US defense leaders should consider developing limited-production prototypes deployed to operational environments as “one off” weapon systems tailored to specific missions. For prototyping to become a relevant component of military doctrine, promising weapon systems will need to be delivered quickly to the operational forces in limited quantities, with the option of building or modifying the base design for future use. These prototypes may be produced at a lower cost and may only need to be operational for a short time period.
The technology exists today to manufacture and deploy a system while in an operational environment. A 2015 prototype produced by the Royal Navy while at sea provides an example of this capability. Further, military leaders are already considering the benefits of manufacturing weapons on demand. Indeed, as additive manufacturing technology advances, it will become possible for military forces to produce and iterate on many different kinds of prototypes on their own in forward locations. To this end, the naval services are examining the use of commercial technology, such as Blockchain, to create a network of tactical manufacturing hubs, connected by a “digital thread.”
With rapid manufacturing, Commander’s could select from a catalog of weapon systems or custom modifications while planning for a mission and they were manufactured based on her specifications.