A look at how nanotechnology is driving innovation in the military and defense sector from improved soldier survivability to advanced materials for equipment and weapons.
Nanotechnology in military applications
The US Army is conducting extensive R&D designed to lead to the development of nanomaterials systems for military applications incorporating unique properties such as self-repair, selective removal, corrosion resistance, sensing, ability to modify coatings’ physical properties, colorizing, and alerting logistics staff when tanks or weaponry require more extensive repair.
Major advances enabled by nanotechnology include the development of military grade active sensing packages to detect damage (corrosion, substrate integrity, etc.) and environmental conditions (i.e. radiation, chemicals, temperature, gases, strain, etc.). In addition, nanotechnology will have an impact on battlespace systems concerned with information and signal processing, autonomy and intelligence.
Nanotechnology in military applications-Anti-corrosion
Nanomaterials are also allowing for significant cost savings. Conventional paints are labour intensive to apply and potentially hazardous to the people working with them. These coatings have to be touched up by hand, which can hide metal damage. As a result, the total cost for the US Department of Defence corrosion-related problems is US$10 billion per year ($2billion in painting and paint scrapping operations). Nanomaterials will make it possible for military vehicles, if corroded or scratched, to detect and heal their surfaces.
Current decontamination processes for biological agents are complex, cumbersome and costly. To circumvent this process, nanostructured coatings systems have been developed with the continuous ability to decontaminate a surface exposed to biological agents including spores. A number of US companies have received large grants from the US Military to develop coatings for equipment and decontamination.
The US Army is developing with NanoSyntTex, Inc. durable nonwoven fabrics that integrate blends of various fibrous webs that impart water absorbency or repellency, fire and thermal resistance, antimicrobial treatment, etc. These reinforced multilayer nonwoven composite fabrics have been engineered to be lighter in weight, significantly more breathable, and superior in tear and breaking strength.
Nanoscale thermal barrier coating systems are under development by the US Army and Air Force for aircraft surfaces (metal and fiberglass) that are exposed to moderate short-duration heating; high temperature hard environments in military vehicles; and in military gas turbine engines to increase component life and engine performance.
Energetic nano-sized particles have been shown to have a great potential for use in propulsion applications. The unique combustion properties of nanoparticles such as very rapid ignition and short combustion times make them particularly valuable for propulsion systems; they can be included in solid fuels, solid propellants, or even as energetic gellant in liquid systems.
Nanomaterials coated wound dressings allow for the control the release of drugs and proteins for a specified period of time. This unique property of nanoparticle aggregate wound dressing offers the exciting opportunity of controlling the release of growth factors and other actives to accelerate wound healing.
Nanomaterials enabled smart sensor technologies are being developed to enhance military intelligence gathering by soldiers in the field. Chemical and biological nanosensors can be used to detect harmful chemicals and biological weapons. They can also be used as damage detection systems-physical nanosensors could detect fractures in military equipment.
Nanocomposites have already been incorporated into military food packaging. Carbon nanotube and graphene composites are also under investigation for ballistic protection and body armour. Also under development for military applications are nanocomposites in solid lubricants, shock-absorbing materials, electrostatic charge dissipation, electromagnetic shielding, fire retardation and corrosion protection.
Military equipment and personnel must withstand some of the most demanding environments on earth. Nanostructured coating technology enables, for example, military aircraft and turbine powered vehicles and equipment to operate uninterrupted for longer by withstanding these extreme conditions. Scratch resistant coatings have been applied in aircraft cockpits.
NanoCeram® alumina filter and Seldon filters are being utilized by the US Air Force for water filtration in portable water purifiers and for air filters inside aircraft. Other applications include biological warfare filters for military, hospitals and other critical buildings.