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Bryan A. Cheeseman, Robert Jensen and Christopher Hoppel

Advanced Materials Enable Robust Composite Armour

Composite Armoured Vehicle (CAV). (Photo: Authors)

The US Army is undergoing a para- digm shift toward highly mobile, rapidly déployable, readily sustai- ned Units of Action having unprec- edented lethality and survivability. While current ground fighting vehi- cles have evolved to their 70+ ton status, in part to defend against the ever-increasing lethality of ballistic threats, their sheer mass and sup- port requirements do not make them easily transportable or readily sustainable. Therefore, as the US Army transforms, future combat systems (FCS) will employ light- weight, highly mobile, transport- able, and lethal armoured vehicles that maintain the highest level of survivability.

To achieve armour performance exceeding that of the current combat vehicles for new vehicular systems weighing less than 30 tons, significant advances in survivability technology are required. Advanced materials and their mul- tifunctional integration are critical to the suc- cessful design of new light amiours. One such light armour solution being devel- oped is an advanced composite armour that combines ceramics, metals, and polymeric composites to provide unmatched mass effi-


cient protection. Such rapid advancements are only possible with similar developments in indi- vidual materials and modelling technology. This article will first highlight the evolution of the "plastic tank" and then detail the recent advan- cements in organic materials technology and advanced simulation capability for application of composites in vehicle armour.

The "Plastic Tank" - A History of Composite Structural Armour

Composite armour systems are not new. During the pioneering light armour experiments against small arms threats conducted in the late 1960s, M.I. Wilkins and co-workers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory deter- mined that hard ceramics coupled with a thin ductile backing form effective, mass efficient armour systems. These researchers recogni- sed that ceramics possess characteristics such as low density, high hardness, and high com- pressive strength - all of which were well suit- ed for light armour systems. When coupled with composite materials having superior strength-to-weight and stiffness-to-weight properties, ceramic/composite armour pro- vides mass-efficient ballistic protection against a number of threats. Integrating these materials as a mass-efficient armour system on armou- red vehicles has been reported in the open lit- erature since the 1980s, and the US Army's efforts in the development and application of

composite armour during this time are detailed below. Through several key R&D programmes dur- ing the 1980s and 1990s, the Army established

a confidence-building baseline for the applica-

tion of polymer matrix composites (PMCs) to lighten heavy forces while also improving sur- vivability for light forces. The first application of thick-section PMCs to armoured vehicles was in a demonstration programme in the late 1980s under which a polyester/glass compos- ite hull was developed to replace the aluminium hull on the BRADLEY Infantry Fighting Vehicle (BIFV). The resulting vehicle, with a thick-sec- tion composite hull and appliqué ceramic armour tiles, became known as the Composite Infantry Fighting Vehicle (CIFV) and demon- strated the ability of PMCs to perform well structurally in an armoured vehicle.

The CIFV was followed by the Composite Annoured Vehicle (CAV) programme, estab- lished to assess the application of PMCs in the ground-up design of an armoured vehicle. To meet the stringent weight and ballistic perfor- mance requirements of the CAV, the concept of

a multifunctional PMC-based armour was de-

veloped. The resulting composite integral ar- mour (CIA) performed exceptionally well and was subsequently adapted for incorporation into designs for the Army's ill-fated CRUSAD- ER Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH) and its com- panion Resupply Vehicle (RSV).

An example of the armour designed for the

GAV is shown in

Fig. 1. Each layer serves a

specific purpose, yet combinations of layers

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strong fibre-matrix interfacial adhesion at stnjc-

tural loading rates, and weak rnterfacial strength at ballistic loading rates, they would behave structurally under vehicle loads, yet absorb energy like an armour-grade composite under ballistic impact. The result would be an optimized multi-functional armour composite. Recent research has indicated that this may be prassible through innovative manipulation of the chemical and physical interactions between the matrix and fibres. Woven and non- woven fabrics con- structed using contin- uous glass-fibre rein- forcements are com- monly used in PMCs. During industrial glass-fibre manufac- turing a multi-compo- nent thin coating, known as a sizing, is applied to the fibres for protection against damage during pro- cessing and to control their performance in composite articles. Conventional glass- fibre sizings incorpo-

rate organo-functional molecules, known as silane coupling agents, to enhance the adhesion between

