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A 3-D-printed connector backshell, shown at right above next to the cable assembly to which it connects in the missile, flew in a Trident II D5 fleet ballistic missile test flight March 16, 2016. Lockheed Martin photo.

The Navy successfully test launched three Trident ballistic missiles with a 3-D printed part fabricated by Lockheed Martin engineers March 14-16. The digital process used to make the piece—an inch-long aluminum alloy “connector backshell” that protects cable connectors inside the missile—allowed the engineers to design and fabricate the part in less than half the time it would have taken using older methods, according to a Lockheed release. The Navy launched the unarmed Trident II D5 Fleet ballistic missiles from a submarine submerged in the Atlantic Ocean. Air Force Materiel Command chief Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski considers 3-D printing to be one of the biggest “game changers” in the coming decade because the technology enables engineers to quickly produce previously unavailable replacement parts. Last year, the Air Force tested 3-D printed “micro-drones.”