Inventions generated by ideas open up newer avenues.
Surviving in the environment of today is crucial and any evolution is good to know.
In this regard, DARPA is experimenting with new designs to create a new generation of “IED-proof” armoured vehicles.
In conjunction with the U.S. Army’s Research Laboratory and Alcoa, a leading producer of aluminium and fabricated parts, crew protection is hoped to be significantly improved by designing a single-piece aluminium hull. No welds, no weak points, just one single fabricated piece of formed aluminium.
In addition to the performance benefits, it’s thought an aluminium hull would be lighter and thinner than traditional steel hulls used for armoured vehicles. However, composites are stronger, lighter and thinner than most metals. The UK has already mass produced an armoured vehicle with an innovative hull design – the Foxhound. Rather than aluminium, a combination of advanced, lightweight composites are used to provide structural integrity, protection and lightweight performance.
The composite pod has a V-shaped hull to help deflect the blast wave in the event of an IED explosion. The UK MoD has high hopes for the export potential of Foxhound, indicating that composite and, presumably, single-piece hull designs are both achievable and desirable. Other vehicles, such as Supacat’s SPV400, also have ‘pods’ manufactured with a composite moulding.
The benefits of composites over conventional armour materials are noteworthy, with weight-saving being the most critical. Not only does it allow for better fuel efficiency, using lightweight materials would allow current vehicle platforms to carry greater payloads. More weapons and personnel can be transported in theatre, increasing productivity and efficiency. Through-life costs should also be lower than with metal equivalents due to the absence of rusting and, to a lesser extent, wear and tear.
Ceramics can also provide superior ballistic protection at a significant weight-saving over conventional armour. However, a significant problem with using ceramics in a composite solution has always be one of adhesion and creating a system that is robust enough to withstand multiple burst-fire hits. The surface of ceramic materials is incredibly smooth; for ceramic ornaments or medical components (where the material is used to make hip joints for example) this is an essential property – for armour it is the opposite as it means nothing sticks to it. If there is no friction on the surface then adhesives have nothing to grab hold of and stick to. Ensuring a strong bond between ceramic armour and any other surface is like trying to stick two strips of Velcro loops together (or two strips of Velcro hooks, the analogy works either way).
Composites are the future, but don’t forget steel. While composites are becoming a staple material for armoured vehicle designers, the cost can be prohibitive. Steel will always be a reliable, robust option for armoured vehicles. The development of advanced composite armour is simply an addition to armoured vehicle manufacturers’ arsenal and should not be considered a replacement for steel.
Directed energy weapons
The idea of using lasers for military purposes has been around for a number of years now and is no longer science fiction. They may still be in the early stages of R&D, but electronic weapons are a viable alternative in the future.
Boeing’s ‘Laser Avenger’ system was the first to ever shoot down a UAV with directed energy and could be operational within a year. The technology has ground force capabilities too as it can be used to destroy IEDs.
Much like directed energy weapons, a ‘force-field’ that repels incoming ballistic fire sounds like something out of Star Wars. But researchers at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) are working on super capacitors into armour that will effectively turn a vehicle into a giant battery.
While only 12% of respondents in Defence IQ’s survey identified electric armour as a technology likely to have a significant impact in the future, the use of electronic countermeasures and Active Protection Systems for applications on armoured vehicles has been debated for years.
Should an Active Protection System ever entirely replace the armour component of an armoured vehicle?
No, because you cannot prove that they would work 100% of the time, in all conditions, in any environment, against every threat.