A few years ago, one of my childhood friends got an idea concerning an up and coming printing technology, 3D printing. My friend decided he could produce and sell a 3D printing machine on the public market at a cost lower than the competition; turns out he was right!
For those who are uncertain as to what 3D printing is I’ll give a brief explanation, although I admit many more technologically advanced individuals could give a complete explanation. For now mine will have to suffice. 3D printing is the use of plastic resin, or metallic materials layered together, one layer on top of another, to produce an object. It’s not a picture but a completely 3D, solid object. The simplest example would be to print a cube, layer after layer building up until you have a perfectly symmetrical six sided cube. A more complex example would be a sphere, or even more complex a model soldier. These things can all be printed from hard resin and come out with incredible detail. In a matter of hours a man could build himself a chess board with pieces and take it to the park for practice. It begs the question of what else we can produce in a small workshop or the basement?
The only limitation to the printing of objects is the computer codes that have to be written to control the printers. Raw materials are relatively inexpensive, and production time is surprisingly short. While cost and production time will likely shrink as more powerful machines and designs are created, more individuals and organizations will be writing programs for greater numbers of items. It is not inconceivable to see many of today’s household goods produced in the basement or the office! Plates, cups, Tupperware, spoons, forks, and knives could all be produce either in plastic or metal. We’ve seen plastic knives work almost as well as the original for decades now, even washable, so there is no barrier to production.
Now 3D printing has been around for a few years, and has begun the developmental and marketing phase of new technology. What is the most common 3D printing program downloaded today? Weapons, specifically firearms; firearms of all shapes, sizes and capabilities. Primarily this is collectors and gun aficionados writing programs and sharing them with their online communities and friends. The most striking development in the firearms printing race has been the blueprint for an AR 15 lower receiver capable of firing over 600 consecutive rounds. A partially printed weapon capable of sending rounds down range is impressive, and disquieting. Now unserviceable weapons can have replacement parts produced in a matter of hours! At least, that is one possible use for the technology. Enemy forces with limited funding and limited capabilities could easily produce more complicated weapons, replace parts, or create weapons more specific to their designs and operational requirements.
All of that is understood, and just as it is difficult to control information on the internet today, it is probably impractical to start making plans to stop all weapon blue prints from finding their way into the hands of our enemies. Rather, we should be looking to utilize this new and developing technology to better our forces and our force projection capabilities.
As earlier mentioned, 3D printing could revolutionize how the military looks at supply and shortages. Being able to produce even a small amount of items, components, or Basic Issue Items, could greatly reduce the stress placed on support units and reduce the required personnel, which would allow the force to reduce its footprint in more delicate environments or simply have more troops capable of focusing on the fight.
An opportunity for use today what be the United States Forces Korea. Forwardly deployed, long intrenched, this location is the perfect opportunity to show how units overseas could establish small, non-intrusive, low emission production facilities. On even the smallest bases, 3D printers could be installed and begin producing required items and begin to fill shortages. The printers may be limited in use to begin with, but as more developers design blueprints, and the more Service Members become involved in development, the greater 3D options will exist for the military. Coupled with the new demand created by the US Military entering into the 3D printing market, there will be no lack of blueprint designers or contractors willing to fill the Military’s needs.