Among the first stories I wrote for Defense One were about how the Pentagon and defense industry were exploring the use of 3D printing for weapons and equipment. Nearly three years later, as the technology matures and gains wider certification for military use, printed parts are becoming commonplace in everything from satellites to ICBMs.
Aerojet Rocketdyne has been using 3D printing — additive manufacturing, companies call it — to make RL10 engines for Atlas and Delta rockets.
“Infusing this technology into full-scale rocket engines is truly transformative, as it opens up new design possibilities for our engineers and paves the way for a new generation of low-cost rocket engines,” said Jeff Haynes, the company’s additive manufacturing program manager.
Printed parts aren’t just for the rocket. An upcoming Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite is slated to lift off with a printed “aluminum electronic enclosure designed to hold avionic circuits.” It will be the first such part certified for use on a Lockheed Martin military satellite.
“By going from multiple machined parts to one 3D-printed part, the team was able to save time in the design and production cycle, as well as increase the quality and consistency of the units,” Lockheed said in a statement. “The lead time for manufacturing the part went from six months to only 1.5 months, with assembly time also being reduced from 12 hours to just three hours.”
Printed parts are also a key part of Lockheed’s bid to replace the military’s old ICBMs. A company infographic for the proposed Ground Based Strategic Deterrent lists 3D printing among the “leading tech” in its bid.
“It’s not just about 3D printing or digital technology. We’re trying to bring 21st-century tools to a 21st-century system,” John Karas, the company Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program manager said last month. “You have to design the system and sustain it over 50 years, so you better have really good digital backbone to do that.”
Karas said his firm considers additive manufacturing as part of a “digital tapestry.” Lockheed has already 3D-printed and flown a handful of small parts for other projects. Lockheed has broken ground on a new facility at Hill Air Force Base in Utah that will have a digital design center and 3D printing shop.
“We’re hoping by the time we field GBSD, we’ll be able to do that,” he said.
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From Defense One
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New drones above and beneath the waves will change the way navies sail and fight in contested waters.
Is a Government Shutdown Looming? How about a Full-Year CR?
Halfway through fiscal 2017, Pentagon funding levels remain frozen at 2016 budget levels. The current continuing resolution expires on April 28. Byron Callan at Capital Alpha Partners puts the odds at 65 percent that Congress avoids a full-year continuing resolution. A senior Pentagon official tells me they expect Congress to pass another short-term CR when lawmakers return from their two-week Passover/Easter break. Also, expect the Trump administration to send its 2018 budget proposal to Congress in mid-May. Something to watch: What will happen to the Trump administration’s $30 billion budget amendment for new fighter jets, helicopters, missiles and more sent to Congress in mid-March? Right now, it still appears DOA.
Cost of War
Speaking of military spending, a new report out from the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. The report — co-authored by William Hartung and Catherine Lutz — looks at how U.S. military spending stacks up against other nations and the Trump administration's defense spending plans.
F-35 Workers Union Urges Program Funding
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers — the labor union that represents workers on the F-35 production line — is asking its members to urge lawmakers to fund purchases of the jet. “The positive economic impact of the F-35 program continues to grow,” the union said in a statement. “This mature program supports more than 45,000 direct and over 125,000 indirect American jobs at approximately 1,400 suppliers across the nation; this results in an annual economic impact to the U.S. of over $24 billion. Importantly, these numbers are expected to increase as production increases in the coming years.” Lockheed Martin is preparing to move its F-16 production line from Fort Worth to South Carolina, a right-to-work state, to make room for additional F-35 manufacturing. International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers also build the F/A-18 Super Hornet in St. Louis.
Israeli, India Ink $2B Missile Defense Deals
Israel Aerospace Industries touted a $1.6 billion sale of surface-to-air missiles to the Indian army as the largest ever for Israel’s defense industry. The Indian Navy is also buying surface-to-air missiles for India’s first indigenously-built aircraft carrier in a deal whose value was not disclosed.
Boeing Stands Up Venture Capital Shop
Called HorizonX, the new division — to be based in Chicago — has already made two strategic investments. The first is in Zunum Aero, a company developing aircraft powered by hybrid-electric engines. The Washington State-based company already has the backing of JetBlue Technology Ventures, the VC arm created by the New York-based airline last year. HorizonX is also investing in Upskill, a Virginia-based firm “building enterprise software for augmented reality devices.” Steve Nordlund — who helped launch drone-maker Insitu, which was acquired by Boeing in 2008 — will lead HorizonX. Boeing has had a venture business in its Phantom Works division for a number of years.
Boeing also announced that it would headquarter its new 20,000-person Global Services division in Plano, Texas. The site, called Legacy West, is a mixed-use development, not at an airport.
Norwegian Defense Firm Grows
Nammo grew 35 percent in 2016, according to the firm’s annual report. The Norwegian company — which specializes in ammunition, shoulder-fired weapons and rocket motors for space and military systems — is now planning to invest $117 million in “new technology and equipment across its sites and businesses over the coming five years.” Among the company’s projects: making 25-millimeter rounds for the F-35. And with the space race heating up (as we told you last week), Nammo “is considering additional investments to strengthen its existing in-house technologies, including its advanced hybrid rocket motors,” the company said in a statement.
US Needs More Tech Hubs
That’s the advice of a new Atlantic Council report, “Keeping America’s Innovative Edge: A Strategic Framework.” “Expanding the circle of prosperity and spreading technological innovation throughout the country will be important to future economic growth. A more diverse and enlarged set of tech hubs can help seed more sources of prosperity throughout the country.” For year, Pentagon officials have been warning that the U.S. is losing its technological edge.
A Declassified Doc AvGeeks Will Love
Aviation pioneer Kelly Johnson’s 18-page white paper from September 1958 detailing Lockheed’s offering for the CIA’s top secret Oxcart program. The paper goes through early considerations for an aircraft called Archangel, which later became the A-12. Lockheed has more in its Code One magazine.