Defense After Next concluded that DoD needs various types of functionality, alone and in combination, for its military systems. Improvements in existing materials and breakthroughs in new materials and combinations of materials will be needed to develop new capabilities. Examples of the types of materials needed are as follows:
Lightweight materials that provide functionality equivalent to that of heavier analogues.
Materials that enhance protection and survivability;
Electronic and photonic materials for high-speed communication;
Sensor and actuator materials;
High-energy-density materials; and
Materials that improve propulsion technology.
More details of this needs-based analysis can be found in the full report, including subpanel reports on the five classes of materials. The report concludes as follows:
Future defense systems could employ advanced materials that are self-healing, can interact independently with the local environment, and can monitor the health of a structure or component during operation. Advanced materials could act as a host for evolving technologies, such as embedded sensors and integrated antennas. Advanced materials must also deliver traditional high performance in structures; protect against corrosion, fouling, erosion, and fire; control fractures; and serve as fuels, lubricants, and hydraulic fluids. The next 20 years will present the materials community with daunting challenges and opportunities. Requirements for material producibility, low cost, and ready availability will be much more demanding than they are today. On the other hand, spurred by the accelerated pace of advances in electronics and computation, the performance, life span, and maintainability of materials will be greatly enhanced. Some of the advances will result from R&D undertaken by commercial enterprises for competitive advantage in areas like telecommunications and computation. In other areas, however, DOD may have to bear the funding burden directly. In these special areas, considerable funding will be necessary not only to identify critical new materials, but also to accelerate their progress through development to applications in the defense systems of the future. (NRC, Materials Research to Meet 21st Century Needs, 2003, p. 7)