As the defence and security landscape moves into more complex and uncharted areas, studying and developing the capabilities of the future is becoming increasingly challenging. The emergence of new platform concepts and the lead times, often spanning over decades, for materials used in major platforms result in a pressing need to start research efforts in the present. On 18 October 2016, 25 experts from various European Ministries of Defence, the U.S. Department of Defense, European institutions, and industry participated in an EDA workshop to identify materials envisioned to be used by military forces in the year 2050.
High-level experts on materials and defence technologies gathered to discuss the types and functionalities of materials with a potential to improve military operations in 35 years as well as major advances that might be foreseen. Thought-provoking presentations from the European Defence Agency (EDA), the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) and the European Space Agency (ESA) underlined the importance of long-term defence R&T strategic planning. They showed how innovative materials and manufacturing can be used in a wide range of applications - lowering the burden of the soldier, stealth and protection, ammunition enhancements - and can improve the lifespan, logistical aspects and functional capabilities of existing & future platforms – air, naval and land.
Using a structured brainstorming method, the organizers dynamically combined the various experts in groups to create a maximum level of interaction and balance between governmental and non-governmental actors. The main outcome of the workshop was the identification of promising ideas and possible Research & Technology needs in 4 main areas: additive manufacturing, advanced smart materials, functional materials and structural materials. Computer-assisted modelling, deployed 3D printing, multifunctional materials, integrated sensors, frequency-adaptive signature control materials, and biomimetics were among the topics viewed to be of especially high interest for military forces in the next decades.
Although the participants recognized that predicting the future poses difficulties in the context of evolving political, technological, economic and legislative factors, they considered that defence technology in 2050 will be shaped by capitalizing on the windows of opportunity opened in the present.
The seminar was co-organized by the EDA’s CapTech on Materials & Structures, Fraunhofer INT, ISDEFE, FOI, FFI.