Gulf wars, and the fire-induced melting of an aluminum-based superstructure on the USS Belknap, a guided-missile cruiser, following a collision with the USS Kennedy, have contributed to this continuing debate.
As stated in Table B.2 , listing polymer uses by the Navy, polymeric matrix composites and advanced composites composing one or more stiff, high-strength reinforced fibers with a compatible resin system are already used for many Navy applications, such as radar domes, rocket motor casings, and aircraft structural parts. In many such cases, materials and manufacturing technology developed for and applied in the automotive, commercial aircraft, and consumer products industries can be, and in the past have been, usefully applied to meet the Navy's needs. However, many potential applications either have more demanding performance requirements or are unique to the shipbuilding industry and to the Navy, in particular.
A successful use of advanced composites in more critical load-bearing shipboard structures will likely pose many scientific as well as technological challenges, including the further improvement of existing manufacturing methods as well as the development of new ones. In addition, there is a great need to supplement laboratory testing of potentially useful composite structures by realistic on-board evaluation using vessels dedicated for such purposes. Considerable experience has already been gained in Europe with mine hunter ships built with glass and polyester composite hulls, and the construction of a much larger ship from advanced composites is being undertaken in Japan. The U.S. Navy has build several minehunting ships with glass-reinforced plastic hulls fabricated under a license to U.S. industry from an Italian firm. The Navy also has informal and formal procedures for test and evaluation of research products and has designated two submarines for such purposes. There should be opportunities for early shipboard evaluation of new technology and materials, including advanced composite structures and other polymer-containing systems.
Another area of much significance is coatings for corrosion-resistance (including biocorrosion), reduction of signature and drag, and other purposes. While such coatings are extensively used by the Navy, the panel believes that there are many new opportunities to improve the performance of coatings and to extend their range of applications, e.g., the reduction of flammability, as discussed above.
Finally, new scientific advancements have opened the door for the use of polymers in biomedical applications, which may provide future benefits to Navy personnel. This is a relatively new field, but skin grafts, biocompatible coatings, and controlled drug release applications are already being tested.