3D printing will strengthen US security in the Indo-Pacific

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Rising tensions over Taiwan are reminiscent of the current supply chain crisis. As the United States, Japan and others ramp up efforts to bolster defense programs, defense manufacturers continue to face supply chain and labor shortages. Bradley Martin, director of the RAND National Security Supply Chain Institute, recently warned that these constraints are dangerous for the United States and its allies in preparing for challenges from China.

For Guam, a remote U.S. territory that plays a unique strategic role in U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, the stakes of the supply chain crisis could not be higher for U.S. national security.

Guam is often referred to as the “tip of the spear” of America. Located 1,900 miles from the Korean Peninsula and 1,700 miles from Taiwan, it remains one of our nation’s most critical outposts for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, fighter aircraft, bombers long range and attack submarines. No wonder experts have said Guam’s defense should be at the center of the Biden administration’s efforts to counter threats from China in the Indo-Pacific. And President Joe Biden wants to spend $892 million to protect Guam from Chinese missiles.

A key staging area for US forces since 1898, managing logistics and critical spares supplies is a complex undertaking. Regardless, these supplies support the maintenance of the world’s most sophisticated products, including ships, aircraft, automobiles, power generators, and medical devices, for both defense and civilian users. Many of the planes and submarines stationed in Guam date back decades, making it all the more difficult to find reliable sources of spare parts to maximize U.S. force readiness. According to McKinsey & Company, the average aerospace company relies on 200 major suppliers, who in turn rely on parts from more than 12,000 smaller suppliers. Today, that means that if a part fails, it can take months or even years to request new repairs, often at distances of 10,000 miles from where those parts are needed. .

Given the remoteness of the island, supporting and maintaining the logistics associated with shipping thousands of parts for ships, planes and vehicles can be extremely complex, costing millions in fuel and under maintenance. Understanding these complexities, we believe that the solutions may actually lie on the island of Guam itself, where strategically these components need to be. So it stands to reason that in addition to hosting 22,000 service members and their families, Guam could provide other opportunities to support key logistical supply lines.

The United States flag and Guam are seen.
Matt Roberts/Getty Images for GUAM VISITORS BUREAU

Guam currently does not have a significant manufacturing industry. But with the right investments in science, technology and engineering, we could see the island print its own parts, eventually developing its own capabilities to repair and upgrade critical infrastructure needed to keep the region safe and secure. from America. This investment is creating a new generation of engineers, technicians and designers who will one day manufacture parts on demand and help solve a critical supply chain crisis in the most strategic corner of the world.

The Guam Economic Development Authority (GEDA) recently launched an effort with ASTRO America that would allow the United States to respond to Guam’s growing geopolitical importance and alleviate supply chain issues related to parts. critical defence, using 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM).

Estimates of the global 3D printing market range between $10 billion and $14 billion and continue to grow at a rapid rate. If it is able to capitalize on a fraction of this growth, Guam’s economy, which relies heavily on military and government spending as well as tourism, could benefit greatly from broad diversification.

Government officials and business leaders in Guam are actively seeking opportunities to diversify Guam’s economy so that it is less affected by fluctuations in the tourism economy caused by natural disasters, health crises such as the COVID-19, etc That’s where the FA’s plan comes in: it would forever change the economic future of the island. At the same time, this type of development could help solve a number of local problems on the road to economic recovery, ranging from unemployment, which reached an all-time high in 2020; homelessness, which has worsened in recent years; and other issues exacerbated by the pandemic crisis.

For the effort to be successful in the long term and truly have an impact on our broader defense strategy, it will require extensive partnerships with key institutions located more than 6,000 miles away on the continental United States. Above all, it will require the support of the Guamanian people and their major public and private institutions.

The people of Guam have made a great contribution to the national security of the United States by supporting the nation’s military presence and serving in large numbers in all of our armed forces. It’s time we help invest in the territory’s future, expanding educational opportunities, new STEM-related activities, and strong prospects for innovation and growth. This benefits the island and provides a solid base for American defense in the region for generations to come.

The Honorable Lourdes “Lou” Aflague Leon Guerrero is Guam’s ninth governor.

Neal Orringer is president of the Applied Science & Technology Research Organization (ASTRO) America, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that advances government-industry collaborations. Their projects are accelerating the transition of key manufacturing technologies to defense production.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.

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