US Navy issues six new additive manufacturing contracts focused on technology protection

The US Naval Surface Warfare Center has issued a total of six new contracts focused on protecting military technologies by way of additive manufacturing.

As part of the program, six select vendors will develop novel prototype projects using 3D printing technology. The Center believes additive manufacturing can be leveraged by the military to help safeguard its internal systems from intrusion or attack.

Angela Lewis, Technical Director of the Center’s Crane Division, explains that the awardees “will demonstrate prototype capabilities that address the AM technical domain problem set. The prototypes will demonstrate improvement over current technology protection techniques, processes, or systems as well as feasibility for eventual deployment on DoD systems and platforms.”

The contracts were issued to General Electric, Johns Hopkins APL, Lockheed Martin RMS, Mercury Systems, ReLogic Research, and Charles Stark Draper Laboratory for undisclosed amounts. 

Each of the contracts was awarded through the Center’s Crane Strategic & Spectrum Advanced Resilient Trusted Systems division (S2MARTS) – a DoD organization focused on technology investments. The National Security Technology Accelerator (NSTXL) Consortium is responsible for the S2MARTS contracting process.

A helicopter landing on the USS George HW Bush (CVN 77) aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo via Micah P. Blechner/U.S. Navy.
A helicopter landing on the USS George HW Bush (CVN 77) aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo via Micah P. Blechner/U.S. Navy.

Technology protection as an AM application

According to the Naval Surface Warfare Center, research into the application of additive manufacturing for military technology protection has been severely limited until now. It’s a largely untapped domain that’s expected to yield promising results for defense forces.

The six project proposals have already been reviewed by the Naval Sea Systems Command, Air Force Research Lab, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Army. Going forward, the awardees will use the contract funds to develop their 3D printed prototypes, which will be evaluated at the end of the program. Prototypes will be judged based on how effective they are at addressing their given problem, how easily they can be implemented among existing systems, reliability, costs, size, weight, and more.

“Applying additive manufacturing techniques to technology protection will truly be a game changer. We’re looking forward to leveraging the seed funds from this award to demonstrate the powerful, complementary nature of these two areas,” said Korine Ohiri, Senior Scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “The stochastic nature of additive manufacturing means we can manufacture unique designs on demand, and allows for an incredibly broad breadth of security solutions for technology protection.”

The contracts were sponsored by the Trusted and Assured Microelectronics program of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. The program is one of several under the Additive Manufacturing for Technology Protection (AMTP) Consortium. The DoD established the Consortium in 2019 to lead the military in developing novel applications of 3D printing to protect technologies.

Naval Aircraft Carriers. Photo via the US Navy.
Naval Aircraft Carriers. Photo via the US Navy.

Additive manufacturing in defense

Although technology protection is certainly one of the more niche use cases of 3D printing, the defense sector is home to a whole plethora of more obvious applications. Just recently, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) issued a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) opportunity inviting proposals for a new edible 3D printing material. Dubbed the Innovative Nutritional Formulations SBIR Program, the concept call aims to attract clever ideas for turning biomass into safe and edible food products for the armed forces.

Elsewhere, the US Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) recently announced that it would be using advanced manufacturing processes such as 3D printing to accelerate the development of hypersonic missile technology.

Over in the US Marine Corps, additive manufacturing is being used to aid in mine-clearing missions. The marines 3D printed a headcap for a rocket motor used to detonate an M58 Mine Clearing Line Charge (MICLIC), enabling them to overcome the costly and time-heavy drawbacks of traditional manufacturing techniques.

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Featured image shows a helicopter landing on the USS George HW Bush (CVN 77) aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo via Micah P. Blechner/U.S. Navy.