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Down Under Demo: ONR touts additive manufacturing tech at Australian event

ARLINGTON, Va.—The Office of Naval Research (ONR) — and its international arm, ONR Global — participated in the recent Autonomous Warrior 2023 (AW23) exercise, located at HMAS Creswell in Jervis Bay, Australia.

Credit: (U.S. Navy photo by Michael Walls)

ARLINGTON, Va.—The Office of Naval Research (ONR) — and its international arm, ONR Global — participated in the recent Autonomous Warrior 2023 (AW23) exercise, located at HMAS Creswell in Jervis Bay, Australia.

AW23 brought together Australian military allies, as well as industry and international partners, to demonstrate various technologies designed to help the Royal Australian Navy strengthen its capabilities in the area of undersea warfare — including uncrewed (also called unmanned) and autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and logistics, to name a few.

In addition, AW23 represented just one way in which ONR and ONR Global are supporting AUKUS, which is a trilateral security partnership involving the U.S., U.K. and Australia, focused on the Indo-Pacific region.

“There are a number of ways that AW23 could benefit U.S. Sailors and Marines,” said Dr. Knox Millsaps, head of ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. “For example, we can see and experiment with new technologies being brought to bear in Australia. They’re really developing a lot of cutting-edge technologies that are useful not just for their own forces, but the U.S. can also leverage those capabilities to its advantage.”

One example of collaboration involved the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One (USVDIV-1), which was created in 2022 to expedite uncrewed vehicles into the fleet. During AW23, USVDIV-1 helped demonstrate the capabilities and interoperability potential of uncrewed surface vessels.

During AW23, ONR and the U.S. Marine Corps engaged in a collaborative approach to facilitate rapid autonomous logistics delivery. This involved the ONR-sponsored Expeditionary Fabrication Laboratory (XFAB).

“The XFAB is an expeditionary capability that provides additive manufacturing,” said Maj. Kyle Holway, an ONR liaison officer. “It enables warfighters to fabricate and produce repair parts and other customized solutions. Marines can use software programs and 3D printers, among other tools, to address supply chain issues that might arise during a mission.”

Encased in a type of shipping container called a conex box, the XFAB is equipped with multiple 3D printers, scanners, laser cutters and other support tools to shrink a unit’s logistical footprint by eliminating the need to transport large amounts of spare parts. During AW23, Marines printed components such as medical tools, latches and hinges, propellers, impellers and antennae.

“In terms of readiness and sustainment, the XFAB will help Marines reduce their logistical impact by enabling that point-of-need manufacturing,” said Dr. Jennifer Wolk, a division director in ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Department. “Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to break or need replacing, so the XFAB can be a true game changer for warfighters in the field.”

The mission of the XFAB aligns with the emerging naval concept known as Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO), which involves deploying small but highly mobile units to isolated locations. EABO has the potential of quickly getting forces into a strategically vital area, and potentially in an adversary’s weapons engagement zone, in response to an evolving threat when no other U.S. military assets are available.

“In an exercise like AW23, U.S. Marines can conduct training with the XFAB, get more exposure to it and become even more proficient in harnessing its capabilities,” said Durga Nanan, an ONR Global science advisor with III Marine Expeditionary Force. “They also can share tactics, techniques, protocols and lessons learned with their Australian counterparts — most of which are based on commercial and industry standards and are not proprietary.”

ONR Global Country Director (Australia) Wayne Liu said, “One of the most valuable aspects of AW23 is being able to bring ONR-funded technology and work with Australian technologists and scientists. We get a comprehensive evaluation of our technology in a collaborative environment, looking at it side by side under mission scenarios. It engenders strong partnerships among ONR, the U.S. Department of Defense and our Australian counterparts.”

Watch a video about AW23 at https://youtu.be/ZiyfzmV3AK4.