Transparent tanks? Army scientists discover new ways to make armor


Recently published research by Army scientists could one day lead to transparent vehicle armor, essentially made from materials you could buy at Home Depot.

Dr. Kevin Masser explained to Army Times that the research found new ways to employ — with minor adjustments — common polymers, the kind used to make face shields, safety glasses, even those plastic barriers now ubiquitous at checkout counters.

No, the scientists aren’t out to produce no-see-um tanks a la Wonder Woman’s invisible jet. But with just a few tweaks, researchers were able to increase the material’s ballistic performance by more than 400 percent, which could have profound significance for future combat vehicles.

While the material isn’t ready to slap on the side of an Abrams tank tomorrow, the techniques that Masser and his fellow scientists have discovered could lead to incredibly resilient materials derived from commonly manufactured items.

And they’re transparent, something steel just can’t can’t give you.

“Glass-like optical clarity can be maintained at every composition we investigated,” Masser said. “We now have a more fundamental insight on how the length of cross-linking units influences high-rate impact performance of polymer networks.”

Masser, a materials scientist at the Army Research Lab, under the Combat Capabilities Development Command, explained that the “glass transition” appears in a variety of structures, from the glass in windows to plastic sheeting and even table sugar.

Sign up for the Army Times Daily News Roundup

Don’t miss the top Army stories, delivered each afternoon

By giving us your email, you are opting in to the Army Times Daily News Roundup.

New methods for making polymers could provide stronger, transparent protection for soldiers. (Army)

Much of their work is detailed in a paper published in the June issue of the Journal of Applied Polymer Science. Masser’s co-authors were Dr. Joshua A. Orlicki, Eugene Napadensky, Terrence Taylor and Doug Harris.

What his team is doing at this early stage of laboratory research is much like what an experimental chef does in a kitchen — making incremental adjustments to find new “recipes.”

So, much like how you don’t want to confuse sugar and salt in a cake recipe, Masser and colleagues are sifting through the levels, methods and ingredients for how polymers get put together to see what comes out the other end and make it stronger.

They then hand those recipes over to others for further testing and development.

Which means that the materials may be a few years away from fielding to a deploying unit. But the discoveries they’ve made are applicable across a wide range of categories.

New methods for making polymers could provide stronger, transparent protection for soldiers. (Army)

Even if the current polymers they’re manipulating don’t prove out for field use, the process they’ve put together could be used for other purposes, he said.

The next steps for this test include integrating the materials into armor packages to evaluate them for environmental durability and impact performance.


Todd South is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War. He has written about crime, courts, government and military issues for multiple publications since 2004. In 2014, he was named a Pulitzer finalist for local reporting on a project he co-wrote about witness problems in gang criminal cases. Todd covers ground combat for Military Times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *