Maj. Gen. Darren Werner assumed duties as the commanding general of U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) in June of 2020, where he is responsible for overseeing activities at the Integrated Logistics Support Center, three depots, two arsenals, and one government-owned, contractor-operated facility, which support the Army’s ground equipment supply chain and key sustainment efforts for active-duty units both at home and abroad. A team from Army Sustainment sat down with Werner to discuss the Army’s progress operationalizing advanced manufacturing (AM) to effectively meet parts demand where required across echelons at the speed and scale necessary to maintain pace with modernization initiatives.
Since former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy’s 2019 Directive (2019-29) charging the Army to embrace AM, what has been TACOM’s main role in delivering those capabilities across echelons?
Our main enabling role here is best exemplified by what we did to support AM now, and in the future, so we established a role for a program manager covering AM. This person helps TACOM look out across the organic industrial base (OIB) to identify where we can most effectively drive AM efforts that are consistent and integrated with the Army Modernization Strategy. A good example of this is how we’re engaged with the 31+4 modernization efforts by playing a key role in those related to ground combat. We’re directly aligned and engaged with three cross-functional teams (CFTs)—next-generation combat vehicle (NGCV), precision fires, and Soldier lethality—to best develop, create, and sustain the Army’s future capabilities. Still, all this needs to be synchronized with the logistics space and developed in tandem with the OIB. Our next generation of equipment needs to be organically sustainable when ready for fielding, and we’re working to identify where AM can really support these efforts. We’ve already seen that AM can absolutely enhance OIB operations and support the warfighter down the echelon stream. A main end-goal is focusing on 2035—when we get there, our OIB should be ready to manufacture and remanufacture those systems at the pace of war.
How is TACOM approaching these efforts to effectively establish AM as a readiness enabler?
Of course, there’s also a major doctrine and policy development aspect to all of this, so we’ve outlined a concrete, actionable strategy—what we’re calling the Critical Path—to help us take any system component or part and go from 0 to 100 percent AM-capable. It’s a highly disciplined process where we outline all the tasks and key stakeholders involved to identify, certify, manufacture, qualify, and deliver a part. We know having this doctrine in place will be foundational to AM as a readiness enabler. With this, everyone involved recognizes their specific responsibilities so that we can maintain our momentum. The Critical Path addresses the process from the cradle to the grave—from the idea of printing a part for a Bradley to its qualification and, finally, its provisioning in our supply and requisition systems. We can do everything from protecting intellectual property (IP) and technical data to testing how newly printed parts perform to sustain our materiel capabilities. We recognize that no two parts are the same, so respecting this process becomes critical as we aim to expand the reach of AM and overcome development challenges along the way. Standardizing this approach will help us scale across echelons and weapon systems, and that’s where the true power of AM lies—we’re laying the foundation, so to speak. When we get to 2035, then we’ll be in a much more proactive sustainment and readiness position across all the activities taken on by the CFTs as we field new equipment.
How is TACOM working to integrate efforts across the OIB’s supply chain to ensure AM will help meet demand at the point of need?
We operate under two strategic imperatives and organize around their ideal end states: we must deliver parts and other componentry at both the strategic—including the OIB—and tactical level in an effective and efficient manner. Right now, we’re working closely with Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) and other units across the Army to identify parts that can be produced at the tactical level using their metalworking and machine shop set (MWMSS), which has both AM and subtractive manufacturing (SM) capabilities. We’re in the process of establishing a comprehensive database containing all the technical data necessary for a specific part’s polymer-based printing, so long as it’s a battle damage assessment and repair (BDAR) part. With CASCOM’s help, we’re expanding that database of parts so that we can produce as many as possible in the field using that BDAR-based concept with integration into the Global Combat Support System-Army (GCSS-Army). Integrating AM into the OIB is really the crux of our second imperative, obviously, so we established the AM Center of Excellence (AMCoE) at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. Right now, we have 27 3D printers: one sand, one wax, 18 polymer, and seven metal, as well as polymer and metal post-processing equipment at the AMCoE, ranging from older polymer units to those that are brand new, which can complete metal printing.
Most importantly, we didn’t just procure these printers in isolation—we worked with partners at the Ground Vehicle Systems Center to ensure the printers we have and maintain will support our most critical capability sets. This helps shape how we deliver those parts across the OIB, starting with really nailing down our process to best leverage the printers themselves. We’re now in the implementation phase, where we can identify parts and tools, tie them to various depots, and contribute to the remanufacturing of legacy combat systems.
How will these efforts evolve in the future to meet needs borne from modernization?
We must look at how we acquire equipment capabilities and how we can integrate what we’re doing on the AM or advanced sustainment side of the house to be effectively future-ready. In the past, sustainment seemed to be brought in towards the tail end of the acquisition process—we didn’t necessarily have lots of influence over how new equipment was developed. Today, alongside Army Futures Command’s CFTs, we are tied right into these processes from the start. In fact, AM techniques and requirements are a key component of the competition process for procurement and fielding. When different companies compete to develop the NGCV, for example, requirements will stipulate that the Army will receive the critical technical data needed to best leverage our AM capabilities to produce parts needed by these new systems from day one. This is foundational to ensuring sustainment tracks directly alongside modernization. It means that as soon as a system is fielded, we have data on its parts that we can produce using organic assets across our OIB and distribute directly to the point of need at speed and scale. The Program Executive Office Combat Support and Combat Service Support worked tirelessly to ensure our access to this technical data; this is a one-team effort across the board to ensure we don’t let anything slip through the cracks as we press forward with AM.
