Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Composite Materials Being Used In Lightweight Composite Armor

My history teacher in 7th grade explained how one of the major reasons the British lost the revolutionary war, was their inability to adapt to fighting on foreign soil with unconventional conditions. The British were hard set on fighting and marching as they did in Europe and at home, in formation, wearing bright red coats of armor. However, with a different terrain, the revolutionary locals were able to use home field advantage, adapt, and ultimately win the war.

Fast forward 200+ years, to the US fighting in Afghanistan. Tactics and equipment that was designed for flat desert are no longer working in the rugged mountains. Vehicles are being armored with up to 14 inches of steel plate. This drastically reduces the mobility and agility of forces. Troops now carry an average of 80lbs a person. This includes weaponry, communication equipment, batteries, supplies, and body armor. Ironically, this is about the same weight addition medieval knights went into battle with (think chain mail armor).

The bottom line is that up armoring troops to the appropriate threat level is mandatory. However, it is slowly being discovered that mobility and quickness are extremely important as well. This is where composites, and in particular, composite armor comes into play.

Through precise combinations of various composite materials including ceramic, HDPE, aramid, fiberglass, and unique resins, composite armor can be manufactured that can pass all certification and be a fraction the weight of conventional steel armor.

In creating composite armor, much of the work is done on a trial and error basis. The interaction of various composite materials is difficult to predict, but in combination, researchers are constantly inventing lighter, stronger, and cheaper composite armor. By reaching the 3 driving goals of weight, ballistic rating, and cost, troops lives will be saved, and ultimately this war can be won.

Photo Credits: The National Guard

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