UK Ministry of Defence to leverage 3D printing in new security approach

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has outlined new approaches of leveraging burgeoning technologies such as additive manufacturing and artificial intelligence (AI) to strengthen national security. 

In the recently published documents, the Defence Technology Framework (DTF) and Defence Innovation Priorities (DIP), the MoD identifies 3D printable sensors and 3D bioprinting as essential to harnessing “new types of data about human and platform performance.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, stated, “We live in an era of extraordinary technological change and we must make sure we are harnessing the power of innovation by working as efficiently and effectively with industry as possible.”

“Our transformed approach to using and procuring technology will not only help us secure our military advantage, but will help drive prosperity and create jobs across the country.”

UK Ministry of Defence sign. Photo via Ministry of Defence.
UK Ministry of Defence sign. Photo via Ministry of Defence.

Additive manufacturing to strengthen national security 

The DTF and DIP address the Modernising Defence Programme’s (MDP) three central objectives: To mobilise to tackle today’s challenges; modernise to meet future threats; and transform to become an agile and innovative organisation. Thus, the DTF has recognised  ‘seven families’ of promising technology areas which can transform military capabilities.

Sensors or sensing technology, one of the seven families outlined in DTF, is identified as a means to detect signals with increasing sensitivity, at a lower cost and reduced weight. The DTF states, “Novel developments are likely to give rise to reliable quantum gravity sensing, new materials allowing ultra-small, thin and efficient sensors, self-healing and adaptable sensors, and 3D printable sensors on demand.”

Advanced materials, another member of the seven families in the DTF, encompasses nanotechnology, applications of synthetic biology, and the development of materials with novel molecular structures such as graphene. In particular, 3D bioprinting poses an avenue for human enhancement in the UK Armed Forces.

The DTF adds, “Genome editing can modify DNA to potentially introduce physical enhancements and protection from disease; 3D bioprinting optimises the functional morphology of body parts to achieve physical, cognitive or sensory performance gains.”

The MoD depicts the use of sensory technology. Image via the UK MoD.
The MoD depicts the use of sensory technology. Image via the UK MoD.

Investing in industrial 3D printing

Through the UK’s Technology Strategy Board, Innovate UK, the MoD is also supporting the FAST-forge initiative, which aims to develop a process to make titanium cheaper and abundant. This will allow the development of lower-cost 3D printing materials.

Following the announcement of the DTF and DIP documents at the DSEi conference in London, Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Tim Fraser said, “Both the Framework and Priorities will not only guide the approaches of our major industry suppliers, but of SMEs, entrepreneurs and academia and our public sector partners and international allies.”

“They give us a clear strategic roadmap and will shape our investment in the future.”

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Featured image shows the UK Ministry of Defence sign. Photo via Ministry of Defence.