Raytheon researchers are experimenting with new ways how to manufacture missiles. They are considering to use 3D-printing technology for this task and already trying to do that. For example, Trident II D5 missile was already created with 3D-printed parts by US Navy and Lockheed Martin in March and the European missile manufacturer MBDA plans to do similar things for the next year. For now, Lockheed Martin created only the covers that are protecting cable connectors in already mentioned D5 missile by using 3D print.
Raytheon Tomahawk missile, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The next step for Raytheon's researchers is to print electrical circuits or microwave components for radar systems. Of course, there is a long way to create a whole missile by using the 3D-printing technology but we can expect that the number of 3D-printed parts is going to be incrementally increased in the near future.
The advantages of such a system are similar to 3D-printing technology that is used for manufacturing plastic spare parts for trucks that we have discussed yesterday. These parts can be printed locally much faster and it is estimated the the manufacturing time of the missile can be shortened by 75 %. The availability is almost immediate and it also eliminates the supply needs and slow transportation of the parts if they are needed. Using the 3D print, new designs can be created because it allows to make holes where it is not possible using the standard manufacturing techniques. Because of that, there is a possibility to reduce weight of the missile. That can extend range of the missile or make a room for further payload.
It is said that missile industry will rise by 50 % to $36bn during the following 10 years and about 200,000 missiles are going to be produced within the following 5 years.