Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

Air Systems

Manned and unmanned aerial systems, including fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft and supporting technologies

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In addition to supporting advanced materials development since its early years, DARPA has at times been called upon to identify technologies for specific near-term applications. One of these tasks occurred for Operation Desert Storm (1991-1992) when ground forces experienced a critical need for more effective armor. The DARPA solution in this case, particularly for roof protection for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) against artillery, was to ask the Lanxide Corporation to modify its cermet (ceramic/metallic) process and to work with a partner Foster Miller to produce appliqué armor.

From 1984 to 1986, DARPA supported the materials research and engineering that led to these cermet materials. With DARPA funding, 75 LAVs were up-armored with the tough composite materials. In the early 1990s, M-9 Armored Combat Earthermoves (ACE) also employed this lightweight armor. Variations of these cermet materials have been used for cockpit armor by the U.S. Air Force in C-130, C-141, and C-14 aircraft in Bosnia.

The Lanxide material has also been employed as high-power-density heat sinks for the F/A-18 and F-16 radars, turbine tip shrouds, commercial satellite heat sinks, very stiff parts for semiconductor lithography machines, and as vehicle brake components. All of the military and civil uses of Lanxide evolved directly from DARPA’s program. The military uses were under DARPA support, and then transitioned to U.S. Army and Air Force programs.

New materials that perform better than previous ones or with unprecedented properties open pathways to new and improved technologies. F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft, still in use by the U.S. Air Force today, owe much of their performance advancements to materials technologies that emerged from DARPA materials development programs conducted in the 1970s and early 1980s. One of many notable successes from these efforts was the development of rare-earth permanent magnets with magnetic strengths far stronger than conventional magnetic materials and, in some cases, over larger operational conditions. The samarium- and cobalt-based rare-earth magnetic material Sm2Co17, for example, remains reliable over the entire militarily relevant temperature range of -55°C to 125°C. These magnets ultimately assumed a role in a key component of the AN/ALQ-135 electronic warfare system, permitting operation of the F-15 to 70,000 feet in altitude.
Military platforms—such as ships, aircraft and ground vehicles—rely on advanced materials to make them lighter, stronger and more resistant to stress, heat and other harsh environmental conditions. Currently, the process for developing new materials to field in platforms frequently takes more than a decade. This lengthy process often means that developers of new military platforms are forced to rely on decades-old, mature materials because potentially more advanced materials are still being tested and aren’t ready to be implemented into platform designs.