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FitzGerald, an affable Australian with a magnificent copper-colored beard—and a rising star in future war strategy circles—thinks he has a solution: it involves 3-D printing, robotic assembly lines, and drones. A lot of them.
The idea, which FitzGerald outlines in “Process Over Platforms A Paradigm Shift in Acquisition Through Advanced Manufacturing,” breaks down like this: instead of building large, expensive manned aircraft in tiny numbers (the military purchased just 187 F-22s, for $174.5 million a pop) the military could—in theory—build thousands of customized drones out of 3-D printed parts, using robotic assembly lines that run 24 hours a day. Then, writes FitzGerald and his co-author, Dr. Aaron Martin, Director of Strategic Planning at Northrop Grumman (which lost the contract for the F-22 to Lockheed in 1991), the military could deploy the 3-D printed drones in complex, infinitely configurable and no doubt terrifying swarms controlled by “digital pilots.”