Smart and Advanced Materials

NATO has identified Materials and Advanced Manufacturing as one of the emergent technology areas*, and adds that the related developments are perhaps better defined as re-emergent as previous development cycles have significantly affected earlier technology revolutions. These will require substantially more development time (ten to twenty years) before their disruptive natures are fully realised as military capabilities.

The identified developments are summarized below, pointing out overlaps with other domains.

  • Research into room temperature superconductors, novel uses of graphene (and other 2D materials such as graphyne), and new semiconductor materials hold considerable promise for future technologies. The applications of additive manufacturing and bio-printing are exploding, disrupting current medical and logistics systems.
  • Quantum materials: materials whose properties are only explainable with reference to quantum phenomena.
  • AI, in concert with big data, will contribute to the design of new materials with unique physical properties. This will support further developments in using 2D materials and novel techniques.
  • Novel materials, as well as stronger lightweight materials and novel designs: e.g. massive castings, super-capacitors or 3D printing (see below). Together with exotic battery chemistry, these will drive new developments in energy storage which will continue to drive electrification or the use of green fuels (e.g. hydrogen and biofuels) in military operations.
  • Development of exotic materials, together with novel designs, miniaturisation, energy storage, manufacturing methods, and propulsion will be necessary to fully exploit Space and Hypersonic environments by reducing costs, increasing reliability, improving performance, and facilitating the production of inexpensive task-tailored on-demand systems.
  • Artificial materials with unique and novel properties may be manufactured using techniques drawn from nanotechnology or synthetic biology. Development may include coatings with extreme heat resistance, high-strength body or platform armour, stealth coatings, energy harvesting & storage, superconductivity, advanced sensors & decontamination, and bulk food production fuel and building materials.
  • Additive Manufacturing (often used as a synonym for 3D printing): the process of creating an almost arbitrary 3D solid object from a digital model through layered addition of materials. Additive Manufacturing can be used for: rapid prototyping; in situ production & repair of deployed military equipment; and production of precision, custom or unique parts. Note that 3D printed materials that transform under changing environmental stimuli such as pressure, heat, pH, light, humidity, or temperature are called 4D printed materials.
  • Smart textiles. Innovativeness may be related to different aspects. Examples include the materials of which the fibers are composed, weaving patterns, inclusion of electronics or sensors, fabrication techniques, and testing techniques.

* NATO Science & Technology Trends 2023 – 2043

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