Mil Tech — Naval Research Laboratory Produces Transparent Armor-like Material

Jun 01 2015

Published by under Technology

The Naval Research Laboratory has made a transparent ceramic that can be used to armor lenses and face shields and in other applications.

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has invented a special ceramic that looks like glass but is much harder, is tough like armor, and can be used on unmanned aerial vehicles, lenses, face shields and electronics protection.

Jas Sanghera, Ph.D, branch head of Optical Materials and Devices at the NRL, says  the material, spinel, goes back to the 1960s when researchers attempted to make it synthetically.

“The material is found in nature as a mineral in small sizes, but for practical applications, one needs material larger than a centimeter, which is not found in nature,” Sanghera says. “Researchers tried to pack spinel powder into a denser material through a pressing process known as sintering, and if one does it right, the process gets rid of the empty space, the porosity, and the material becomes clear. We were able to do that.”

Sanghera says that NRL scientists were able to use a solid state process to heat the spinel to 1,500 degrees Centigrade, which is well below its melting point of 2,000 degrees Centigrade.

“We use a hot press that applies pressure to the material like a piston would to plungers inside a tube,” he points out. “We elevate the temperature, evacuate the air and the material is allowed to densify. The trick is to get rid of all the entrapped air in the material, and if you do that right, the result is a clear looking material.”

The resulting product is thinner than glass but much stronger, Sanghera notes. The NRL has produced spinel that is up to 11/2-inches thick, but is able to make thinner sheets of the material because most applications require a covering less than one inch thick, typically around a half-inch or less.

“This really is a transparent armor-like material,” Sanghera observes. “We have demonstrated the feasibility and transitioned this technology to industry to enable fabrication of larger finished products in the 25-inch square size.”

Sanghera says the transparent armor likely could be used for platform protection purposes.

“When you have cameras that operate in visible and infrared, it’s nice to have a rugged window in front of them,” he says. “Protecting cameras and sensors in military hardware is an important application. Wherever you see glass, polycarbonate or plastic, those can be areas for replacement by this material.”

Sanghera notes  the strength of the transparent armor ranges by the size and shape of the finished material but that typically it is more than three-times stronger than glass of the same size.

“One of the areas of interest is replacing ballistic glass,” he says. “That’s a laminate of glass and plastic layers. The glass part of ballistic glass could be replaced with spinel, which would reduce the weight and thickness of the armor but give a greater strength.”

About the author: Alan M. Petrillo is a Tucson, Ariz., journalist who writes for national and regional magazines and newspapers. He’s the author of the historical mystery, Full Moon; the nonfiction work, Ice Hockey in the Desert; and his newest historical mystery, Asylum Lane, all available at

No responses yet

PenFed Foundation’s 11th Annual Night of Heroes Gala

May 15 2015

PenFed Gala

The Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation (PenFed Foundation) recently celebrated its 11th annual Night of Heroes Gala, “Building the Future. Honoring the Past” by honoring retired General Gordon R. Sullivan, USA (Ret) and former Senator Elizabeth Dole. The event was held on May 14 to honor those who have set the example for supporting the military community, with a special tribute to those who served during the Vietnam era.

General Gordon R. Sullivan, USA (Ret), 32nd Chief of Staff of the United States Army and president and CEO of the Association of the United States Army, received the Military Hero Award. Elizabeth Dole, former U.S. Senator from North Carolina and founder of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, received the Community Hero Award, and Betty Easley, the wife and caregiver of Army veteran Greg Easley, received the Hero at Home Award.

The gala attendees also included several notable guests, such as General George W. Casey, Jr., who served as the 36th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, R. James Nicholson, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Jake Tapper, anchor and chief Washington correspondent for CNN and Vice Admiral Norb Ryan, the president of MOAA.

The PenFed Foundation, founded in 2001, is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the military community by promoting financial education. The foundation is affiliated with Pentagon Federal Credit Union. To learn more about the foundation and for donation opportunities, please visit

No responses yet

Mil Tech — Robotic Systems for Soldier Teammates

May 07 2015

Published by under Technology

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is working on creating robotic unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems that can act as teammates for dismounted soldiers in the field, where the units sense their environment and navigate on their own to perform a mission designated by the soldier.

Brett Piekarski, Ph.D, program director for the ARL’s Micro Autonomous Systems Technology Collaborative Technology Alliance, says soldiers have used robotics — such as ThrowBots, Recon Scouts, Puma, and Raven systems — in theater recently.

