5 Applications for CNC Machining in the Defense Industry

by | Apr 9, 2021 | CNC Machining

In the early 1940s, helicopter rotor blades and aircraft wings used in the defense industry were prone to errors during fabrication because they were made using conventional machining methods. The defense industry collaborated with John T. Parsons and MIT to tackle this challenge by creating the first true numerically controlled machine tool in 1949.

The ideas obtained from this project would later kickstart a series of events that led to the development of the first CNC machine in 1952. And since that time, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines have been at the forefront of machining technologies used in the defense industry.

CNC machines played a major role in developing the Tomahawk missiles used as far back as the gulf war and are still very much relevant in many other applications in the defense industry today. Let’s take a look at 5 of the most common applications of this technology in the defense industry.

Application No. 1 Weapons Development

Cruise missile launcher

CNC machines’ high precision, versatility, and compatibility with a wide range of materials make them ideal for fabricating missiles and weapons. Raytheon, one of the world’s largest producers of guided missiles, relies on multi-axis CNC machines to fabricate its 20-foot-long cruise missiles.

Needless to say, these missiles are delicate and require strict adherence to safety practices during machining. Not only is CNC technology helping Raytheon achieve precise parts, but it is also mitigating the risks of incidents or accidents caused by manual labor. And this is because CNC machines require little to no human intervention to fabricate parts.

Many components of the rifles used in the defense industry are also created using CNC technology. A good example is the lower receiver of the ArmaLite AR-15 rifle, which is usually CNC milled from a block of aluminum alloy.

Application No. 2 Aircraft Parts

Modern-day military aircraft require precise parts to ensure they have Very Low Observability (VLO) — they are difficult to detect by radar or other sensing technologies. Stealth aircraft of the past couldn’t achieve VLO because their parts were typically smoothed out using epoxy.

As one may imagine, epoxy would harden and separate in the field, creating sharp edges and making the aircraft easily detectable by radars.

5-axis CNC milling and drilling machines were vital to solving this challenge in Lockheed Martin’s F-35. It made it possible for the composite skins of the aircraft to be fabricated to such close tolerances that adjacent parts match fluidly and precisely without the need for epoxy.

What’s more, many avionic parts used in the aerospace industry are created using CNC technology. (Related Post: CNC Machining Aerospace Parts: 5 Things You Need to Know)

Application No. 3 Radomes and Radar Technology

Radome at military base

Radomes are crucial components in military facilities; they facilitate satellite communications while protecting antenna assembly from environmental hazards. They come in a wide variety of complex shapes, requiring tight tolerances and fine surface finishes. This is so that they can pick up extremely small signals.

CNC machines are heavily relied on for machining these parts. Because CNC machines can achieve tolerances as tight as 4μm, radomes and other radar dish components can be fabricated exactly to specification.

What’s more, CNC machines’ compatibility with fiberglass and PTFE — the two major materials used in radome construction — makes them a preferred machining technology in the defense industry.

Application No. 4 Land and Combat Vehicles

Military vehicles feature many components that are CNC milled. A good example is the grille on the Hummer H2, which is made using aluminum and high-tolerance steel. Bearings, valve seats, and bushings found in these vehicles are also fabricated using CNC machines. (Related Post: 3 Important Insights About CNC Machining in the Automotive Industry)

Application No. 5 Naval Ship Components

Subsea equipment used in the defense industry typically requires lightweight and corrosion-resistant specialty plastics. While these plastics are now more readily available than they were some decades ago, they still remain extremely difficult to machine using conventional machining methods.

CNC machines are heavily relied on to fabricate support structures, fasteners, and other submarine parts. This machining technology is also allowing engineers to create custom replacement naval ship parts. (Related Post: Custom Machining: Everything You Need to Know)

CNC Machining with Gensun Precision Machining

For nearly two decades, Gensun Precision Machining has been providing high-quality CNC machining services to customers in the defense industry across the world. Our production facilities are ISO 9001:2015 certified for quality, and our highly experienced engineers can help you create the parts you need exactly to specification.

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