To counter the shortage, the USMC has been forced to take obsolete aircraft out of the "boneyard" and put them back into operational status. Unfortunately, this further diverts manpower away from flight instruction and missions and towards maintenance and obsolescence solutions development. Operational squadrons should be focused on training for and carrying out missions, not aircraft MRO.
As a solution, the U.S. Department of Defense is looking into making additive manufacturing (AM), otherwise known as 3D printing, a standard practice and material source. Additive manufacturing offers numerous benefits to equipment shortages faced by USMC: a faster, more streamlined part design and deployment process; fewer storage costs; and increased customization abilities.
Additive manufacturing does present some challenges that have yet to be ironed out, such as certification and intellectual property. But these issues can be addressed by stakeholders proactively assessing their concerns and working together to develop licensing strategies where possible.
The USMC has already undertaken some small AM projects: the 1st Maintenance Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group is currently using on-loan AM technologies to make small items, such as tools and radio brackets. Additionally, aircraft mechanics, supply Marines, and small-arms repair technicians at Camp Lejeune recently received AM training.
Marines are adaptable; we know how to do more with less. However, we cannot ignore the fact that diminishing manufacturing and material obsolescence are having a major impact on military supportability and operational readiness. AM has the potential to be a workable solution if government and industry can work through the challenges it presents. Once those challenges are answered, AM could be a key factor in keeping the USMC ready for rapid deployment when duty calls.
Cpl. Jim Truxel, U.S. Marine Corps, 1977-1981
VP of Marketing and Sales for Commercial Aerospace, Saab Defense and Security USA