The UK is working on a new type of armour that will use pulses of electrical energy to repel rockets, shrapnel and other ammunition that might damage a vehicle.
Researchers at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), which is the research and development arm of the Ministry of Defence, claim it is possible to use supercapacitors with tank armour to turn the armour into a kind of giant battery.
When a threat from incoming fire is detected by the vehicle, the energy stored in the supercapacitor can be rapidly dumped onto the metal plating on the outside of the vehicle, producing a strong electromagnetic field.
Rocket Propelled grenades use shaped charges to penetrate armor. Explosives turn a metal liner into a plasma of about 20,000 degrees celsius which then hits the armor in a cone shape that melts through thick armor.
Electrical forces can act upon the plasma and shield the armor. Armor would still be used to stop kinetic energy shells and bullets. Regular armor is more effective against regular kinetic shells and bullets. RPGs and shaped charges are disproportionately cheap and effective and require a military to have thicker armor on heavier and more expensive vehicles. A cheaper electric armor solution would reduce costs and weight while enable equal or greater protection against the range of weapon threats.
Armour piercing rounds, RPGs and "shaped charge" roadside bombs pose a far greater threat to armoured vehicles and tanks as it is not possible to put enough armour plating on all parts of the vehicle to protect it completely.
The comparatively lightweight electric armour, however, could be used to protect the entire outer shell of a vehicle by using a thin cloth-like flexible supercapacitor material.
This can be used to form a lining beneath the armour that turns the vehicle into a giant battery pack.
An early incarnation of a different type of electric armour technology has already been trailed by Dstl.
It used several layers of metal which have electric current flowing through them.
When an RPG round penetrates the outer layer, it completes the electrical circuit creating a highly electrically charged field between the layers.
This charged field vaporises the copper jet that shoots out from the front of the RPG warhead, preventing it from penetrating the inner hull of the vehicle and keeping the soldiers inside safe.
At a test in 2002, senior British Army officers saw the chassis of a Warrior infantry carrier, which was fitted with the early electric armour, survive repeated attack by RPGs before being driven away with only minor damage.
Super Bainite Armor with Edges for Double Performance and Half the Weight
The Ministry of Defense has tasked Dstl with reducing the weight of armoured vehicles by 70 per cent over the next decade in a bid to improve speed and manoeuvrability.
Dstl has also developed an experimental armour steel that is covered in holes known as Super Bainite, which could also be used on vehicles.
Scientists found they could double the ballistic performance of the armour by introducing the holes to the steel, while halving its weight.
Professor Peter Brown, who headed the Dstl team that developed Super Bainite, said: "This is because when a bullet hits, it's always near to the edge of a hole.
"This causes the bullet to topple over, turning it from a sharp projectile to a blunt fragment which is easier to stop."
Defense Review covered super-bainite armor back in 2008
The DSTL team is headed up by scientist Peter Brown. According to him, due to the unique low-temp process by which Super Bainite is made, it’s able to "match the ballistic performance of the very best off-shore armor steels for a fraction of their cost."
Super Bainite has already been successfully produced in production trials by DSTL in partnership with with Corus and Bodycote, and the first Super Bainite armor plates are currently undergoing ballistic testing.
BBC coverage of super bainite
Professor Peter Brown explained: "You shouldn't think of them as holes, you should think of them as edges. When a bullet hits an edge, it gets deflected, and turns from a sharp projectile into a blunt fragment - which is much easier to stop. It doubles the ballistic performance and halves the weight."
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