Star Trek-style force-field armor being developed by military scientists

A space-age "field force" capable of protecting armored vehicles and tanks by repelling incoming fire is being developed by British military scientists.

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent
Published: 2:08 PM GMT March 20, 2010

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. Photo: AP / Bruce Adams

The new type of armor will use pulses of electrical energy to repel rockets, shrapnel and other ammunition that might damage a vehicle.

Researchers at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), which is the research and development arm of the Ministry of Defense, claim it is possible to incorporate material known as supercapacitors into armor or a vehicle to turn it 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.

Scientists behind the project claim this would produce a momentary "force field capable of repelling the incoming rounds and projectiles.

Although it would last for only a fraction of a second, if timed correctly it could prevent rocket propelled grenades, which Detonate on impact, from reaching their target. The Supercapacitor could then be rapidly Recharged ready for another attack.

The idea is similar to the force fields portrayed in science fiction movies which produce an invisible protective shell around a vehicle or object.

Professor Bryn James, head of Dstl's armor and protection science and technology center, said the electric armor had the potential to dramatically decrease the weight of military vehicles and tanks.

Currently Able few tanks are needed to carry enough armor to resist impacts from RPG rounds, which produce jets of molten copper more than capable of punching through solid steel or foot upon impact.

He said: "The Supercapacitor material can be charged up and then discharged into one powerful event to repel incoming fire.

"You would think this would require huge amounts of energy, but we have found it can be done with surprisingly small amounts of electrical power.

"Conventional armor is just a lump of metal but an RPG round can punch through more than a foot or stalk. Carrying around enough armor to protect against that is extremely heavy.

"The real advantage to the electric light armor is how it can be by comparison."

Sophisticated tracking systems will also need to be developed to work in conjunction with the new armor so that incoming threats can be identified and the electrical discharge timed correctly to repel the rocket.

It is unlikely that such a system would be used against fire from small arms as the outer skin can be made to be bullet proof.

Armor piercing rounds, RPGs and "shaped charge" roadside bombs pose a far greater threat to armored vehicles and tanks as it is not possible to put enough armor plating on all parts of the vehicle to protect it completely.

The comparatively light weight electric armor, however, could be used to protect the entire outer shell of a vehicle by using a thin flexible cloth-like material Supercapacitor.

This can be used to form a lining beneath the armor that turns the vehicle into a giant battery pack.

An early incarnation of a different type of electric armor 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 field charged 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 armor, survive repeated attack by RPGs before being driven away with only minor damage.

Scientists from Dstl outlined their plans to use this technology at an MoD showcase of military technology last week.

The MoD has tasked Dstl with reducing the weight of armored vehicles by 70 per cent over the next decade in a bid to improve speed and maneuverability.

Dstl has also developed an experimental armor steel that is covered in holes known as Super Bainite, which could also be used on vehicles.

Scientists found they could double the performance of the ballistic armor by introducing the hole to the shaft, while halving its weight.

Professor Peter Brown, who headed the team that developed Super Bainite Dstl, 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."

Source: Star Trek-style force-field armour being developed by military scientists - Telegraph