As a service, the USMC are approaching bottom up innovation very seriously. https://mobile.twitter.com/marinemakers
The USAF is also very active in bottom up innovation.
Another program is Hacking 4 Defense founded by Steve Blank, Pete Newell, and Joe Felter(leave of absence now performing role of US Assistant Undersecretary of Defence for South & Southeast Asia).
Pete Newell(retired Army Colonel) stood up the Rapid Equipping Force a numbe of years ago to rapidly accelerate the development and deployment of tools to mitigate IED related casualties.
Hacking 4 Defense(H4D) is running across a growing number of University campus to solve complex Defense problems using the Lean Start Up methodology using a modified lean canvas called the Mission Model Canvas.
I am working to expand the use of H4D/MMC down here in Australasia.
Happy to share more if anyone is interested.
It’s great to see Marines given the latitude to experiment.
It’s also great to see the often inaccurate stereotypes of Marines being rigidly disciplined and inflexible in thinking give way to the reality that Marines have very often conducted comprehensive tactical experimentation and innovation.
We certainly wouldn't want to replace an impeller for a precision milled high performance turbo pump on a rocket with a 3D printed part as the risk of catastrophic failure would be enormous.
But there is still great scope for field expedient replacement because of the simple fact that field expedient repair has occurred since mankind started killing each other in an organised fashion.
I think much of the genuine risk of cumulative patchwork repairs increasing risk of catastrophic failure could be mitigated with a smart asset registry/history that could manage "go/no go" for depot level or higher maintenance/refurb.
DOD would surely be one of the world's biggest consumers of duct tape. If just in time 3D printing can provide short term sustainment of assets that includes proper asset history documentation, the I would imagine that would be a net plus.
Looking further into the future, I could easily imagine both 3D printing and production output auditing for common consumables and wear items as not just field expedient, but becoming the standard.
Although I would think this will require a massive R&D/certification effort(so easier said than done), as well as designing this flexibility into future assets/platforms.
"For want of a nail" comes to mind.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe the horse was lost;
and for want of a horse the rider was lost;
being overtaken and slain by the enemy,
all for want of care about a horse-shoe nail.
3D print the nail, and then replace it in deport maintenance.
A nitpick, but there are different kinds of 3D printing; on the higher end, companies like SpaceX actually do 3D-print rocket engine parts.
I foresee a requirement like this being added to defense contracts in the near future, basically requiring plans and easy replacement for the plastic bits. Then the defense department can either build their own parts or bid out the manufacturing of those parts.
You know what slows that down? Logistics.
The Marines have been at the forefront of trying to overcome logistics limitations. The MV-22 Osprey is the perfect example. If you want to deploy anywhere in the world without the lead time to build an airstrip, you need a bird that can fly long distances like an airplane and set down like a helicopter.
3D Printing is the JIT compilation version of materiel production. If we have to set up a base in a remote part of Korea tomorrow, we will not be able to build a logistics train in time to fix tanks and planes and MRAPs. But if we can 3D print whatever parts we need, our on-site logistical capabilities get a huge advantage.
Expeditionary Force 21 [PDF]: http://www.mccdc.marines.mil/Portals/172/Docs/MCCDC/Document...
Tanks being "airdropped" looks very different from that. A C-130 "dropping" a tank involves flying down to within a few feet of the ground and then opening the cargo door -- parachutes are used in this case to slow the tank's horizontal movement, not to prevent it from falling.
As to domain knowledge, I have actually worked on related subjects for the DoD. I am far from a domain expert, but I was for example required to attend various lectures including some on logistics.
As to Airdrop you generally drop a tank* from ~10 feet not ~10,000 ft. Getting close to the ground does not take infrastructure stopping does. Runways need to be long and clear because aircraft need to slow down. http://www.wearethemighty.com/articles/this-is-the-last-tank...
*Not that we still do this largely because we don't have such 'small' tanks any more.
Recently, they literally were pulling wings off of F-18s from museums, because several of their combat aircraft set to deploy in +2 weeks to places like Afghanistan and Iraq, were missing wings.
