WASHINGTON: The US Army is traditionally the most low-tech of the four armed services, but the quest for lighter, stronger armor for troops and vehicles alike puts them on the cutting edge of materials science, from advanced ceramics to carbon nanotubes. That’s the reason the Army made an award worth up to $90 million over five years to the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute at Johns Hopkins University to, well, smash stuff up real good. The Institute’s video of one of their experiments (click above to play) looks like it might be kind of fun.
With both soldiers and vehicles struggling under the weight of all their body armor, though, achieving equal protection with lighter materials is literally a life-or-death issue for a whole range of programs. Most prominently the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle, a program to replace the venerable and vulnerable M2 Bradley troop carrier; Army brass were shocked when the industry reported back that the proposed protection levels would require a vehicle weighing in at 50 to 70 tons. Anti-tank weapons from guided missiles to roadside bombs have become so deadly that widely respected defense analyst Andrew Krepinevich has said that there’s no point in investing in new armored vehicles — unless, he added, there’s a breakthrough in armor materials science. Whether the research at Hopkins will translate into new equipment any time soon is an open question, but the Army wants to build the GCV with “modular” armor designed to swap out armor plates when new and better materials become available. Here’s hoping that better protection for our troops is coming soon.
“This is how I think about our effort with the Army,” said K. T. Ramesh, the director of the Extreme Materials Institute, in a press release. “Captain America needs a new shield, and we’re going to work with the Army to build it.”