The use and advancements of Nanotechnology in warfare and defense have led to the categorized development of many nano-weapons with classifications varying from; small robotic machines, hyper-reactive explosives, and electromagnetic super-materials. Over the past two decades, numerous countries have rapidly funded military applications of this technology including; China, the United Kingdom, Russia, and the United States.
The US government has been considered a leader of research and development in this area, however it is now approached by international competition as appreciation of nanotechnology’s eminence increases. The growth of this sphere, therefore has a dominant platform at the forefront of military interests in the use, or misuse of its power.
This technological growth has emerged implications of associated risks and consequences, as well as regulation to combat these effects. These impacts give rise to issues concerning global security, the safety of society, and the environment. Legislation may need to be constantly monitored to keep up with the dynamic growth and development of nano-science, due to the potential benefits or dangers of its use. Anticipation of such impacts through regulation, would ‘prevent irreversible damages’ of implementing defense-related nanotechnology in warfare.
What is meant by Nanotechnology in Warfare and Defense?
Nanotechnology in warfare is a branch of nanoscience and technology in which molecular systems are designed, produced, and created to fit a nano-scale (1-100 nm). The application of such technology, specifically in the area of warfare and defense, has paved the way for future research in the context of weaponization.
Advancements in warfare by using Nanotechnology, have led to the categorized development of such nano-weapons with classifications varying from; small robotic machines, hyper-reactive explosives, and electromagnetic super-materials. With this technological growth, has emerged implications of associated risks and consequences, as well as regulation to combat these effects. These impacts give rise to issues concerning global security, the safety of society, and the environment. Legislation may need to be constantly monitored to keep up with the dynamic growth and development of nano-science, due to the potential benefits or dangers of its use. Anticipation of such impacts through regulation, would ‘prevent irreversible damages’ of implementing defense-related nanotechnology in warfare.
Historical Research & Development of Nanotechnology in Warfare and Defense
Historical Research & Development of nanotechnology in the area of Warfare and Defense has been rapid and expansive. Over the past two decades, numerous countries have funded military applications of this technology including; China, United Kingdom, Russia, and most notably the United States. The US government has been considered a leader of research and development in this area, however now approached by international competition as appreciation of nanotechnology’s eminence increases. The growth of this sphere, therefore has a dominant platform at the forefront of military interests in the use, or misuse of its power.
Between 2001 and 2004, approximately 60 countries globally implemented national nanotechnology programs. According to R.D Shelton, an international technology assessor, research and development in this area “has now become a socio-economic target…an area of intense international collaboration and competition.” As of 2017, data showed 4725 patents published in USPTO by the USA alone, maintaining their position as a leader in nanotechnology for over 20 years.
Considering the underlying salience of nanotechnology, even India has been putting in a consistent effort in the field. The potential of Nanotechnology in India was realized by 2001 when NSTI (Nanoscience and Technology Initiative) was set up by the government of India. Since then India has come a long way. DRDO is carrying out extensive work in the field of nanotechnology to enhance its application in the defense sector.
Major focus areas have been NBC (Nuclear, biological, and Chemical) attack protection devices, stealth and camouflage, sensors, high-energy applications, nanoelectronics, structural applications. DRDO has also set up a nano research and production facility in various parts of India. A Bengaluru based Log-9 Materials startup is also collaborating with the defense industry to help it build various products and applications while conserving energy. However, the progress made by the country is not enough and the process needs to be accelerated.
In 2018, Tsinghua University, Beijing, released their findings where they have enhanced carbon nanotubes to now withstand the weight of over 800 tonnes, requiring just 1cm of material. The scientific nanotechnology team hinted at aerospace, and armor boosting applications, showing promise for defense-related nano-weapons. The Chinese Academy of Science’s Vice President Chunli Bai has stated the need to focus on closing the gap between “basic research and application,” for China to advance its global competitiveness in nanotechnology.
In the United States
In 2000, the United States government developed a National Nanotechnology Initiative to focus funding towards the development of nano-science and its technology, with a heavy focus on utilizing the potential of nano-weapons. This initial US proposal has now grown to coordinate the application of nanotechnology in numerous defense programs, as well as all military factions including the Air Force, Army, and Navy. From the financial year 2001 through to 2014, the US government contributed around $19.4 billion to nano-science, moreover the development and manufacturing of nano-weapons for military defense. The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (2003), envisions the United States continuing its leadership in the field of nanotechnology through national collaboration, productivity, and competitiveness, to maintain this dominance.
Current Research & Development of Nanotechnology in Warfare and Defense
Most recent research into military nanotechnological weapons includes the production of defensive military apparatus, with objectives of enhancing existing designs of lightweight, flexible and durable materials. These innovative designs are equipped with features to also enhance offensive strategy through sensing devices and manipulation of electromechanical properties. Military Applications of Nanotechnology are as below:
Nanotechnology in Military Intelligence and Communication devices
Nanotechnology designed for advanced communication is expected to equip soldiers and vehicles with micro antenna rays, tags for remote identification, acoustic arrays, micro GPS receivers, and wireless communication. Nanotech facilitates easier defense-related communications due to lower energy consumption, lightweight, efficiency of power, as well as smaller and cheaper to manufacture. Specific military uses of this technology include aerospace applications such as; solid oxide fuel cells to provide three times the energy, surveillance cameras on microchips, performance monitors, and cameras as light as 18g.
Whilst the potential applications are basically unlimited, some potential military applications of nanotechnology are already quite advanced, and will come into play much sooner than others. One example of this is sensors – many sensors have already been developed which take advantage of the unique properties of nanomaterials to become smaller and more sensitive, compared to conventional technology. Portable, efficient sensors will be highly valuable to military field operatives, for example:
- Highly sensitive infrared thermal sensors
- Small, lightweight accelerometers and GPS for motion and position sensing
- Miniature high-performance camera systems
- Biochemical sensors
- Health-monitoring sensors and drug/nutrition delivery systems
Nanotechnology in military uniforms, battle-suits, and body armor
The Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN), deriving from a partnership between the United States Army and MIT, provided an opportunity to focus funding and research activities purely on developing armour to increase soldier survival. Each of seven teams produces innovative enhancements for different aspects of a future U.S. soldier bodysuit. These additional characteristics include energy-absorbing material protecting from blasts or ammunition shocks, engineered sensors to detect chemicals and toxins, as well as built-in nanodevices to identify personal medical issues such as haemorrhages and fractures. This suit would be made possible with advanced nano-materials such as carbon nanotubes woven into fibres, allowing strengthened structural capacities and flexibility, however preparation becomes an issue due to inability to use automated manufacturing.
Nanotechnology is a revolutionary technology and its use in warfare promises economic growth however comes with an increased threat to international security and peacekeeping. The rapid emergence of new nanotechnologies have sparked discussion surrounding the impacts such developments will have on geopolitics, ethics, and the environment.
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This Article was Published On: 11 December, 2020 And Last Modified On: 12 January, 2021