Small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS) are drones that can be used for a range of different military missions, but it’s very important to have the right SUAS for the job. Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has made it possible to create, on-demand, SUAS that are custom suited to the specifics of a mission, and now U.S. Marines are putting this technology to the test.

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SUAS Design Based On Mission Needs

U.S. Army Research technicians and engineers gathered with Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in late September to see how 3D printed SUAS performed on various intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance test missions. The design of each SUAS was chosen based on the specifics of a mission and could then be printed, assembled, and launched for flight in as little as 24 hours.

Speed And Versatility Of Production

The speed and versatility of the additive manufacturing method allows for a notable ability to respond and adapt to a range of mission factors. Once the SUAS is printed, it can then be equipped with various types of tactical cameras for different operations.

More Responsive To Troops Needs

U.S. Army Research Lab mechanical engineer, John Gerdes describes the system as a combination of tactical technologies that’s more responsive to the needs of troops on a mission.  “Basically what we are doing is combining two emerging technologies. We have taken 3-D printing and quad-copters and created a means of giving troops a customized vehicle right when they need it, with the capabilities they need from it, on demand.”


Modify, Adjust, And Craft

Troops in the field could simply choose the SUAS design that best fits whatever they’re trying to accomplish and have the additive manufacturing files sent directly to a printer. They can even modify and adjust parts as the SUAS is being crafted. Instead of troops trying to adapt to the limitations of a drone based intelligence, surveillance, or reconnaissance system, this approach means that the SUAS could be adapted to the needs of troops.

While no deployment timeline has been specified for this technology, it could provide a considerable edge for troops to rise to all manner of situations in the field. What are your thoughts on this development? Tell us in the comments.

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