What additional steps are needed to make AM a routine practice in the tactical space? From these, are there any necessary efforts that were unforeseen when this capability really came to the forefront in 2019?
To make this routine, the technology must be able to deliver capabilities consistent with new and evolving engineering requirements. To put that in context, we can use the Abrams tank as an example. With the Abrams, we can’t rely just on polymer parts, as we need the strength of metal to maintain operational availability—as we speak, the technology needed to print all parts for the Abrams isn’t fully developed. However, as we keep progressing on that technology continuum, we’ve worked to develop and implement guiding policies and deliberate processes—such as the Critical Path—to ensure that, when the technology is ready, we are ready to hit the ground running and take lessons learned from past development. We’ve already set the conditions needed for future success, which is a huge piece of the puzzle to ensure we don’t need to be reactive as things evolve. AM can be retroactively beneficial, too. We have systems in place with legacy equipment to develop the data needed to produce parts, such as for a Bradley, which we may not be able to purchase in an existing supply chain. We can also re-engineer parts to make the whole remanufacturing process more efficient and reliable, like taking the technical data from three parts and combining to print one assembly.
How does the sustainment enterprise, in general, need to evolve to support AM from the Strategic Support Area downward?
The evolution begins here at TACOM, frankly, and starts with our ability to integrate AM as a supply chain solution. Item managers (IMs) across the enterprise should be able to use AM as a choice when it comes to sourcing repair parts. If I’m an IM for a Bradley, and I get a requisition for a part that is obsolete, then we must be able to avoid procuring that part through a slow, expensive contracting process. Alternatively, we need to produce that part on our own with our own printers; a process that once took years now takes hours or days. To get there, we must ensure we have a broad base of technical data and tools to support that IM while also being intentional with how we prepare to surge our support in the field and really bring these capabilities, and not just their outputs, to the tactical point of need. We’ve already seen this start with MWMSS usage at the tactical level, so I believe we’re on the right glide path.
The AMCoE opened its doors in May 2019; how has the journey to full operational capability (FOC) progressed?
In 2018, Rock Island designated the opening of AMCoE, which has allowed the Army to prioritize investment in the Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center (JMTC) and helped us gain AM expertise with the knowledge that this is all nested in the drive to 2035. Still, you must balance operating within certain constraints, such as the JMTC’s printer volume sizes and concerns around IP. The crux is developing technology and establishing procedures to project into the tactical space—we want to augment the supply chain. From 2019 until now, a huge JMTC accomplishment was, really, its establishment and progress towards FOC. We’ve used the printers there to do small-scale prototyping and provide rapid COVID support. In the next six months or so we’ll look to produce parts out of Rock Island’s JMTC that are fed into the OIB to feed remanufacturing lines at Red River or Anniston Depots and produce tools and fixtures to support similar efforts. Another piece to this is continuous development—the team is working on a space that will be used for the largest gantry-style metal printer that’s ever been built for the Army. It can print an entire hull for a combat system, such as one that the CFTs can use as they develop options for the NGCV. Rock Island really plays host to these large-scale AM efforts, and their push to FOC has proceeded at a torrent pace. Additionally, we emphasize collaboration with Combat Capabilities Development Command to continually integrate new technologies and consistently engage with industry to ensure we keep up our pace and learn as they learn. This ensures we don’t overinvest too soon in any capability that may be dated before providing the return we expect to see.
The rapid pace of technological adaptation and adoption, coupled with the Army’s drive to full MDO-Readiness in 2035, ensures that change will be a constant in the world of Army sustainment. What advice do you have for Soldiers both new and experienced as we posture ourselves for the evolving nature of warfare?
Successful Soldiers operating in any echelon understand how to adapt to the world around them; that’s no great secret. From what I’ve seen already in just a few short years of real exposure to AM, I believe the Army’s AM approach and persistent efforts are progressing as expected and needed to get us where we want to be. I’d say my best piece of advice is to remain open-minded, operationally curious, and ready to learn—our adoption and systemic implementation of AM will only continue to take form if the force writ large is prepared for its deliberate and thoughtful use. We, as an Army, will continue to collaborate with partners in academia, industry, and across the DOD to integrate our efforts and best train and educate our Soldiers, so I hope those interested are prepared to undertake those growth opportunities as this space continues to develop. This has been and will continue to be a team effort across the Army Sustainment Enterprise. Each organization involved thus far has brought everything needed to the table. I’m excited for AM’s future as we at TACOM continuously synchronize with other stakeholders to further bring this capability to life.
Lt. Col. Altwan Whitfield is currently serving as the deputy director of the Army G-4's Logistics Initiatives Group. Previously, she was the commander of 841st Transportation Battalion at Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. She holds a bachelor's degree in Special Education from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina and a master's degree in Public Administration with a concentration in Education from Troy University in Montgomery, Alabama.
Mike Crozier is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4's Logistics Initiatives Group. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgetown University.
This article was published in the Oct-Dec 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.