Today we're going to turn this space over briefly to Jamais Cascio, who makes some very important insights in this article from his Open the Future blog:
An unrelated pair of reports about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) -- also referred to as "drones" -- should be looked at together. On July 14, an Israeli warship was hit by what was reported to be a cheap UAV outfitted with explosives, operated remotely by Hezbollah. Although subsequent reports attributed the blast to a conventional anti-ship missile, military analysts note that Hezbollah has been testing UAVs for just this sort of attack. Around the same time, New Scientist reported that Lockheed-Martin's new "Polecat" UAV, designed as a technology demonstrator, consists largely of parts printed in a 3-D printer.The technique is widely used in industry to make prototype parts - to see if, for instance, they are the right shape and thickness for the job in hand. Now the strength of parts printed this way has improved so much that they can be used as working components.
About 90 per cent of Polecat is made of composite materials with much of that material made by rapid prototyping.
"The entire Polecat airframe was constructed using low-cost rapid prototyping materials and methods," says Frank Mauro, director of UAV systems at the Skunk Works.
You can see where I'm going with this. As the costs of 3D printing technology continues to plummet, and the capabilities of fabber systems continue to improve, we're heading into a world in which 4th Generation Warfare groups don't have to rely on shipments of weapons such as attack UAVs, but can simply print up a batch themselves. [CRN] has written some important essays on the question of the intersection of molecular manufacturing and military capacity. What the combination of stories about possible Hezbollah UAVs and Lockheed-Martin 3D-printed UAVs is that we won't have to wait until the advent of nanofactories to see what this problem looks like -- or to start thinking about ways it can be handled.
Well said, Jamais.