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10 May 2023

Endless applications for Advanced Materials in Defence

Endless applications for Advanced Materials in Defence
Image source: DASA

Written 10.05.2023. Updated 01.05.2024.

In defence, the potential applications are limitless, from morphing aerofoils to camouflage and electromagnetic resistance. Take a look at how some countries are approaching advanced materials and how some trailblazing Defence Engage members are seizing the moment.

Advanced materials are a grouping of smarter, more adaptive materials, with abilities ranging from self-healing to energy harvesting. In defence, notable attributes of advanced materials can include environmental resilience, structural and personal health monitoring and even such things as ‘biomimetic material designs or the integration of metamaterials’. The benefits of innovative new materials span economic sectors, with aerospace and automotive industries having much in common with defence, as resilience in harsh environments is being sought more actively.


Strategy and collaboration on advanced materials

Modern militaries require advanced equipment with smarter and more resilient materials one aspect that can provide a competitive edge. NATO, European and global allies have been increasingly interested in the potential capabilities provided by these materials, leading governments and agencies to develop strategies to adopt them at speed.

According to European Defence Matters, the European Defence Agency has been looking into the timescales within which we might adopt such materials for military use, suggesting that as the ‘major land, sea and air platforms currently in service are not expected to be retired for another two to three decades […] existing platforms will have to be upgraded with new materials’.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence takes a similar approach, whilst placing particular emphasis and urgency on two main areas. The first area is ‘Intelligent materials and structures’, which ‘can either sense changes in their environment, actuate a change under extreme environmental conditions, or a combination of both’. These solutions could be based in any of the key defence domains and the development of advanced weaponry.

The second area is ‘Materials for enhanced thermal management’, which ‘is focused on materials and structures that can withstand extremes of temperatures, including structural materials for high temperatures in oxidative, corrosive or/and erosive environments’. Back in 2021, the UK and Australia agreed to collaborate in the acceleration of advanced material integration. The agreement cited a need for the ‘integration of composites, adhesives for structural joining, joining high temperature structures and improving armour systems’.

In both Canada and the US, there have been a series of advanced material challenges to industry, where significant contracts have been won for advanced material advances. In one Canadian challenge, the materials sought were those which would bring benefits in ‘detection avoidance and physical protection’. In a particular US initiative, the acceleration of advanced materials which could bring light weight solutions to front line users, was prized.

Many countries see the development of advanced materials as a key area of collaboration between universities and industry, with research and development contracts often being granted to academia. The multitude of uses for advanced materials, in defence and beyond, have created opportunities for those who can improve upon the capabilities of legacy systems and the design of future assets.

NATO’s Emerging Disruptive Technology (EDT) strategy pitches Advanced Materials as one of its nine Priority Technology Areas, giving it the focus of innovation engines across the alliance, such as NATO’s DIANA (Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic).  


Advanced material research is here to stay and set for significant growth with public-private, multi-sector opportunities allowing innovators the chance to develop truly transformative capabilities.  


Written 13.03.2023. Updated 01.05.2024.

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