Nan­otech­nol­ogy in Air De­fence-Air Threat Do­main

Amidst the plethora of tall claims, which seem to get taller by the day, this ar­ti­cle, fo­cuses on how nan­otech­nol­ogy is im­pact­ing the air threat-air de­fence do­main, en­com­pass­ing the en­tire spec­trum of sen­sors, shoot­ers and BMC2 sys­tems


“Nan­otech­nol­ogy is an idea that most peo­ple sim­ply didn’t be­lieve.”

S—Ralph Markele

CIENCE AND TECH­NOL­OGY IN the con­text of nan­otech­nol­ogy are ad­vanc­ing to the point where struc­tur­ing mat­ter at nanome­tre scale (10- 9m) is be­com­ing rou­tine. Nan­otech­nol­ogy is thus pre­dicted to pro­duce rev­o­lu­tion­ary changes bring­ing far-reach­ing con­se­quences in many ar­eas. Be­sides mul­ti­far­i­ous fields of its ex­ploita­tion, ex­perts opine that in the field of weapons, nan­otech­nol­ogy may lead to a new gen­er­a­tion of fu­ture kill op­tions with a ca­pa­bil­ity su­pe­rior to de­ter­rence of the nu­clear, chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal weapons.

Im­pli­ca­tions for the Air De­fence War­rior:

Amidst the plethora of tall claims, which seem to get taller by the day, this ar­ti­cle, fo­cuses on how nan­otech­nol­ogy is im­pact­ing the air threat-air de­fence do­main, en­com­pass­ing the en­tire spec­trum of sen­sors, shoot­ers and BMC2 sys­tem. (UAV) and un­manned com­bat aerial ve­hi­cle (UCAV) is be­com­ing a tough tar­get, de­fy­ing elec­tronic recog­ni­tion due to their non­re­spon­sive radar sur­faces and small sizes (thus show­ing a great deal of im­mu­nity to hard kill by radar guided weapons), one can imag­ine the tremen­dous dif­fi­culty in tak­ing on swarms of NAVs (who knows UCAVs in fu­ture). The only an­swer prob­a­bly would be through de­ploy­ing soft-kill op­tions with a ca­pa­bil­ity to at­tack the elec­tronic/elec­tro­mag­netic (EM) um­bil­i­cal cord be­tween the swarm of let-loose nano-UAVs and their con­trol­ling base sta­tions.

The use of emerg­ing nano-ma­te­ri­als is find­ing in­creas­ing use in pro­vid­ing added im­mu­nity (hence sur­viv­abil­ity) and ef­fec­tive­ness to a va­ri­ety of com­bat air­craft. In July 2010, it was re­ported that a nan­otech­nol­ogy com­pany is near­ing com­ple­tion of a nano-paint which has the ca­pa­bil­ity to con­vert in­ci­dent radar EM waves as heat waves, thus pro­vid­ing a de­gree of low-cost stealth so­lu­tion to their com­bat fleet of air­craft. Nan­otech­nol­ogy is fun­da­men­tally chang­ing the way ma­te­ri­als and de­vices will be pro­duced in the fu­ture. Sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved phys­i­cal, chem­i­cal (and bi­o­log­i­cal) prop­er­ties are be­ing re­alised not only by the or­der of mag­ni­tude size re­duc­tion (1-100 nanome­tres), but also due to other phe­nom­e­non, like size con­fine­ment, pre­dom­i­nance of in­ter­fa­cial phe­nom­e­non, quan­tum me­chan­ics, etc. Re­sul­tant ma­te­ri­als, be­sides be­ing highly light-weight, will have much higher strength and ther­mal sta­bil­ity. Ob­vi­ously, these will find in­creas­ing use as struc­tured ma­te­ri­als for fu­ture com­bat air­craft.

Mul­ti­ple Users: Spe­cific Func­tional Ar­eas:

A tech­nol­ogy fore­cast pa­per, fo­cused on 2025 sce­nario, iden­ti­fies that nan­otech­nol­ogy ad­vances in the field of avi­a­tion will em­brace four ba­sic func­tional ar­eas, i.e. ma­te­ri­als, coat­ings, com­put­ers and elec­tron­ics. All of these could be ex­ploited var­i­ously in en­hanc­ing sur­viv­abil­ity and ef­fec­tive­ness of aerial ve­hi­cles in com­bat. As stated, a nano-ma­te­rial paint that makes an air­craft in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to de­tect on radar is cer­tainly a cheap al­ter­na­tive to a spe­cially de­signed stealth air­craft. This airspace based de­fence ap­pli- cation in the nano do­main aims to im­prove strength-to-weight ra­tios. For ex­am­ple, nan­otech­nol­ogy is be­ing ap­plied to alu­minium to change phases and mi­cro-struc­ture in or­der to make it per­form like titanium but with­out its weight. Other de­vel­op­ments re­late to high strength, cor­ro­sion re­sis­tance, high ther­mal re­li­a­bil­ity and highly re­li­able coat­ings which can not only sense the dam­age but also ini­ti­ate some re­pair. Such coat­ings can also dis­play qual­i­ties of chameleon cam­ou­flage suit­able for use in ground and aerial ve­hi­cles. Sev­eral com­pa­nies are de­vel­op­ing high strength, light weight com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als us­ing car­bon nano tubes. These high strength low weight ma­te­ri­als are find­ing use in air­craft wings/body with take-away of re­duced size, weight and power con­sump­tion of pay­loads. Nano-in­stru­men­ta­tion is an­other ex­cit­ing field promis­ing smaller cock­pits, thus leav­ing greater scope for pay­loads. Other nan­otech­nol­ogy ben­e­fits to aerospace in­clude lighter pan­els, cock­pit glasses, light and ro­bust air­craft en­gines and com­po­nents, max­imis­ing pay­loads and op­ti­mis­ing fuel con­sump­tion.

