WASHINGTON -- Two relatively new initiatives are cutting costs and reducing the time it takes to get new equipment into the hands of warfighters, said Army logisticians.

The initiatives are the Defense Innovation Unit -- Experimental, a mechanism for executing prototype contracts quickly, and additive manufacturing, a process that uses 3-D printers to produce metal parts that are traditionally machined on mills and lathes or forged.

The logisticians spoke Friday at an Association of the United States Army "Sustainment" Hot Topic event at the Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia.

ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING

The Army is expanding its additive manufacturing capabilities, said Lt. Gen. Aundre F. Piggee, G-4.

"It makes no sense to produce spare parts 8,000 miles away from where the Soldiers need them if we can print them on the battlefield," he said.

The Army is serious about this endeavor and it is establishing an Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence at Rock Island, Illinois, to advance this technology, he said.

William F. Moore, assistant G-4, added that Army depots are ramping up additive manufacturing and by this summer, tactical machine shops will utilize this process as well.

Richard Martukanitz, Ph.D., head of the Laser Processing Division, Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State University, said his lab is supporting big increases in Department of Defense requests for additive manufacturing, in partnership with industry.

For the Army, he said his lab has produced an M1A1 Abrams tank turret, a process that normally requires a giant lathe and a lot of time. Also, his lab, working with Army researchers at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, last year produced most of the components for a 40mm grenade launcher.

DIUx

Col. David Robinson, Army service lead and military director of Defense Innovation Unit -- Experimental, said his command will have a "significant presence" with Army Futures Command when it is stood up later this year, because of its non-traditional approach to moving things quickly through the pipeline.

A recent DIUx Army prototype contract involved upgrades for Bradley Fighting Vehicles that will soon be delivered to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson said, adding that he foresees more Army usage of DIUx in the future.

Instead of taking years to move from problem identification to prototype and contract closure, DIUx bypasses the traditional contracting process to get that timeline down to an average of 60 to 90 days, and sometimes less than 30, he said.

DIUx uses what is called Commercial Solutions Openings, a special type of Other Transactional Authority, authorized by Congress, that can identify commercial technologies that require little-to-no modification to apply to a DOD mission need, he said.

Very little seed money for a project is used by DIUx, he continued. Most of the cost is born by industry, which often includes non-defense industries or start-ups.

The way these industries generate revenue to support a DOD project is through the use of venture capitalists, he explained. Once the VCs know DOD is serious about a project, they put funding into it. If commercial applications exist as well, it makes items much less expensive.

Although only 30 months old, DIUx has already executed some 65 prototype contracts across DOD and the intelligence community, using companies located in 45 states, Robinson said.

The thrust of DIUx falls into five portfolios, he said: artificial intelligence, autonomy, human systems, space and information technology.

In discussing DIUx, Robinson noted that about 16 percent of VC funding comes from Chinese sources and that percentage has been growing over the years. China is considered a military competitor.

About 25 percent of science, technology, engineering and mathematics educated college students in the U.S. are Chinese foreign nationals who will return to China with all that knowledge when their studies are concluded, he said.