DARPA Wants its Military Gear to Advance, Quicker

In this day and age modern military ships, aircraft and ground vehicles are using more and more advanced materials to make them lighter, stronger and more resistant to harsh environmental conditions.

Currently, the process for developing new materials to field in platforms frequently takes more than 10 years. 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.

DARPA’s Materials Development for Platforms program wants to change that by developing a methodology and a toolset to condense the applied material development process down by at least 75% bring it down from an average of 10 years to just two and half. To achieve this target, the company wants to establish a cross-disciplinary model that in incorporates materials science and engineering, Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) principles and the platform development disciplines of engineering, design, analysis and manufacturing.

The program plans to focus on the rapid development of materials with specific platform capabilities and intended missions in view, rather than supporting long-term, generalised materials development acceleration followed by an assessment of potential applications for the resulting materials.

Mick Maher, DARPA program manager said;

In this program, we want to move from the current mindset of sporadic ‘pushes’ in materials technology development to a mindset that ‘pulls’ materials technology forward driven by platform design intent and mission need. Ideally, we could envision materials development happening on time scales more in line with modern commercial automobile development.

As a test case for the new concept the program intends to focus its efforts on a hypersonic platform design—a bold and pressing challenge, since hypersonic vehicles operate under extreme conditions that push state-of-the-art materials to their thermal, chemical and structural limits. Specifically, the initial MDP materials development effort would be applied to the design of an outer aerodynamic shell for a hypersonic vehicle that would glide through the atmosphere. Hypersonic air vehicles travel at more than five times the speed of sound, resulting in shell temperatures of several thousand degrees Fahrenheit—hot enough to melt steel. The goal is to prove the MDP concept by developing, manufacturing and independently testing various new material structural elements of an outer shell within two and a half years.