increase its range. But this does not eliminate the costs of crews, it merely shifts the crews’ location, tentatively increasing their safety and reducing some training and replacement costs. In fact, with extended ranges and increased ISR collection, each airframe may require more pilots and analysts than traditional manned craft.


The current state of UAV technology will allow the military to demand many automated functions in the UCLASS including carrier landings, following flight plans, and executing pre-approved weapon strikes. Unlike drones like the predator, the UCLASS is expected to be able to follow flight plans, essentially executing its mission devoid of human input unless an emergency or unexpected situation arises, in a way similar to how tomahawks or other missiles execute their strike packages. Technology has its limitations however. UAVs are not yet designed to perform intercept missions, or air-to-air combat. They can conceivably be programmed to use counter-measures such as executing limited defensive maneuvering or deploying chaff in the event of a certain input, such as detecting an inbound enemy missile. Yet because the UCLASS won’t be shooting its way through high-threat environments, it will have to rely on either escorts (limited by their range), the distance of its stand-off weapons, or stealth.


As pointed out at Information Dissemination by Rep. Randy Forbes, stealth can be quite expensive, and may have diminishing returns. The CNO also singled out the pursuit of stealth perfection as the potentially errant end of the cost-curve in an article in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings, “Payloads over Platforms,” widely (mis)perceived to be a critique of the F-35. In the context of the carrier battle, the single most important determinant beyond technological maturity may rightly be cost. To steal a common refrain from the debate over shipbuilding, quantity matters. Determining whether the ability to carry out deep penetration strikes far into an enemy’s territory will be better served by larger numbers of less-stealthy drones or a smaller number of super-stealthy drones will be an interesting exercise in analysis. That is until the drones are cleared for air-to-air combat, which could either be accomplished by human pilots taking temporary direct control, or eventually by programming the UAVs to fight themselves. Some final factors that will drive navies towards endowing their carrier drones more complete autonomy (see the writings of Adam Elkus for more on the ethical discussions surrounding such a move) are the vulnerabilities that satellite-based comms links with the UAVs will introduce, and the difficulty of maintaining and securing those links.


While the players for the first big U.S. Navy UAV contract may be familiar, there is room for innovative new companies to capitalize on emerging technologies like 3D printing to cheaply create UAVs tailor-made to the requirements of the Navy. Without the risk of human casualties, being willing to accept the loss of a few less-costly drones for an overall increased strike capacity is a trade-off worth exploring.


LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.


The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.