the glass-fibre rein- forcement and the polymeric matrix and to increase the durability of the composite. The complex chemical and physical interactions due to the silane coupling agent result in the formation of a nanometre- sized interphase region between the glass-fibre surface and the polymeric matrix. The interphase region that surrounds glass- fibres in a composite is essential to its perfor- mance, yet Is poorly understood. For example. existing traditional fibre sizings are not optim- ised to tailor simultaneously a composite's static and dynamic response. Yet. it has been recognised that these sizings affect structural durability, impact resistance, and damage tol- erance. Published research indicates that the impact response of a PMC can be tailored for high- energy absorption by designing weak fibre-ma- trix interfacial interactions. Conversely, structu- ral performance (strength) is achieved by strong fibre-matrix interfacial interactions. Hence, the aforementioned trade-offs exist. Although the achievement of simultaneous high strength and energy absorption levels is desirable, the tech- nology has not been available. New appro- aches are now being introduced to overcome these traditional materials shortcomings. The glass-fibre sizing research being per- formed at the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) has systematically examined the nature of the glass-fibre/thermosetting polymer interphase



Phenolic Inner Liner


Stnjcturai Composite





Ceramic (Alumina)

Armor Tiles

PMC Outer Face-sheet

Figure 1: Example of the Composite Integral Armour Developed under the CAV Programme. (Source for all figures: Authors)

provide role-sharing multifunctionality. A thin, protective PMC face sheet on the outside of the vehicle serves to protect the ceramic ballis- tic tiles from incidental damage, while the cera- mic tiles are utilised to break up and/or erode the projectile upon impact. The subsequent rubber (EPDM) layer is utilised to improve multi- hit ballistic performance. The thick section composite plate serves as the structural sup- port for the vehicle, a structural backing tor the ballistic tiles and also catches the remnants of the projectile and fractured ceramic, while absorbing the residual kinetic energy. Finally, a fire-protective "spall" layer of phenolic is incor- porated on the inner surface of the vehicle. Other layers can be incorporated to provide additional functionality, such as electromagnet- ic ground planes, signature control, etc.

While composite integral armour developed under the CAV and CRUSADER programmes engendered confidence in the ability of PMCs to simultaneously meet ballistic and stnjctural properties in combat vehicles, the mass effi- ciency (ballistic performance per unit areal den- sity) falls significantly short of the current requi- rements. Advancements in materials technolo- gy and numerical simulation capabilities were identified as enabling technologies to aid in fu- ture developments of advanced composite armour, and some of these recent efforts are detailed in the following sections.

160 n










Fibre Coatings: Sizing Matters

Composites used for structural armour are different from those used In appliqué or body armour applications. Typically, body armour-

Figure 2: Surface AFM Images of Standard Commercial Fiber (left) in Comparison to ARL Nano-Roughened Commercially Produced Fiber (right).


ARL Hybri d

Fibef Siiing

Fibar Siting

Fiber Sizing

Figure 3: Mechanical Performance of Composite with Various Sizing. The ARL Sizing Shows Exceptional Performance in both Energy Absorption (Shwon in Green) and Compressive Strenght (Shwon in Orange).

grade composites are resin starved, consisting of approximately 80% weight fibre, and are engineered to readily delaminate. which en- ables the high-strength, high-modulus fibres to elongate and absorb the impact energy. These non-structural annour textiles are highly mass efficient, and there are a number of composite vehicle armour appliqués that incorporate them. However, they serve only to increase bal- listic protection, not support load. Composites being considered for FCS vehicle applications are being designed to be multifunctional, and as in the CAV detailed above, the FCS com- posite armour will be an integral part of the vehicle, carrying typical vehicle kinematic loads.

These composites under development are comparable to traditional structural composites having approximately 50% volume fibre. While efficient for carrying load, composites used for structural armour are not as mass efficient bal- iistically as their armour grade counterparts. However, if these composites were to possess

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TTie Authors are at the Weapons and Materials Re- search Directorate. US Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD. This paper was first pubiished in "The AMPTIAC Quarterly" magazine, and it is reproduced here through courtesy.



Figure 4: Modelling Ballistic Impacts into Composite Armor Has Evolved Significantly in Recent Years.

region to develop the fundamental understand- ing necessary to propose and validate an en- tirely new class of sizing materials. Specifically, mixed organo-functional silane coupling agents are being employed to vary the chemical reac- tivity toward the polymeric matrix phase to pro- duce bond strengths that are dependent on the viscoelastic properties of the matrix and fibre- coating. This results in an inherent "viscoelastic switch" at the fibre-matrix interphase that yields strong fibre-matrix interactions (high

Figure 5: Damage Mechanisms Observed During the Impact and Penetration of a Composite.

