Star Trek-style force-field armour being developed by military scientists
By Richard Gray | Telegraph.co.uk
The new type of armour will use pulses of electrical energy to repel rockets, shrapnel and other ammunition that might damage a vehicle.
Researchers at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), which is the research and development arm of the Ministry of Defence, claim it is possible to incorporate material known as supercapacitors into armour of a vehicle to turn it into a kind of giant battery.
When a threat from incoming fire is detected by the vehicle, the energy stored in the supercapacitor can be rapidly dumped onto the metal plating on the outside of the vehicle, producing a strong electromagnetic field. Photo: AP/Bruce Adams
When a threat from incoming fire is detected by the vehicle, the energy stored in the supercapacitor can be rapidly dumped onto the metal plating on the outside of the vehicle, producing a strong electromagnetic field.
Scientists behind the project claim this would produce a momentary "force field" capable of repelling the incoming rounds and projectiles.
Although it would last for only a fraction of a second, if timed correctly it could prevent rocket propelled grenades, which detonate on impact, from reaching their target. The supercapacitor could then be rapidly recharged ready for another attack.
The idea is similar to the force fields portrayed in science fiction movies which produce an invisible protective shell around a vehicle or object.
Professor Bryn James, head of Dstl’s armour and protection science and technology centre, said the electric armour had the potential to dramatically decrease the weight of military vehicles and tanks.
Currently few tanks are able to carry enough armour needed to resist impacts from RPG rounds, which produce jets of molten copper capable of punching through more than foot of solid steel upon impact.
He said: "The supercapacitor material can be charged up and then discharged in one powerful event to repel incoming fire.
"You would think this would require huge amounts of energy, but we have found it can be done with surprisingly small amounts of electrical power.
"Conventional armour is just a lump of metal but an RPG round can punch through more than a foot of steel. Carrying around enough armour to protect against that is extremely heavy.
"The real advantage to the electric armour is how light it can be by comparison."
Sophisticated tracking systems will also need to be developed to work in conjunction with the new armour so that incoming threats can be identified and the electrical discharge timed correctly to repel the rocket.
It is unlikely that such a system would be used against fire from small arms as the outer skin can be made to be bullet proof.
Armour piercing rounds, RPGs and "shaped charge" roadside bombs pose a far greater threat to armoured vehicles and tanks as it is not possible to put enough armour plating on all parts of the vehicle to protect it completely.
The comparatively lightweight electric armour, however, could be used to protect the entire outer shell of a vehicle by using a thin cloth-like flexible supercapacitor material.
This can be used to form a lining beneath the armour that turns the vehicle into a giant battery pack.
An early incarnation of a different type of electric armour technology has already been trailed by Dstl.
It used several layers of metal which have electric current flowing through them.
When an RPG round penetrates the outer layer, it completes the electrical circuit creating a highly electrically charged field between the layers.
This charged field vaporises the copper jet that shoots out from the front of the RPG warhead, preventing it from penetrating the inner hull of the vehicle and keeping the soldiers inside safe.
At a test in 2002, senior British Army officers saw the chassis of a Warrior infantry carrier, which was fitted with the early electric armour, survive repeated attack by RPGs before being driven away with only minor damage.
Scientists from Dstl outlined their plans to use this technology at an MoD showcase of military technology last week.
The MoD has tasked Dstl with reducing the weight of armoured vehicles by 70 per cent over the next decade in a bid to improve speed and maneuverability.
Dstl has also developed an experimental armour steel that is covered in holes known as Super Bainite, which could also be used on vehicles.
Scientists found they could double the ballistic performance of the armour by introducing the holes to the steel, while halving its weight.
Professor Peter Brown, who headed the Dstl team that developed Super Bainite, said: "This is because when a bullet hits, it’s always near to the edge of a hole.
"This causes the bullet to topple over, turning it from a sharp projectile to a blunt fragment which is easier to stop."
Article from: Telegraph.co.uk
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