Composites In Combat: Composites for Military Vehicles

Topics Covered

Introduction
Disadvantages of Conventional Materials
Advantages of Composite Materials
Materials Used in Military Composites
Research Funded by the US Government
Examples of Composite Military Vehicles
Applications
References

Introduction

Soldiers globally are committed to their duty of protecting the country and there are a number of manufacturers working on superior quality composite components to protect them.

The increasing use of composites and innovations in material blends and fabrication has enabled composite component manufacturers to satisfy the need for military vehicle components.

Armoured vehicles have traditionally used steel armour for protected - however, this gives rise to heavy structures that provide logistical problems in transporting the vehicles to a battle site. A typical military vehicle can weigh around 60t and even smaller vehicles weigh around 23t. This major hindrance has led to a major increase in the development of composite armored vehicles.

PPFR and PUFR coatings are used to add a shield of protection to a broad range of artillery, vehicles, structures and boats.

A brief history of amour in tanks, leading up to the use of composites in modern vehicles. 

Disadvantages of Conventional Materials

The use of conventional materials such as high quality steel for components and vehicle protection has its disadvantages especially due to continually evolving military threats and performance requirements needed for combating those threats.

As mentioned above, the weight of a material like steel can impact vehicle performance drastically as well as survivability of vehicles in the field.

The maneuverability of the vehicle is also considerably impaired and with the introduction of smarter weapons and higher threat levels, it becomes highly important to be able to get in and out of a hostile situation quickly.

Advantages of Composite Materials

The advantages of using composites are:

  • Enabling weight savings, high payload and fuel efficiency, high performance and speed capability. Weight and cost are the key features for military vehicle components. Strength is also highly essential. Since military vehicles are constructed with the protection factor in mind, they are bulky, however composites render them lighter.
  • Composites have an infinite fatigue life. Steel’s fatigue life is estimated at 1 billion cycles and aluminum at 1 million cycles
  • The corrosion resistance of composites are advantageous in challenging environments since they do not rust.
  • Composites have anisotropic stength properties, i.e. they are stronger in one direction. This means stacking multiple composite layers in different orientations allows the fibers to bear multi-directional forces and loads.

Materials Used in Military Composites

The materials used in composites include Kevlar, fiberglass and carbon fiber with varied orientations. Fiberforge has commercialized a low cost composite containing PET resin and glass fiber featuring complete radio transmit capability implying it does not interfere with radio waves. Glass fiber is around 20-30% lighter when compared to steel but for 50 -60% lighter weight, carbon fiber composites need to be adopted.

For high-end military vehicles, PEEK is used and it is an excellent competitor for titanium whereas carbon fiber nylon is an excellent competitor for aluminum.

Norplex-Micarta offers prepregs, high-performance thermoset composite sheets and molded shapes to meet the increasing needs of ballistic protection. Its NP522 and NP523 fiber-glass-based ballistic-resistant composites are made in such a way at to comply to stringent military requirements.

Research Funded by the US Government

The US government is putting a considerable amount of money behind the research and development of composite materials. Certain examples are:

  • The University of Delaware was awarded a research grant to foster the development of advanced composite technologies to support sophisticated watercraft that will be stronger, faster, stealthier, less expensive, have a long service life and field repairable
  • INVISTA S.a.r.l. received a research grant for improving the protection and safety of soldiers' uniforms with improved durable, flame resistant, economical materials to protect against improvised explosives devices.
  • Armor Dynamics received research funding to develop sophisticated composite and reactive armor. Tex Tech Industries received funding to produce ballistic core technology. This project provides improved protection for troops against fragmentation from a variety of bullets and blasts.
  • Hodgdon Defense received funding for research and development to bring down structural weight for composite high-speed craft by using light-weight composite materials.

Examples of Composite Military Vehicles

Soviet/Russian T-80Us and the Pakistani Al-Khalid employ composite armour in tandem with explosive reactive armor, making it difficult for tank rounds and missiles to penetrate a portion of their side armour.

Composite armour has since been used in smaller vehicles. Most of these vehicles are used as upgrades to existing armour that makes it difficult to place around the vehicle. Canadian M-113s were upgraded with ceramics in 1990s.

The Komatsu D355A bulldozer developed by Marvin Heemeyer used an ad-hoc composite armour that consisted of concreter layer sandwiched between steel layers. TenCate Advanced Armour provides Naval armour for small and large vessels customized for personnel protection. The naval vessel armour feature materials such as ceramics, special metals, high-performance polyethylene and aramid.

Applications

Composites are being used for both land-based and aerospace programmes that include C130, C17, Foxhound armored vehicle and Merlin helicopter.

Applications of composites in military vehicles include:

  • Radar panels
  • Missile containers
  • Avionic racking
  • Refuelling probe fairings
  • Floor panels
  • Lightweight transportation boxes
  • Avionics cabinets
  • Composite doors & covers
  • Medical stretcher assemblies
  • Radomes
  • Rotor blade boxes
  • Sensor probes
  • Add-on armour for military vehicles
  • Spall liners
  • Armour for light vehicles
  • Lightweight protection for gunners
  • Protection against landmines
  • Protection of weapon stations
  • Protection of optronics

References


G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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