structural strength) at low strain rates and weak fibre-matrix interactions (ballistic performance) at high strain rates. This triggered response is coupled with the application of inorganic- organic sol-gel processes to develop silane- based. glass-fibre sizings that increase the sur- face roughness of commercially produced glass fibres. The result is an increased coeffi- cient of friction between the fibre and matrix during the fibre pullout stages of composite failure, further resulting in enhanced energy

absorption in the composite during ballistic events. These results were first documented mechanically on micro-scale model composite specimens. Subsequently, the experimental in- organic-organic hybrid fibre sizings were sea- led-up and applied using commercial manufac- turing equipment to demonstrate their behavi- our in macroscale composite materials. Fig. 2 shows the successful nano-texturing of the fibre surfaces produced on a commercial scale

Structural and Appliqué Armour fo r the FCS

The FCS-Manned Ground Vehicle (MGV) protection concept calls for an "A" hull structure and modular "B(x}" armour to achieve full combat configuration (FCC). The use of B(x) will facilitate tailoring armour to a particular combat situation and allow expedient integra- tion of improved armour technology spiralling in from the baseline B1 to an improved B2, B3, and B(x) armour over a short period of time. Weight has driven toward designs enabled only by application of advanced materials. Long lead times from design-to-production of new vehicles and high cost to fabricate and integrate new materials can result in miss- ing cost targets or production schedules. To avoid this problem, sub- assembly processes will be automated and streamlined. Structural assembly and processing stream will be optimized to support all B(x) armour and other appurtenances. Flexible manufacturing for novel armour materials elements for B(x) armour will be developed for high capacity and iow cost production. Subassembly processes will be integrated to produce test and qualification A and B(x) articles as part of the transition process to the FCS vehicle integrators.

Benefits include:

- Provides lighter weight, survivable platforms with light, affordable armour that meets FCS ORD requirements;

- Reduces cycle time and cost of manufacturing by 25-40%;

- Reduces structural armour processing time by 50%;

- Improves ballistic performance by 10% in production environment;

- Manufacturing technology transitions to vehicle integrators (Vis) for a chassis production in FY09;

- Manufacturing technoiogy transitions to Vis for B(x) assembly and B3 materials production in FY09-11.

During FY03-FY07, structural A and B1 armour processing tech- nologies were benchmarked; critical areas for improvement of cycle time and material availability were identified; model centric manufac- turing practices for vehicle integration demonstrated; ceramic tile joining to metallic and composite armour structure in a manufactur- ing environment demonstrated; joining of dissimilar blast resistant A structure demonstrated; and the cost of hot-pressed SiC armour tiles has been reduced from $135/lb. to $85/lb.

Build-to-Print Ceramic/Composite Armour - The current goal of this programme is to reduce costs by making the ceramic facial upper half of the armour system using an automated process rather than current labour-intensive manual processes. Production meth- ods of manufacturing, including prepreg or, where applicable, vacu- um-assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM), rapid lay-up tooling, and adhesive bonding, have been applied to emerging B(x) armour formulations. Plans are in place to manufacture actual FCS matura- tion structures using the developed technologies. Hot-pressed SiC Armour Tile Production - Efforts continue to develop a state-of-the-art semi-continuous production line for rapid hot pressing of SiC-N tiles. The prototype line is now operational and a campaign run of qualification tiles is being produced. Two high speed precision grinders are now on line and will significantly reduce grinding cost, which is the single largest cost of producing tiles with current manufacturing practices. Low Cost Titanium Components for Armour Appiications - Manufacturing of TÍ-6AI-4V plates via direct powder rolling (DPR), cold iso-static pressing (CIP) followed by sintering was demonstrat- ed. These plates met MIL-DTL- 46077F and were produced with low cost hydrogenated titanium powder and sodium reduced titanium powder. (Source: Army ManTech Manager, RDCOM/ARL)


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using atomic force microscopy (AFM). Glass reinforced composite materials were manufac- tured using these specialised fabrics, and the structural and impact energy responses were measured. Fig. 4 captures the impact energy absorption and structural performance of com- posites produced using state-of-the-art com- mercial sizings and the ARL inorganic-organic hybrid sizings. These results show the tradition- al trade-offs found when using commercially available fibres that have been coated with either a stnjctural or ballistic sizing. In compar- ison, these trade-offs do not exist for the ARL inorganic-organic hybrid sizing, and the impact and structural performance of this optimized sizing are both excellent. A 40% increase in the energy absorption of composites fabricated with no loss in stmctural properties will enable the use of PMCs in ballistic applications where they have not been used previously, perhaps with reduced cost.