You may be thinking of the following story, when an F/A-18 that flew in the raid against Libya in 1986 needed a part (the hinge for the front left door of the nose wheel landing gear) which was no longer manufactured, and was eventually found on an aircraft on the USS Yorktown museum ship - although it didn't fit. 
What I read, (and it changed in my head over time obviously to the point of perpetuating an urban legend) was from the military times in 2016 - which cites anecdotes that House Armed Services Cmte. Chairman, Mac Thornberry received firsthand .
Thanks for correcting me on this.
 - https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2016/03/30/...
I have come to the conclusion that the professionalization of the services, coupled with the parasitic business model of the “defense industry,” has turned the US armed forces into a standing mercenary force.
Ultimately, the blame for this lies with the corrupt electoral system in the US, and the unwillingness of our political leadership to exert a modicum of common sense, and reduce the scale of US military involvements.
We can’t rely on institutions that many entities rely on for their livelihood/existence to put themselves out of business.
It would be nice to see the military engage in disruptive innovation that would discourage open ended military conflict. (And the endless meddling in other countries ghastly civil wars.)
This statement makes no sense.
A mercenary is "a professional soldier hired to serve in a foreign army" . It's impossible to be a mercenary for your own country.
The military is but one of many tools in the toolkit of our civilian foreign policy makers.
If you have an issue with how foreign policy is done, the right person/people in charge that should know are the politicians. They control the military.
In my experience, Defence/military here have been incredibly close-minded and resistant to change.
I’ve found slices of the US military to be incredibly innovative, forward thinking, and willing to take lots of small calculated risks.
The USMC maker efforts are one bottom up effort, and I’m aware of a fantastic Air Force effort that has excellent support as well.
Australia’s effort is more recent, I’m helping them to develop in-house innovation training as well as helping to shape an in-house innovation ecosystem/pipeline.
I think a big part of successful implementation is culture change.
On operations, we are expected to take calculated risks that include failing at times, in order to learn and iterate.
The biggest issue is that in a homefront “camp” environment, everyone becomes risk averse due to frequent posting cycles(officers usually change roles every 2-3 years).
Short posting cycles contradict the need for much longer term innovation pipeline outputs.
I hope that helps?
The challenges have a lot in common with space travel - not surprising that 3D printing has spurred so much imagination on both sides.
Side note: there's a quote in the article where Gen. Walters is envying what young engineers can do with this stuff. That's one of my favorite signals for tech that's not hype -- when it makes successful pros wish they were born a little later.
During the American Revolutionary War where the Americans moved the artillery from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston over the winter of 1775-6 (still an era where the military response to winter was to hunker down somewhere and wait for spring before doing anything), and then proceeded to install them on heights overlooking the harbor overnight.
In WWII, the US managed the astounding feat of supplying the majority of the logistics on what was effectively three separate fronts (North Africa and later the Western Front via the semi-interdicted Atlantic, the Eastern Front via the Northwest Staging Route and Siberia, and the Pacific Theater, including mainland China via the Hump). It was the experience of The Hump that led the military to try relieving Berlin by air, which almost everyone thought impossible at the time but instead turned out to be a smashing success.
The King's troops, growing up in a climate where snow doesn't (well, in 2018. I don't know about 1756) really stick to the ground, probably indeed would not have expected this.
The problem was more that the professionals couldn't predict the actions of highly motivated amateurs.
The Soviets: "One of the serious problems in planning against American doctrine is that the Americans do not read their manuals nor do they feel any obligation to follow their doctrine."
The Nazis: "The reason that the American army does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos and the American army practices chaos on a daily basis."
America: "If we don't know what we are doing, the enemy certainly can't anticipate our future actions!"
>"I am tempted to make a slightly exaggerated statement: that logistics is all of war-making, except shooting the guns, releasing the bombs, and firing the torpedoes."
- ADM Lynde D. McCormick, USN
For one of their weekend sorties, they had an entire platoon parachute out, and one of the other transport aircraft dropped equipment for creating a runway. At the end of the weekend, they flew back to land and pick everyone and the equipment used to build said runway, and then flew back to the base.
Truly a work of logistical and infrastructure art.
We didn't have to build a runway or anything like that, they just landed the C-130s on the dirt runway we "tookdown".
