3D Printing to Turn Aircraft Carriers Into Mobile Factories

nimitz-class-carrier-640x424It’s no secret that NASA has turned to 3D printing as a way of opening up new frontiers of space exploration and resolving potential problems – like building moon bases or feeding astronauts. And now, it seems that the only other organization that can rival the space agency in terms of funding and scale – the US Navy- has something similar in mind.

The US Navy already boasts most of the world’s largest moveable structures – the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier taking the cake. Whats more, modern aircraft carriers are basically floating cities already, complete with conventional manufacturing facilities to provide a good portion of what the crew might need while at sea. It therefore makes perfect sense to incorporate a high-quality 3D printer into the mix.

F_35_navyWhile the ultimate goal may be the ability to print actual replacement fighters and ordinance, the current plan is to incorporate printers that can print off replacement parts and possibly even small drones. With the technology already in place, it is not difficult to imagine a carrier, or perhaps even a large land vehicle, outfitted with a high-quality 3D printer, several tons of raw materials, and a few pre-fabricated cameras and circuit boards.

What’s more, this could also make transport of basic supplies more efficient, holding powder and casing materials separately and combining them to make bullets and munitions as needed, rather than storing them in a way that takes up vast amounts of space. Researchers at Virginia Tech even told the Armed Forces Journal that they believe 3D printing could produce high-quality propellants themselves – meaning an aircraft carrier could produce its own supplies of fuel and missiles.

cyber-war-1024x843This idea drives home a number of things that are likely to become the mainstay with military technology. One is the increasing gap between the military haves and have-nots, and the increasing importance of cyber warfare in the modern world. No army or insurgent militia is likely to be able to withstand a mobile drone factory, nor is a nation that does not possess the technology be able to compete with one that does.

At the same time, simple defects, caused by cybernetic intrusion, could render such a mobile factory useless and counterproductive. In any future arms race between nations where 3D manufacturing is part of the arsenal, hacking will certainly be a factor. And last, but certainly not least, the ability to independently produce components, weapons and tools also opens up the possibility to create fully-autonomous ships and bases, complete with recycling programs that can turn waste into reusable raw material.

Cuban-Missile-CrisisSuch are the concerns of today’s military and all those who need to plan for the future. And as always, the prospects are frightening for all – not only because they make the nature of future conflicts uncertain, but because any serious advancement on one side is likely to cause others to scramble to get their hands on it as well. As any student of history knows, arms races lead to escalation and increased tension, and those rarely end well!

Source: extremetech.com

The Future is Here: The Hybrid Tank!

hybrid_IFVIt’s a strange thing when military planners and environmentalists find themselves seeing to eye to eye. And yet, the latest crop of proposals being considered by the Pentagon to replace their aging vehicles includes a design for a hybrid tank. Designed to replace the venerable M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, the GFV (Ground Fighting Vehicle) is a gas-electric hybrid that will save the army on gas and reduce their impact on the environment.

In truth, the GFV is but one of several clean energy alternatives that is being considered by the Pentagon. As far as they are concerned, the next-generation of military hardware will need to take advantage of advances made in solar, electric, hybrid and other technologies. But of course, this is not motivated out of a desire to save the environment, but to save on fuel costs.

hybrid_IFVsideWith peak oil supplies diminishing worldwide and the only remaining sources confined to geopolitcally unstable regions, the current high-cost of gasoline is only likely to get worse in the near future. What’s more, the Pentagon and every other army in the developed world understands the dangers of Climate Change, with most scenarios taking into account dwindling fuel supplies and wars being fought for what little will be left. Little wonder then why they would consider cutting their consumption!

As for the GFV, the design calls for a large, highly modifiable ground combat vehicle that grew out of years of military and defense contractor studies. Designed by BAE Systems, the engine is the result of collaboration with a number of firms who helped adapt the design of a civilian hybrid gas-electric engine. Compared to competing designs, it presents a number of advantages.

hybrid_IFVfrontIf BAE’s proposal is adopted by the military, the Defense Department is expected to save approximately 20% on its fuel costs, compared to an alternate GCV vehicle design that uses traditional propulsion. Additional advantages include the ability to switch to pure electric mode for short periods of time, the elimination of significant heat traces from the battlefield, and the ability to operate more quietly at night.

In a recent interview, BAE Systems’ Mark Signorelli further indicated the advantages of the design:

There are also 40% fewer moving parts with higher reliability, requiring less maintenance and decreasing vehicle lifetime cost. Vehicle acceleration, handling and dash speed are improved even over fuel hungry turbine systems. Finally, the system’s ability to provide large amounts of electrical power accommodates the integration of future communications and weapons technology for the next 30 to 40 years.

What’s more, the GFV is capable of undergoing extensive modification, which is a strength in and of itself. With just a few added accessories, the vehicle can work as a tank, hence why it is named a Ground Fighting Vehicle (GFV) and not an Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), which is specifically designed to transport and defend infantry.

hybrid_IFVfleetThe vehicle can also be augmented with electric armor, jammers, and experimental energy weapons thanks to the in-vehicle electric power source. Most of these weapons are currently being developed by the military and are expected to be making the rounds in the not-too-distant future. As such, BAE also stressed that their vehicles could be operational for decades to come without becoming obsolete.

So telling when the decision will be made, thanks to the vagaries of politics and the military-industrial complex. However, the scuttlebutt indicates that the odds of the BAE design being adopted are good, and the company spokespeople indicated that the first GFV’s could be rolling off the line by 2020 and fielded by 2022. I guess Prius owners will have new reasons to brag!

Source: fastcoexist.com