The Likely Take Away:

As per a tech­nol­ogy up­date, rev­o­lu­tion­ary new nano com­pos­ites have the prom­ise to be 100 times stronger than steel and only one-sixth of its weight. There­fore, in fu­tur­is­tic sce­nar­ios, air­craft us­ing com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als re­in­forced with car­bon nan­otubes could weigh as lit­tle as half of the con­ven­tional air­craft, be­sides be­ing ex­tremely flex­i­ble by al­low­ing its wings to re­shape in­stantly and re­main ex­tremely re­sis­tant to dam­age at the same time. In ad­di­tion, such ma­te­ri­als could have ‘self-heal­ing’ func­tion­al­ity. Re­search is on for a pos­si­ble use of filled nano-cap­sules in zinc coat­ings for ‘self-heal­ing’ on cut­ting edges. The ul­tra high strength-to-weight ra­tio, im­proved hard­ness, wear re­sis­tance and re­silience of nano struc­tured ma­te­ri­als pro­vide ad­di­tional safety to crew against crash im­pact, thus sav­ing pre­cious re­sources and pilot costs. In­tro­duc­tion of nano par­ti­cle ad­di­tives to five per cent in the ma­te­rial used for the in­te­rior of an air­craft can greatly re­duce fire risk. Hard com­pound nano-ce­ramic films are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for pro­tec­tion of en­gine and blade sur­faces al­low­ing them to run ‘hot­ter’. Also, the nano-phase ce­ram­ics are be­ing tested for use as ‘ther­mal bar­rier coat­ings’. The coat­ing sys­tem con­sists of an outer layer (that is chem­i­cally re­sis­tant) de­posited on an un­der­ly­ing strain-re­sis­tant layer that can de­form with­out crack­ing/peel­ing off. Alu­minium nano-par­ti­cles when used with rocket gel fu­els in­crease propul­sion en­ergy. Nano ma­te­ri­als are also find­ing use in air­craft sen­sors for mea­sure­ment of ve­loc­ity, ac­cel­er­a­tion, po­si­tions, and tem­per­a­ture and flow prop­er­ties.

Nan­otech­nol­ogy in Air De­liv­ered Weapons:

Way back in 2007, Rus­sians an­nounced the suc­cess­ful test­ing of an aird­e­liv­ered non-nu­clear bomb (called dad of all bombs) claimed to be the most pow­er­ful in the world (four times more than the US ‘mother of all bombs’), ap­prox­i­mately 11 vs 44 tonnes of equiv­a­lent TNT. The mas­sive power was at­trib­uted to a new highly ef­fi­cient type of ex­plo­sive in the bomb de­vel­oped with the use of nan­otech­nol­ogy. Ba­si­cally, nan­otech­nol­ogy has shown the fea­si­bil­ity of cre­at­ing a new class of weaponry—com­pact pow­er­ful bombs that use nano met­als such as nano-alu­minium to cre­ate ul­tra-high burn rates and chem­i­cal ex­plo­sives that are in or­der of mag­ni­tude more pow­er­ful than con­ven­tional bombs. Typ­i­cal nano-mu­ni­tion will be much lighter but highly more po­tent and de­struc­tive.

Nan­otech­nol­ogy Weapons: in Ar­mour

Nano-struc­tured ma­te­ri­als will also find in­creas­ing use in gun/mis­sile ar­mour. These ma­te­ri­als are ex­tremely strong, multi-im­pact ca­pa­ble and light weight. One ex­am­ple of such ma­te­rial is Kry­ron car­bon nano-tube metal ma­trix com­pos­ite (CNT-MMC). This ma­te­rial is very suit­able for hard ar­mour plat­ing of com­bat sys­tems. Smart nano-ma­te­rial of the fu­ture may also have the ca­pa­bil­ity to adapt to changes in light, tem­per­a­ture, pres­sure, or stress for in­stance.

Cool New Weapons:

Three di­men­sional assem­bly of nano-struc­tures in bulk case yield much bet­ter ver­sion of most con­ven­tional weapons e.g. guns can be lighter, carry more am­mu­ni­tion, fire self-guided bul­lets, in­cor­po­rate multi-spec­tral gun­sights or even fire them­selves when threat is de­tected (through nano swarm-sen­sors).

With the ad­vent of nan­otech­nol­ogy, the qual­i­ta­tive ad­vances in weapon tech­nol­ogy will be enor­mous and com­pelling. Nano ma­te­rial based on molec­u­lar man­u­fac­tur­ing will catch on, duly com­ple­mented by self-re­plac­ing sys­tems. These will achieve a high de­gree of au­to­ma­tion and smart­ness through ar­ti­fi­cial in­dul­gence. An ac­tual nano-tech­nic war if ever oc­curs is likely to be in­hu­manly fast and enor­mously de­struc­tive. If such be the pace of nano-revo­lu­tion, all as­pects of air and air-de­fence war­fare as a sub­set of the whole, will be fully im­mersed in the nanore­lated de­vel­op­ments/en­ablers.

Pace of Tech­nol­ogy: for

The writer is the Com­man­dant of the Army Air De­fence Col­lege. The views ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are those of the author in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

AeroViron­ment Nano Hum­ming­bird

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