Why it matters

Military systems are becoming ever more complex, and so are the materials used to build them. In this context, advanced materials have sparked considerable interest as their use has the potential to significantly shape future operational effectiveness in military missions. 

Advanced materials can be used in a wide range of domains and hostile environments where risks and damages can be reduced with the use of protective solutions. The most disruptive effects are expected to derive from the integration of functionalities such as energy harvesting, camouflage, structural and personnel health monitoring, protection in ‘super-intelligent’ materials for platforms and soldiers. 

Other potential applications of advanced materials to be explored in the future include the potential of self-healing materials, cyber-protective material (reacting to electromagnetic interference), biomimetic material designs, morphing aerofoils, or the integration of metamaterials.

What the EDA does

Several EDA projects have already been conducted in key areas of advanced materials. In smart textiles, for example, the EDA’s work has been concentrated on ground systems, materials and CBRN domains.

The CEDS (Combat Equipment for Dismounted Soldier) feasibility studies addressed topics such as adaptive camouflage, architecture approaches and soft ballistic protection. Within the Joint Investment Programme on CBRN, the PROSAFE project explored the use of nano-fibres for permeability. Notable efforts in researching improved repair methods and structural health monitoring were undertaken in the PATCHBOND project. Advanced Low Observable Materials have been explored in the ALOA project and are currently researched further under the ALOMAS project.
The CERAMBALL project has addressed lighter ballistic protections for soldiers while projects such as ECOCOAT and CCNS have been centred on environmentally compliant coatings. 

The way ahead

Through its activities, the EDA R&T community has already identified some of the next strategic steps needed for advancing the development and use of these technologies in European defence. 

For instance, the need for setting priorities in the area of smart textiles is increasingly recognized, with a long-term objective of achieving multifunction soldier uniforms which have to be washable, repairable, reusable and recyclable. Today, efforts in this field are focused on the development of standards to define terms, technical specifications and requirements for smart textiles. Manufacturing and commercialization of smart textiles represents a growing market and opportunities stem from the technological developments taking place in the civilian sector. Furthermore, the certification and standardization aspects are coming into focus, with particular attention paid to ensuring product quality and development of legislation. 
The major land, sea and air platforms currently in service are not expected to be retired for another two to three decades which means that the existing platforms will have to be upgraded  with new materials. As a consequence, new opportunities for the implementation of new materials will most certainly arise through mid-life upgrades, incremental improvements, urgent operational needs, lifetime extension, legislation and a growing need for European technological and material non-dependency. These materials will make platforms and soldier systems lighter and  better performing, while at the same time reducing their maintenance periods and cost. The incremental adaptations of platforms should not be the only aim as new technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles and emerging directed energy weapons (DEW) are maturing rapidly, and will need new materials to enhance their capabilities (UAVs) or to counter-measure them with new protections. 

The development of the materials to be integrated into new design platforms is critical to ensure the capabilities of the European Armed Forces in the future. For the application of these technologies in defence, it is becoming increasingly important for industry to gain a deeper understanding of operational military needs. In addition, the specification of environmental properties of materials is viewed as necessary for guiding the production and design of future materials. More cooperation between defence structures, industry and academia, coupled with appropriate financial resources are key elements for the advancement of research work in this area.

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