Advances in Modelling

Until a few years ago, there was no definitive computational model for ceramics and high- velocity impact calculations of fibre-reinforced composites were a research task. These limita- tions in numerical techniques and robust mate- rial models resulted in much of the design of composite armour systems being guided by

experimental efforts. However, the advances in numerical techniques and development of robust material models have since allowed modellers to simulate accurately what is observed experimentally, and this has enabled greater insight into how the components of the composite armour work together during the impact event. These recant developments have allowed experiments and simulations to be util- ised together to improve the performance of composite armour. Accuracy in modelling of ceramics has been aided by the use of LaGrangian particle tech- niques, either smooth particle hydrodynamics (SPH) or general particle algorithms (GPA), which, when coupled with a validated material model, have given very good con-elation with experimental obsen/ations of impact into cera- mics. One such material mode!, the Johnson- Holmquist ceramic model, has been able to accurately simulate the full gamut of ceramic response; everything from the phenomenon of interface defeat, where a projectile is stopped on the surface of the ceramic, to the dwell-pen- etration transition and direct penetration. Thus, as the issue of ceramic modelling may have evolved toward a (somewhat accepted) pheno- menologicai material model (though an accept- ed micromechanical model is still being sought), composite material modelling for dynamic events has also seen significant advances.

The modelling of ballistic impacts into com- posite materials has evolved from two different analysis methodologies. One set of models has been developed from the analysts of high velocity impacts into metallic materials, where the response of the material is governed by wave propagation. The second set has been developed from the quasi-static damage mechanics analysis of composite materials. In the former case, the behaviour of a material is modelled by analysing the hydrostatic and de- viatoric components of stress. However, due to its inherent orthotropy. decoupling of the stress tensor of a composite material proves to be problematic: there are terms related to the devlatoric stress that affect the hydrostatic components and vice versa. Nonetheless, with suitable assumptions and corrections. Ander- son and co-workers overcame this issue, and several models have evolved using this formu- lation. These models have proven unique in that they allow a polynomial equation of state to be utilized, which has proven important in the analysis ot armour grade composites and for hypervelocity impact simulations.

The present model, developed by the Materials Sciences Corporation (MSC) and the US Army Research Laboratory, has been ge- neralisd from the quasi-static damage mechan- ics analysis of composite materials. Further improvements of this model have recently been

Figure 6: Experimental Set-ups for Quasistanic and Drop Tower Punch Shear Experiments, Simulation of the Punch Shear Experiment and a Comparison of the Load vs. Displacement Curves from the Experiment and the Finite Element Analysis.

Quasistatic Punch Shear Experiments

Punch Shear Fixture on INSTRON 1332

Simulation of Punch Shear Test:

i-inch Span


Low Velocity Impact Punch Shear


Load vs. Displacement far 1-rnch Span Plate





0 4




Di5plocement, cm




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Ste«l P

Compoíile Tile

Support loyer

Gtoïï Composite Backing

FSP Velocity vs. Time for Caroink Backed by Carbon Fiber Composite Configuration






Figure 7: Model Used for the Numerical Simulation of a Composite Armour System.

Figure 8: Projectile Velocity as a Function of Time for the Baseline Configuration.

made at ARL and the University of Delaware under the Army's Materials Center of Excel- lence. Composite materials mitigate impact energy through a number of different material damage mechanisms. This is unlike many me- tallic components, where localisd impact ener- gy is typically mitigated by localized plastic def- ormation. Shown in Figure 5are a number ot these mechanisms, such as fibre shear trac-

ture, fibre tensile rupture, matrix cracking, dela- mination and fibre crushing, that are observed experimentally and must all be taken into


Generally, in composite damage mechanics models, material damage and failure are accounted for only by a resultant decrease in the material stiffness in the corresponding material directions. The current model utilises this concept, but also accounts for the inter- relations of the different failure modes through quadratic failure criteria and a novel damage tensor that relates the specific failure modes to the extensional and shear moduli that are com- promised. The formulation is based on the con- tinuum damage model for composite failure developed by Matzenmiller et al. and has been

extended to incorporate strain rate sensitivity of both stiffness and strength and post failed material softening. While the details of this elegant and complex material model are beyond the scope of the current article, it is not surprising that there are a number of material constants that must be determined in order to generate accurate simu- lations. Obviously, in order to perform accurate simulations of a composite material using the current model, a substantial material character- isation program is required. As part of the Com- posite Material Technology {CMT) programme, the Center for Composite Materials {COM) at the University of Detaware has been working with ARL and MSC to fully characterise materi- als of interest and validate these values by per- forming simulations of the experiments using the current material model. Fig. 6 depicts the effort of determining the material behaviour associated with the punch shear of S2-glass/epoxy composites. Punch shear experiments were conducted for a num- ber of punch-die diameters at a variety of rates from quasistatic, to drop tower, to split Hop- kinson pressure bar. Simulations were then

performed, and the quantitative values were compared with those obtained from the experi- ments. Materials that have been characterised include S2-glass/SC15 epoxy, S2-glass/SC79 epoxy and IM7 carbon/SC79 epoxy.