Now that I think about it that's when we were doing a lot of training on taking down small runways for the War on Drugs -- between the Panama Invasion and Gulf War I. The mission was to jump in, cause a world of hurt to the cartel and then get picked up and fly home.
The old Martson matting worked, but were FOD hazards as well since sand and rocks would often come up through the joins. You definitely don't forget landing on one though, really wakes you up as the aircraft shakes itself like crazy on roll-out.
Pretty much all US combat aircraft are tarmac bound due to low mounted engine inlets, with the exception of a couple transports and the A-10.
That's what makes the US military so expensive. On the other hand, the US does so much of this that everybody knows the US can do it. The USMC tries for a high tooth-to-tail ratio, which is great for short wars, and not so good for really long ones. (Wars seem to be either week long or decade long now. Not much in between.)
China is working on getting more capability in force projection, but it's slow going. The USSR had a reasonable capability, which ran down after the breakup of the USSR. Russia is trying to build it back up.
And to this day British vehicles have a variant of a Crimean war piece of kit to heat water / food - which is/was an object of envy of US forces
This is a great story about disruption. The Marines seem to be on top of trying to continue thinking outside the box. That turns out to be very difficult to do in any large, old organization. I heard an interview with the Commandant last week. They asked him what kind of tech he wanted most.
Bingo. Better batteries would change everything, not just the Marine Corps. There are few technologies like batteries. Cost-to-orbit tech is one of them. If we change those technologies, we change the entire rest of the economy. I believe the service used to call things like that "force multipliers". It's neat to see 3D printing _perhaps_ becoming a force multiplier in many areas.
Putting on my cynic hat, expect to see a lot of pushback form the establishment where this technology disrupts the most. Those folks with button standards aren't going to go down peacefully.
Then, allegedly a pilot crew was able to use the watch's compass to help navigate in an emergency after their cabin instruments frosted over:
Long-term, you're absolutely right. Somebody needs to solve the problem.
Or, Id rather damage the bilge pump, than not have it when we're flooding...
Here's a prefilter for a tractor or something:
It's using air flow to blow the particles out before they hit the filter. If I understand correctly, the part in question does similar, pulling debris out of the intake stream without being in series with it.
Yes, but. As I recall the story, when a fuel-cell consumer powerbrick startup, with a working production prototype, and the broader impact of expanding the envelope of consumer-scale parts supply in several areas (eg air pumps), went looking for $10M to start their supply chain, and avoid dying, ARPA responded "we can do $1M, but our budget is tight just now, and we can't do 10." What people say they want, and what they're willing to pay for, are often poorly correlated.
> Better batteries would change everything [...] Cost-to-orbit
Yes. Also small durable high-torque electric motors.
A Marine unit with multiple materials and multiheaded 3D printers could print more than replacement parts for downed war fighting machinery. Specific weapons or other gear could be adapted to fit the situation.
For example, a particular part isn't working (like the altimeter in the previous comment) due to poor design in bad testing. Marines with access to the raw CAD files of the part could modify the cowling/housing shape to make it more visible. The finished model could be stress tested in a physics modeling program. When it passes, a metal part could be printed and installed. A thermistor could even be added to provide heat to stop frosting. If it works in one plane, it could be duplicated to the whole squadron. And this quick adaptability in changing design method could be applied to anything: backpacks that are the incorrect shape and cause backpain, bump stocks that cause damage on the recoil, or a new water checkvalve screen could be designed to better force water out of soaked boots and stop foot rot. The design work could even happen remotely back on the mainland with more design resources.
This could happen within 24hrs from a supply unit stationed just off the front lines doing most of the work. At the end of a 6month engagement, the vehicles, equipment and gear could all be substantially different than how they started.
This extreme adaptability could end up being a huge advantage.
I've come across many Marines in my personal history as a diplomat brat (Marines protect all US Embassies abroad) and worker (the best boss I've ever had is a Marine). I've only met one I don't respect and/or admire, and he was drunk and belligerent on the Metro (not towards anyone in particular, just being a loud ass).
One of the things most civilians don't understand about the U.S. military is that the various branches all speak different languages. The same words can mean very different things, depending on the branch of service of the person you are saying them to.
