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Posted: January 2, 2007
U.S. Army contract focuses on nanocomposites-based vehicle armor
(Nanowerk News) From improved armored vehicles and shelters to better body armor, the goal of a new five-year, $15 million Army contract to the University of Dayton Research Institute is to save lives – those in the Armed Forces as well as civilian firefighters, police and others whose jobs require putting life and limb on the line.
The program, sponsored by the Army Research Laboratory’s Survivability Branch, will use nanotechnology to address an immediate need for strong but lightweight armor for existing military vehicles that could be field ready as early as next year, says Brian Rice, a distinguished research engineer at UDRI and manager of the Army’s survivability systems program. In later stages, the program will foster the development of next-generation composite armor for land and air vehicles, body suits, shelters, cargo containers and more.
“This is about saving lives. This is about protection systems,” Rice says. “And this is not a ground-level academic study project. We’re actually working with two Ohio companies to create a product that, if it tests out well, could show up in Iraq next year.”
Those companies are TPI Composites in Springfield, Ohio, which is currently working to develop an all-composite armored vehicle for the Army, and Armor Holdings Inc. of Fairfield, Ohio, which creates and installs steel plates to armor the Army’s Humvees. “We are developing advanced composites materials to improve the performance of materials for TPI’s armored vehicle, and we’re working with Armored Holdings to create a composite armor package that will be even stronger than existing armor, but also lighter, to reduce the top weight of the ‘up-armored’ vehicle,” Rice said.
A number of Ohio Third Frontier awards to UDRI in recent years enabled the development of affordable carbon nanofibers and the specialized processes for their dispersion in polymer matrices to form super-strong composite materials. In addition, UDRI houses one of the top ballistics testing labs in the world for testing of armor and other materials.
In addition to addressing weight, strength and other mechanical properties of nanocomposite materials, the survivability program will also address issues of flammability, Rice said. “Composites burn, so we’ll include flame retardants in the materials to prevent them from burning.” Improved strength, weight and flame retardance will be especially beneficial in body armor, Rice added, making it easier to wear and far more protective. “Not only will this program help save lives, it will also save limbs – in the battlefield as well as at home. Improved body armor will be affordable enough to be used by firefighters, police and other law enforcement agencies, diplomats and others who need protection.”
Beyond protection, materials advances made in the survivability program are expected to be included in a variety of other applications – such as wind-turbine blades for energy harvesting; railroad car floors and bodies; truck, trailer and recreational vehicle bodies; shipping containers; shelters and more.
In Ohio, the Army program will help boost economic development by leveraging Third Frontier-funded programs in nanomaterials development and commercialization to help create an industry supply chain for military and commercial applications, as well as supporting job creation in Ohio companies, Rice said.