Think of a futuristic war scenario where soldiers are firing smart weapons from the confines of their command centres. Weapons that are capable of intercepting and destroying virtually all enemy attack weapons and yet, they are fired from unmanned vehicles thereby minimising all possibilities of human casualties.
This is the promise that nanotechnology has in store for the global defence industry, which is pumping billions of dollars in nanotech research, examining how nano science can improve defence capabilities. Potential benefits of nanotechnology in the defence industry include stronger, lighter and less-expensive materials and enhanced protection for military personnel.
Recognising the research and development (R&D) expertise of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, US aircraft maker Lockheed Martin has decided to partner it for a $3,00,000 project of collaborative research in bio- and nano-technology. Research will be carried out in the fields of nano-technology-enabled biological sensors, biodegradable material for medical treatment and bio-filters for pollution detection.
“We have signed an agreement with IIT Delhi for a collaborative project over a period of one year,” says Ray O Johnson, senior vice-president and chief technology officer of Lockheed Martin. Interestingly, this is the first such collaboration for Lockheed Martin beyond the US and Europe. “After the successful completion of the project, we may have some follow up projects,” he adds.
The objectives of the research partnership include developing domain expertise in the nano-biological technologies for application to Lockheed Martin products and services. Eight professors from four departments of the institute and up to five experts from Lockheed will work together at IIT Delhi on various projects. The joint research is also intended to develop capabilities in modelling and simulation, virtual experimentation and conceptual designing of nano-biological systems.
When one thinks of nanotechnology specific to the defence industry, then the visions of lightweight materials many times stronger than steel seem large. While the industry is bullish on the potential benefits from the advances in nanotechnology, analysts caution that the transition of the technology into the defence industry will be slower than in commercial businesses due to several challenges. Some of these include component cost, reliability, packaging, reproducibility, manufacturing, testing,