U.S. Army Contemplates 3D-Printed Warheads

Boring logistics first, futuristic explosives next.

Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3-D printing, is inherently creative. Materials are layered together and built up, constructing an object from powder and heat and code. In the future, the U.S. Army wants to turn this innovation to far more destructive ends, by printing new warheads.

The latest issue of Army Technology focuses on 3-D printing. Designing new shapes for warheads is one promising new avenue of research. In “ARDEC investigates how 3-D printed metals could transform Army logistics“, U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center materials engineer James Zunino explains to author Timothy Rider what additive manufacturing can bring to the science of blowing stuff up. Rider captures the core of it here:

Directing the explosion of a weapon is a big deal, as it can mean both deadlier military tools and more precise attacks. Last winter missile maker MBDA tested a differently shaped charge on a missile whose narrow explosion is designed to hit a target and nothing else. In the future, 3-D printed warheads could do something similar, giving troops and commanders more options about how and to what extent they should blow something up.

While printed warheads are the shiny tip of the spear, it’s almost certain that 3-D printing will make a difference with mundane supply tasks like spare parts first. Multiple stories in the issue focus in on this immediate need. In “Getting to Right Faster,” Master Sergeant Adam Asclipiadis of the Army’s appropriately named Rapid Equipping Force, describes how they used Statasys Fortus 3-D printers in Afghanistan.

Further articles in the issue examine the military applications of 3-D printing in medicine, food, new materials, at supply depots and in building miniatures to better understand a battlefield. There’s also a look at 3-D bioprinting human tissue for treating wounds, especially burn wounds, suffered in the field of battle– perhaps in new patterns left by creatively shaped 3-D printed warheads.

The whole issue is available online here.