Take, for example, the simple order "secure the building."
If you ask a Marine to "secure the building," they will hand-pick a team of a dozen Marines, who will chopper onto the roof of the building at midnight with knives clenched in their teeth. They will then work their way down floor to floor, slitting the throats of everyone they meet along the way, including the cleaning staff, because why not. When they reach the lobby, they will form up in neat ranks and scream at the top of their lungs that the building has been secured.
If you ask someone from the Army to "secure the building," they will put in a request for an artillery strike, which will pummel the building as well as most of the surrounding block into a pile of rubble. When the artillery fire stops, the highest-ranking officer available will run up to the top of the pile, plant an American flag, and tell anyone who happens to be standing around that the building has been secured.
If you ask someone from the Navy to "secure the building," they will send an encrypted message via satellite to a submarine 900 miles away. The submarine will then fire a Tomahawk cruise missile, which will fly at 500 miles per hour 100 feet off the ground into the building's HVAC exhaust. The explosion of the warhead will cause the building to collapse in on itself. The Navy will then issue a press release stating that the building has been secured.
If you ask someone from the Air Force to "secure the building," they will get you a seven-year lease with an option to buy.
(Remember the above is the Marines point of view)
Can you explain this? All the other ones made sense, but I don't understand what this is implying.
The Air Force would secure the right to occupy the building, by buying it.
It is usually joked that AF members are more office workers than soldiers, which is kind of what this joke is implying. My recruiter for the AF embraced that, telling potential recruits the AF has more college degree holders than all the other branches combined (not sure how true it was).
A high percentage of compensation in the military is in the form of benefits, making it incredibly challenging to quantify or compare to a normal pay package.
When you're deployed and something important breaks, you have a BIG problem. The impact is usually somewhere between you being absolutely miserable for weeks to costing you your life. When you're stateside and something important breaks, you have a reason to expand your empire at next year's budget meeting.
When you see it you immediately look to the top and question their actual leadership capability. In this instance, it is politicians arguing about budget, but we all knew they didn't know squat about the consequences of cutting a budget.
As a result, departments want to have a budget as close as possible to a worst-case scenario, spend the entire year thrifting in case something major occurs and then have to blow it all up right before EOY.
Forget buttons for a second, the article references fans that took a week to 3D print.
Yes, the military has to special-order a wide variety of parts and products with no civilian market. This makes the argument that some products may be more expensive. If the cost of manufacturing can be dramatically decreased through 3D printing, then properly account for cost by front-loading R&D costs, open-sourcing the designs which were developed with public money, and buying from the cheapest contractor which meets spec. If that contractor uses 3D printing to offer the lowest cost, cool. If lowest cost doesn't require 3D printing, who cares? Buy more than the military needs, but not so much as to be inordinately wasteful, to keep the part constantly in stock across a variety of globally distributed warehouses close enough to people who would need that part to be able to deliver requested parts within a week. It's a hard problem to be sure but more or less solvable (for reasonable optimizations in the absence of a constantly renewing solution to an NP complete problem).
Yes, the military has to be able to supply forces in areas where no civilian infrastructure exists. And if you want to argue for 3D printers somewhere like Antarctica where supplies can only be delivered for a few months of summer out of the whole year then that would make sense. If you want to argue that setting up a full warehouse with all parts which may ultimately prove necessary in a brand-new FOB in a war zone is at the very least a very difficult problem because of the difficulty of keeping track of everything that goes into that FOB not to mention keeping sufficient stock levels then I may agree with you. Arguing that it's reasonable to wait for months or even more than a year for parts to be delivered from a warehouse in the continental US to large, major, permanent bases located within the continental US? No, hell no, no freaking way, no way to excuse that other than general incompetence.
Militaries are never going to be nearly as efficient or as quick as UPS / FedEx / DHL for all their usecases. And that's fine. But taxpayers should not allow that to serve as an excuse for perennially poor logistics performance relative to what should be expected in comparison to the private sector.
Might want to look up the IFU or AORN standards for those. I know many places either toss them out of their kits or are single use only. Something about pitting and the metal they are made of.
Best job I have ever had.