The Massachusetts-based defense contractor Raytheon has revealed that is investing in a 3D printer that can build what they call “big structures”. ¿3D Printing to produce hypersonic missiles? That seems to be what Raytheon is working on: “There have been some fundamental game changers in the world of hypersonic missiles, so not only can you build them, but you can build them affordably. With 3D printing, you can build things you couldn’t otherwise build.” Regarding components, hypersonic engines and missiles rely on very complex and efficient networks of cooling channels, as moving at five times the speed of sound creates a lot of heating friction that requires efficient vents. The shape of such cooling ducts may be difficult whether impossible to achieve with casting, drilling and cutting..., but with a 3D printer, it is possible at all.
Now, ¿Why to print only some components... if you can print almost the entire missile? That seems to be the target when the company says “We just made a big investment on a unique machine to do some very, very big structures.” And that target seems to be very high up on their agenda, bearing in mind that Raytheon has already set up two proposals for DARPA funding: The Tactical Boost-Glide (TBG) (Essentially, a missile with a rocket motor that ‘skips’ off the atmosphere, much like a stone on the water) and the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), a missile that shoots itself forward by sucking in huge amounts of oxygen at a speed of higher than Mach 5. Undoubtly, two projects where 3D printing fits.
Raytheon is thus, working on 3D printed missiles that can hit enemies long before they’ve had a chance to react: ¿What if they could hit a nuclear missile ready for launch before it lifts off? ¡Even complex anti-missile batteries wouldn’t be able to lock onto a missile travelling at such speeds! Then, ¿Could 3D printing change warfare as we know it? Time will say it.