In an inevitable, terrifying development, the US Army wants to 3D print weapons now

By James Robinson , written on June 5, 2014

From The News Desk

They tried to go under the radar and obfuscate their words a bit, but with a quiet press release last week the US Army tipped its hat that it officially wants to start 3D printing weapons.

The headline announcement in the press release was actually that the army’s Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) was teaming up with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and the University of Alabama in Huntsville to share information and develop 3D printing technologies together.

It’s a sort of Avengers-style of team up of next-level 3D printing potential. AMRDEC develops missile technologies for the US Army. The University of Alabama Huntsville’s Engineering Design and Prototyping Facility is one of the largest of its type in the country. NASA’s current work on 3D printing this year has involved figuring out how to print live cell clusters like wood and bone enamel in space.

AMRDEC Director James Lackey said that the new group “will investigate procurements of additive manufacture machines to support our research needs, build a cadre of engineers and scientists savvy on this technology, fabricate and performance test qualify components for ground and flight test.”

For those in the dark, fabricate is 3D printing nerd talk for build.

University of Alabama Engineering Professor Phil Farrington was equally as enthusiastic and effusive about the weapon-y potential of this new alliance. “One of the team’s goals is to identify additive manufacturing research and development needs of greatest importance to the defence and space community,” he said.

This is an inevitable, if slightly terrifying, development. Rhetoric about the military potential of 3D printing has been coming out thick and fast for a couple of years now. Last year, Wired wrote an article about 3D printing ideas that were kicking around in military circles, like the Navy 3D printing drones from material harvested from the ocean. The US Army has been working on developing its own printer. Mobile 3D printing labs have been on bases in Afghanistan since the end of 2012, used to repair equipment and print electronics and small components.

Of course them 3D printing weapons and you 3D printing weapons is a completely different story. The 3D printed gun is a longtime boogie man of the new maker revolution. Last May, Austin-based Defense Distributed printed a working AR-15 and had several 3D printed gun designs posted online. But shortly after it succeeded it received a letter from the State Department asking them to take the designs down and suggesting that they’d broken export control rules under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. That same month, another Texas company Solid Concepts 3D printed the first ever metal weapon.

I’ve said it before and I’ll end up saying it a thousand times: The future is terrifying.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]