Army, Marines Seek 3-D Printed Drones

The Army and Marine Corps are working together to develop technology that would enable troops to produce drones by using 3-D printers. The plan had its origins several years ago, when Army engineers from the Vehicle Technology Directorate at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., teamed with Georgia Tech to produce printable drones.

They proved the idea could work during Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment tests at Fort Benning, Ga., in 2016. Using specially developed software, soldiers there could “tell’ the printers what type of drone they would need for a given specific mission. The printers, in turn, produced usable drones within 24 hours.

At that point, the Army reached out to the Marine Corps. In test exercises, Marines who had never used a drone before were able to use the software and printer package to produce usable drones within minutes to hours. Engineers and researchers initially expected the process to take days to weeks.

Three-D printing, or “additive manufacturing,” someday would allow troops in the field to produce tools of their trade while carrying a minimal amount of materials and machinery.