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Not Sexy, but Vital, Army Shows off Composite Armor

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2001 – Visit the DoD "Public Service Recognition Week" web site at www.defenselink.mil/specials/publicservice/.

It's not sexy building composite armor for the military. It's not the stuff of screaming front-page headlines. But the work is crucial to thousands of American service members whose lives, literally, could depend on the results.

The Army Research Lab is sponsoring the research that can be used by all the services. Experts were at Public Service Recognition Week activities at the National Mall May 9 to explain what they do and why it is important.

Public Service Recognition Week is a lot like composites, too. It's not very sexy. Held on the grounds that saw Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and where the Million Man and Million Mom marches took place, the PSRW display is a blip. The week celebrates the normal everyday work that public servants at all levels do for their countrymen.

Dana Granville works on composite armor as an engineer at the Army Research Lab at Aberdeen, Md. Composites are two or more physically distinct and physically separable materials that are mixed in such a way that dispersing one material into the other affords overall protection. That's the dictionary definition. Granville said the lab looks at materials such as Kevlar, glass, carbon fiber, boron, and other unique fibers to make armor.

"The greatest focus in composite armor is to develop lightweight armor for future applications," he said. "We're looking to replace rolled homogeneous armor, at weights close to 64 pounds per square foot, with composite materials that weigh about 20 pounds per square foot. That's a huge reduction in weight, and they both stop the same ballistic threats."

Using these materials will allow any future force -- and some "legacy" equipment -- to travel lighter and faster. Composite armor is not "hung on" a vehicle. It is part of the vehicle itself. This alone decreases weight, Granville said.

"Composite armor is also low observable and resists chemical agents," he said. The composite armor has improved "spall" protection. In metal armor, "spalling" is the metal that comes off the backside of armor when it's struck. "This is reduced dramatically using composite armor," Granville said.

Composite armor will also reduce parts problems. "This should improve maintenance 20 or 30 years down the road," Granville said. "There are not as many rivets and screws."

Composites being tested in M-829A2 tank sabot rounds to replace aluminum parts promise a 2.2-pound reduction that will translate to increased muzzle velocity.

Composites are also used in helicopters and other aircraft.

The composite armor project is one that doesn't receive a lot of press, but it has the potential to be a revolutionary change in the American military.

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