Composite Armour Simulation

To illustrate the insights that can be gained from simulations of composite armour, consid- er the following problem shown in Fig, 7. The simulation, conducted using the nonlinear anal- ysis software Autodyn, consists of a half-sym- metric model of a ceramic tile with a thin com- posite cover plate on top and supported by a thin PMC, all of which is backed by a glass- fibre PMC. In the impact region, all of the ma- terials are modelled using smooth particle hy- drodynamics (SPH), The tile itself is surrounded and confined by steel brackets modelled using LaGrangian elements. As a measure of how the composite armour reacts upon impact, the deceleration of a target point on the rear surface of the fragment-simu- lating projectile (FSP) is tracked during the impact event. The deceleration of the FSP for


Schematic arrangement of the structural and appliqué armour in the FCS manned vehicles. (Photo: ARL)

Qinetiq's ACAVP demonstrator with composite hull. (Photo: QinetiQ)

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this baseline case is given in Fig. 8. From this figure, it can be seen that the deceleration curve of the FSP has three distinct portions: an initial steep deceleration up to approximately 35 |js, a transition region from roughly 35-45 |js, and a final, more moderate deceleration curve from 45-90 ps. By observing the plots of the material dam- age through time, an understanding of the mechanisms behind these regions becomes discernible. The initial rapid deceleration is caused by the hard ceramic deforming the FSP. During this time, the ceramic itself fails, its failure starting on the surface opposite the impact surface due to the tensile reflections from the initial compressive stress wave. In Fig, 8, green regions indicate undamaged material, and coloured regions indicate material that is either plastically deformed or damaged. The cyan colour of the projectile indicates that it is plastically deforming. For the composite, the cyan and orange colouring indicates transverse shear damage, the purple indicates in-plane tensile failure and for all materials, red indicates bulk failure. The cracking of the ceramic leads to the formation of a conoid (a cone of ceramic material under the impactor) which loads the backing plates. Extensive transverse shear damage mecha- nisms appear in all of the composites by 20 |js- The initial deceleration of the projectile transi- tions to a more moderate deceleration of the projectile at approximately 30 ^JS, and it is at this time that the damaged composites have displaced enough locally to allow the failed ceramic in the conoid to start moving, both in the direction of the projectile and laterally, out of the way of the projectile. The effectiveness of the ceramic diminishes greatly from 30 ps to 45 ps. After 45 ps, the damaged glass/epoxy com- posite catches both the ceramic rubble and the plastically deformed projectile.


The application of polymer-matn"x compos- ite materials to armour systems has principally

A USMC LAV 8x8 vehicle receiving add-on

composite armour elements on top of its

aluminium alloy structural armour as part

of the ongoing upgrade programme.

(Photo: USMC)

been driven by the need to increase perfor- mance (survivability) in very lightweight fighting vehicles. The stringent weight requirements for these types of applications have provided the motivation for the development of multi-func- tional armour systems. Ceramic-composite armour systems have been developed to pro- vide ballistic protection from a range of battle- field threats and also serve as the vehicle structure.

Substantial progress has been made in the development of materials technology for light- weight fighting vehicles, including advances in


fibre sizings that have been formulated to pro- vide strain-rate sensitive response (strong fibre-matrix interfacial adhesion at structural loading rates, and weak interfacial strength at ballistic loading rates). Additionally, the devel- opment, characterisation and validation of im- proved material constitutive models have allo- wed ballistic experiments to be studied using numerical simulations, which have provided new insight into how the materials behave and interact during impact. Further advances in materials technology and their incorporation into lightweight armour will focus on the increased integration of multifunctionality, such as the incorporation of power storage, commu- nication, sensing, and health monitoring. Nu- merical simulations will allow engineers to examine the influence of multifunctional materi- als on improving the performance of ceramic composite armour that will be utilised in future combat systems.

One of the tatest designs in advanced hybrid laminated composite materials for lightweight structural armour undergoes testing at TARDEC. (Photo: TARDEC)

The penetration defeat mechanism of a composite/hybdrid armour plate. (Source: via "Defense. Update")

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