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.”
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