The way ahead
Through its activities, the EDA R&T community has already identified some of the next strategic steps needed for advancing the development and use of these technologies in European defence.
For instance, the need for setting priorities in the area of smart textiles is increasingly recognized, with a long-term objective of achieving multifunction soldier uniforms which have to be washable, repairable, reusable and recyclable. Today, efforts in this field are focused on the development of standards to define terms, technical specifications and requirements for smart textiles. Manufacturing and commercialization of smart textiles represents a growing market and opportunities stem from the technological developments taking place in the civilian sector. Furthermore, the certification and standardization aspects are coming into focus, with particular attention paid to ensuring product quality and development of legislation.
The major land, sea and air platforms currently in service are not expected to be retired for another two to three decades which means that the existing platforms will have to be upgraded with new materials. As a consequence, new opportunities for the implementation of new materials will most certainly arise through mid-life upgrades, incremental improvements, urgent operational needs, lifetime extension, legislation and a growing need for European technological and material non-dependency. These materials will make platforms and soldier systems lighter and better performing, while at the same time reducing their maintenance periods and cost. The incremental adaptations of platforms should not be the only aim as new technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles and emerging directed energy weapons (DEW) are maturing rapidly, and will need new materials to enhance their capabilities (UAVs) or to counter-measure them with new protections.
The development of the materials to be integrated into new design platforms is critical to ensure the capabilities of the European Armed Forces in the future. For the application of these technologies in defence, it is becoming increasingly important for industry to gain a deeper understanding of operational military needs. In addition, the specification of environmental properties of materials is viewed as necessary for guiding the production and design of future materials. More cooperation between defence structures, industry and academia, coupled with appropriate financial resources are key elements for the advancement of research work in this area.