How Refractory Metals are Used in Aerospace and Defense

The aerospace and defense (A&D) markets are now among the largest and most lucrative industries in the world. They were founded during an unparalleled period of innovation.

The US aerospace and defense sectors recently logged a record yearly revenue of US $760 billion. However, it is challenging to value the net worth of the global market with any accuracy.

This is mainly due to continued digital transformation and innovation despite mounting geopolitical uncertainties and tensions. Refractory metals are central to these key growth drivers, supplying the solutions for low-risk innovations in flight control systems and ballistics.

Aerospace & Defense: Added-Value with Refractory Metals

Refractory metals are a critical class of materials in high-performance manufacturing and industrial spaces. They are made up of a core group of five elements: Rhenium (Re), Tantalum (Ta), Niobium (Nb), Molybdenum (Mo) and Tungsten (W).

These five elements are the definitive refractories, while the definition as to what qualifies as a refractory metal varies – with some areas of materials science and metallurgy considering a wider specification than others.

Their unique physical and chemical properties and exceptional resistance to extreme temperatures are what unites these materials. Niobium has the lowest melting point (2750 °C) of the five refractory metals, while tantalum has the lowest Vickers hardness rating (873 MPa).

These are already extraordinary properties that only improve throughout the refractory metals family, spanning up to a maximum Vickers hardness of 4000 MPa and a melting point of 3422 °C. For aerospace and defense solutions, tungsten is the go-to refractory metal as it has the highest melting point of any metal known to man: 3422 °C (6192 °F).

Combined with its extreme hardness and high density (19.3 g/cm3), tungsten is routinely employed to create key products which assist in-flight stability or supply powerful penetration for advanced ordinance. Molybdenum and tantalum are also used in similarly demanding civil and military aviation applications.

Tantalum is crucial in the production of explosively-formed penetrators (EFP). At the same time, molybdenum heating elements and hot zones are employed in a range of heat treatment processes designed to elevate the physical properties of components intended for utilization in aerospace and defense.

Another critical refractory that is taking aerospace to new heights is Niobium. It supplies a novel material solution for flame shielding applications and rocket nozzles.

A number of financial analysts argue that defense spending and growth in commercial aviation are counter-cyclical, meaning the sector often thrives despite economic recessions or downturns.

Others believe that there is no such thing as a perceptible periodicity in the sector’s market value. However, a consistent fact is that innovation in aerospace and defense is often accommodated by new material solutions.

Composites were instrumental to the earliest successes of the aviation industry; now, refractory metals are providing similar innovations to meet growing global demand. The onset of additive manufacturing (AM) for generating high-performance components has been among the many innovations in aerospace.

Refractory Metals from H.C. Starck Solutions

H.C. Starck Solutions specializes in the creation of high purity refractories and alloys for challenging areas of application. They provide a wide variety of tried-and-tested products for aerospace and defense, helping manufacturers meet the ongoing demand for high-performance solutions. Their product line includes:

  • Mo, Ta and WHA missile components
  • TZM forging dies for engine blade production
  • WHA Balance Weights for Airplanes and Helicopters
  • Nb C-103 Sheet & Nozzles for propulsion
  • WHA shielding components for spacecraft 


This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by H.C. Starck Solutions.

For more information on this source, please visit H.C. Starck Solutions.


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