So, the President of the United States decides to place the government of a foreign dictator — meaning a former ally “defending democracy in the region”– because “he is another Hitler.” Maybe the President cuts off all spare parts that the dictator’s government bought from the U.S. military-industrial-Congressional complex back when he was a U.S. ally.
The dictator then calls in his technologist. “Can we make spare parts on that new Acme Keep ‘Em Flying unit?” Answer: “Sure thing, Mr. President.”
Call this the mother of all KMA’s.
Here is what’s coming within 15 years.
Late last year, British defence firm BAE Systems put the first printed metal part in a Tornado jet fighter.
The company recently put out an animated video showing where they think such humble beginnings could one day lead.
It imagined a plane printing another plane inside itself and then launching it from its undercarriage.
“It’s long term, but it’s certainly our end goal to manufacture an aerial vehicle in its entirety using 3D printing technology,” Matt Stevens, who heads BAE’s 3D printing division, told AFP.
– Revolutionising war and politics –
But the real revolution of 3D printing is less about the things you can make and more about where you make them.
Being able to take printers to a warzone promises a radical shake-up of combat and the defence industry, says Peter W Singer, an expert in future warfare at the New America Foundation.
“Defence contractors want to sell you an item but also want to own the supply chain for 50 years,” he says.
“But now you’ll have soldiers in an austere outpost in somewhere like Afghanistan who can pull down the software for a spare part, tweak the design and print it out.”
This could lead militaries to cut out private defence companies altogether. And by combining 3D printing with assembly line robotics, those that remain will be enormously streamlined.
That sort of disruption carries huge political implications in places like the United States where defence firms are purposefully spread around the country and support millions of jobs.
“The Pentagon and defence industry have an incredibly tough time with innovation, but you don’t want to wait to lose a major battle before you do it,” says Singer.
3D printing could even change foreign policy, for instance by undermining sanctions.
“The US has sanctioned everything from fighter jet spare parts to oil equipment. 3D printing could turn sanctions — which have been a crucial part of foreign policy for a generation or more — into an antiquated notion,” says Singer.