Military & Aerospace

Military Applications of Nanotechnology: Lessons for India
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Issue Courtesy: CLAWS | Date : 09 Sep , 2018

Nanotechnology has been gaining considerable momentum across a range of industries varying, from medical applications to military usage. Indeed, nanotechnology has been hailed as the next big thing that would soon find multiple applications in the military domain. All military systems miniaturized would give a significant strategic advantage over the enemy. Like miniaturized drones or a swarm of artificial bees would facilitate a better battlespace awareness and situational visibility. Moreover, minitaturized bots equipped with AI standing tall on the enemy frontline gives a clear picture of a changing battlefield. Nanotechnology would eventually enable a new class of lethal weapons that will alter the geopolitical landscape. It’s high time that India takes cognizance of the advanced capabilities of nanotechnology to be integrated into the current war fighting tactics to have an upper hand over the adversary.

Brief History

Nanotechnology has been defined as “the design, characterization, production, and application of structures, devices, and systems by controlled manipulation of size and shape at the nanometer scale (atomic, molecular, and macromolecular scale) that produces structures, devices, and systems with at least one novel/superior characteristic or property.”[i] Applications of nanotechnology are not new. In fact, its applications were used centuries before nanotechnology as a field was formally defined, in creating paintings or making steel.[ii] The earliest systematic discussion is considered to be done by an American Physicist named Richard Feynman in 1959. In a speech, he explained the significance of “controlling and manipulating things at a nanoscale.”[iii] The term “nanotechnology” was formally used by a Japanese scientists Nario Taniguchi in a 1974 research paper on production technology. The technology could be used to create objects and features on the order of nanometer. Interestingly, at the Nano-scale the classical laws of physics become redundant and pave the way for quantum mechanics. As a result, one could observe remarkable differences in material behavior.

This discovery had set the ball rolling for a series of nanotechnology initiatives across the world. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, almost all industrialized nations undertook nanotechnology initiatives, leading to a world wide proliferation of nanotechnology activities.

Military Applications

All of the world’s major military powers are heavily involved in research and development of nanotechnology infused materials and systems. As of now, nanotechnology research focuses on improving medical facilities and producing light weight, strong and multi-functional materials as armours that facilitate both protection and enhanced connectivity in a Network-centric warfare domain. Nanotechnology undoubtedly provides myriad new options for the military. Below are a few areas where the application of nanotechnology can be employed in a big way:

Nano-Battlesuit: Soldiers need to carry around a lot of heavy equipment’s. Also, their clothing does not give them a foolproof protection from bullets. Many Nanotechnology R&D departments are rigorously involved in developing “nano-battlesuit.” This battlesuit could be as thin as a stretchy polyurethane fabric and contain health monitors and communication equipment. Energy for communication could be generated by normal body movements. Additionally, this material would provide strength far better than the currently available materials and also facilitate effective protection from bullets.[iv] Thus, nano-battlesuit allows the military to miniaturize that not only cuts down on weight but also enhances efficiency and protection.

Nano-sensors: Nanotechnology allows smaller sensors which could find applications in various segments. For instance, integrating these nano-sensors with neural networks can help detect and identify incredibly small traces of airborne chemicals. An array of these sensors will be of great use to the border forces working on the front line, to determine the nature and magnitude of the potential risk when explosives are detected.

Nano-drones: Like any mobile device, nano-drones have cameras and sensors and also the feature of facial recognition. Military nano-drones could also include few grams of explosive sufficient enough to penetrate the skull and destroy the contents. These nano-drones would facilitate airstrike of surgical precision. These nano-drones if trained as a team could penetrate buildings, cars, trains, evade people, bullets, pretty much every counter-measure and hence are lethal enough to kill half of the city.

Nano- Systems implanted within human bodies: Another type of application would be to monitor the medical and stress status of a soldier, releasing therapeutic drugs and hormones as deemed necessary. Another application is linking such systems to the brain cortex areas or the sensory organs, sensory nerves, motor nerves or muscles so as to reduce the reaction times for the soldiers.

Nano-satellites: Nanotechnology would provide umpteen numbers of possibilities in the outer space. For starters, use of nanotechnology for markedly smaller satellites together with smaller launch vehicles. Thus, making these satellites cost-effective. Moreover, these nano-satellies could be used in swarms for radar, communication and intelligence. These satellites could also facilitate dedicated high resolution images of enemy territory.

Nano-nuclear, chemical and biological weapons: Although there would not be any fundamental difference in the quality of nanotechnology induced nuclear weapons. Only the overall yield would be pretty low, and the mass and size correspondingly small, blurring the distinction with conventional weapons. This would also reduce the overall destruction caused. On the other and, nanotechnology would provide qualitatively new options for inducing biological or chemical weapons. Nanotechnology makes biological/chemical warfare much more effective and manageable. Nanotechnology could actually facilitate easier entry into the body or cells. Mechanisms could be designed using nanotechnology such that limit or prevent damage to one’s own force, such as self destruction after a defined period of time or reliable inoculation.

Nanotechnology finds applications in both civilian and military domain. Many of the applications of nano-technologies are being developed in the civilian realm which may soon find a place in the military arena. Nation states are rigorously working towards building capabilities in the field. Thus, it calls for rigorous measures from the Indian side to be abreast with the technology.

India’s current Status

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 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 nano research and production facility in various parts of India.[v] 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.[vi] However, the progress made by the country is not enough and the process needs to be accelerated.

Conclusion

In today’s time advanced technology is no longer the domain of the few, rather has wide reaching impact on all sections of society. There needs to be a plausible understanding of the scenario that if a country misses out the next technological advance the enemy would still have it, and this will impact the future of armed conflict in ways that would be difficult to comprehend at the present juncture. This understanding is necessary in preparing for the future security of the state. Moreover, the dual use nature of nanotechnology has made it a much more popular field of research. There is a dominant discourse among states that integrating and minitiaurising of already existing technologies would give them a significant strategic advantage over adversary. If India fails to speed up the process then, it might become the case of being too late.

References 

[i]Military uses of Nanotechnology, http://www.thenanoage.com/military.htm

[ii]History of Nanotechnology, see http://www.trynano.org/about/history-nanotechnology

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Earl Boysen , Nancy C. Muir, Desiree Dudley and  Christine Peterson,
“nanotechnology Enables Lightweight Body Armor,” see
https://www.dummies.com/education/science/nanotechnology/nanotechnology-enables-lightweight-body-armor/

[v] Sanjiv Tomar, “Nanotechnology: The Emerging Field of Future Military Applications” IDSA,
October 2015, see file:///C:/Users/HP/AppData/Local/Packages/Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe/TempState/Downloads/monograph48.pdf

[vi]Sanghmitra Kar, “Indian defence to use nanotechnology, ties up with startup Log 9,” Economic Times,
see https://tech.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/technology/indian-defence-to-use-nanotechnology-ties-up-with-startup-log-9/62042765

 Courtesy: http://www.claws.in/1931/military-applications-of-nanotechnology-lessons-for-india-kritika-roy.html

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Kritika Roy

Researcher at CLAWS.

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