MiNMaT takes aim at military vehicles

Lockheed Martin UK and Surrey University are to investigate future military vehicles that are lighter than current models and whose armour could possibly function as a power source.

The effort is part of the £6.2m government-sponsored Micro and NanoMaterials and Technologies (MiNMaT) project that starts at Surrey University this October.

Lockheed Martin and Surrey hope to engineer new materials with microstructures or nanostructures that possess multifunctional capabilities such as power storage.

The group believes these new materials could be a creative way to meet growing energy demands brought on by the increasing amounts of electrical equipment installed in military vehicles.

‘The history of legacy vehicles such as Warrior and Challenger shows that from the original design freeze the vehicle’s weight has increased as new equipment is fitted and as the modern asymmetric threat has emerged,’ said Marc Holloran, spokesman for Lockheed Martin UK.

Holloran added the new multifunctional materials will help achieve the Ministry of Defence’s target to halve the mass of future fighting vehicles.

‘By halving the mass of a vehicle we gain considerable benefits in ease of deployment,’ he said. ‘Vehicles that once could not be air lifted will be able to do so, thus improving deployment times. The issue of reducing additional burdens, such as improved fuel consumption, alleviates supply chain demands.’

Holloran added that in addition to energy storage the materials could also be designed on a microscopic level to act as data highways or in a way that allows them to self heal. Alternatively, he said, the materials could be embedded with sensors to inform the operator it is suffering from damage that could hamper future performance.

‘We may not reduce the weight of components, but rather utilise advances in materials to add another function to the component,’ added Holloran. ‘The philosophy is to reduce the mass burden on a vehicle by hybridisation. For instance, having a structural element that also acts as a battery offers advantages in mass saving. Likewise, enabling the vehicle to manage internal thermal environments may aide in reducing the power burden and thus improves fuel consumption.’

The researchers will go beyond the development of multifunctional materials and look at how components made of this material can be joined. Holloran said the new joining techniques could include modified adhesives, advances in welding different materials or specialist surface pretreatments prior to conventional jointing techniques. ‘The real challenge will come from how these materials continue to function following long-term use and exposure to environments,’ he added. ‘And so a portion of this research will involve aspects of material qualification testing, to assess life issues when subjected to appropriate environmental conditions and subsequent degradation and ideally reparability through to end-of-life disposal or recyclability.’

Multifunctional materials have been successfully used in military platforms over the last few years only not in large applications such as military vehicles.

In 2006, the US military began deploying small, model aeroplane-sized unmanned aerial vehicles with wing structures that also serve as batteries. The device, known as the WASP micro air vehicle, was developed through the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s multifunctional materials programme.

Siobhan Wagner