High-performance materials specialist DSM Dyneema (Stanley, N.C., USA) says emerging global trends are impacting the operating environment of light tactical interdiction vehicles for military, law enforcement and homeland security operations, particularly helicopters and patrol boats. As they engage in higher-risk scenarios, such as supporting clandestine operations and penetrating inner harbors and coastlines, these vehicles require enhanced armor protection that won’t compromise their speed, agility, range and payload capacity.
Simply adding armor made from traditional materials such as ceramics, glass, aramid and even polyethylene is no longer enough, whereas innovative, lightweight materials that can deliver top protection can optimize vehicle performance, fuel efficiency, capacity and maneuverability. DSM Dyneema, a manufacturer of ultra high-molecular weight polyethylene (UHMwPE) fiber, branded as Dyneema, says it sees next-generation materials technologies as an important part of the solution. This view is supported by industry experts who predict the use of UHMwPE materials in armor applications will show double-digit growth in the next five years.
“DSM Dyneema has strategically focused our development of innovative materials for vehicle armor to stay ahead of evolving industry trends,” says Shitij Chabba, Global Business Segment director, DSM Dyneema. “As helicopters, patrol boats and other light tactical vehicles increasingly take on higher-risk roles domestically and internationally, they will require advanced armor that is optimized for new missions and environments. A common challenge affecting all these vehicles is weight, which has a profound impact on performance, efficiency and agility. Dyneema Force Multiplier Technology, built on our Radical Innovation platform, is a disruptive breakthrough that cuts vehicle armor weight dramatically compared to traditional materials while providing higher ballistic protection.”
“New growth markets and opportunities in ballistic protection are emerging, such as homeland security and defense, special operations units within traditional law enforcement agencies, and the armoring of first responders and their vehicles,” says Marcia Price, president of Vector Strategy, a market research firm specializing in the military and civilian armor industry. “The mobility of helicoptors, boats and small tactical vehicles used in these applications is negatively affected by weight gain, but they still need protection from a proliferation of ballistic threats. High-performance fibers, and UHMwPE in particular, will be increasingly used as a material solution to armor these vehicles.”
DSM Dyneema says there are three trends driving the need for lightweight armor protection for helicopters, patrol boats and other light tactical vehicles.
- Operating environments are shifting. Vehicles that previously carried little or no armor protection are being used in new environments that pose additional threats and require new capabilities. In the case of helicopters, missions such as medical evacuations require more speed to reach critical areas of the battlefield rapidly and maneuver to evade enemy fire. Other missions have underscored the need for agile, quiet helicopters. On the water, piracy, terrorism and territorial disputes are driving the need for fast, armored boats that can enter dangerous areas and defend themselves from attack. In general, asymmetrical, unconventional warfare, low-intensity conflicts and homeland security needs have significantly altered the traditional missions of smaller vehicles.
- Increased use of electronics are weighing down vehicles. Today’s military, law enforcement and security organizations rely on sophisticated electronics systems. Even when disparate functions are integrated using so-called vetronics, or vehicle electronics, which comprise data control and distribution, computer resources, crew controls and displays and power generation and management, these components add significant weight and mass. As electronics proliferate, it becomes essential to compensate with weight reduction in other areas. Armor is an obvious candidate.
- Fuel consumption raises supply chain and sustainability concerns. The weight of a vehicle is a key factor affecting fuel efficiency, which in turn impacts its operating costs, range and sustainability. In addition, as these vehicles are used in more distant locations, the cost and effort to transport fuel increases and fuel supply lines become a potential point of failure that requires precious resources to protect. Significant investments are being made by the U.S. Department of Defense and other organizations to develop more fuel-efficient vehicle designs, for both environmental and operational reasons.
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