“Those units were in response to rapid fielding requests, but they have little to no autonomy, although they provide a lot of capability for soldiers to have situational awareness when they are used to look in a building, over a hill, or in a culvert,” Piekarski says. “But to use them, the soldier has to put his weapon down and look at a control screen and other soldiers have to be there to protect him. We want to task a robotic platform that acts as a teammate to the soldier where it would have the intelligence to execute a command without the hands-on guidance of the soldier.”

Piekarski notes ARL’s collaborative technology alliances are government, industry, and academia research partnerships focused on Army transformation technologies. He says a micro-mechanics center researches how to scale robotics down and understand the aerodynamics of small propulsion systems, while a micro-electronics center is looking at scaling down sensors and processors to allow more efficient payloads and power use. A center for autonomy is working on systems that sense the environment and then move rapidly through it, and another center is working on the human-robot teamwork relationship.

One of ARL’s goals is to produce a UAV that would fit in the palm of a soldier’s hand or in his pants cargo pocket.

 “We have systems one kilogram in size that can fly autonomously in a building and map it,” Piekarski says. “We’re seeking to scale that weight down to 20 grams, but there’s also the question of robustness of the unit because the Army needs it to work in every environment.”

 A small scale UAV recently was tested at Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., to demonstrate how the UAV can team with a soldier. Brendan Byrne, an ARL engineer, says the test involved a 2-1/2-foot wide quad-rotor UAV.

“The UAV performed a successful mapping demo,” Byrne says. “It took off, approached the building, flew in and out of windows and doorways, and operated in hallways and corridors cluttered with bookcases and other obstacles. It performed very well inside the building.”

However, when the UAV moved back to an outdoor environment, it didn’t perform as well, Byrne says, because environmental factors such as bright light and open land came into play. “The human-robotic teaming worked and showed these systems are very capable,” he notes, “but to have the ability to move from indoors to outdoors, from low lighting to bright lighting, in both low and high wind speeds, they still are not capable of dealing with all of those things.”

Byrne adds the test UAV didn’t have the sensors on board that could see long range, which was part of the reason why it didn’t work well in the very bright and shadowing exercise.

However, Piekarski is confident that given time, the ARL and research centers will solve the issues of size, efficiency and autonomy, allowing small handheld robotics to function autonomously and carry out the missions assigned by soldiers.

About the author: Alan M. Petrillo is a Tucson, Ariz., journalist who writes for national and regional magazines and newspapers. He’s the author of the historical mystery, Full Moon; the nonfiction work, Ice Hockey in the Desert; and his newest historical mystery, Asylum Lane, all available at

No responses yet

TRICARE Changes Specialty Prescription Program

Apr 23 2015

Published by under Health & Living

Effective May 1, specialty TRICARE prescriptions will be available only through TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery, military treatment facilities, Wal-mart, CVS, Rite Aid, and Target. Under this new arrangement, beneficiaries have three options to fill specialty medications:

  • Use the free TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery service. Visit or call (888) 455-4342 to transfer a prescription.
  • Visit a retail pharmacy in the specialty network. Choose among Wal-Mart, CVS, Rite Aid, and Target.
  • Go to a military treatment facility pharmacy. Call ahead to make sure they have your medication.

Transfer your prescription as soon as possible to avoid any interruptions. TRICARE explains specialty medications at

No responses yet

Veterans Hike as Therapy

Apr 23 2015

Proposed in 1921, the Appalachian Trail (AT) was built by private citizens, and by 1937 it covered 2,185 miles from Maine’s Mount Katahdin to Springer Mountain in Georgia. As one of 11 National Scenic Trails, it’s now maintained by federal and state agencies and thousands of volunteers.

Many people hike portions of the AT, and intrepid “thru-hikers” hike it all in a season. Thru-hiking is no new undertaking. In 1948, World War II veteran Earl Shaffer — seeking to “walk off” his war — became the AT’s first thru-hiker.

Over the years, more veterans have taken up hiking to walk off their war, and several programs assist those journeys. Warrior Hike (, founded by former Marine Corps Capt. Sean Gobin of Charlottesville, Va., provides equipment, supplies, and community support on six National Scenic Trails. After a hike, the group helps veterans with job placement.

Gobin finds hiking has three main therapeutic benefits: “First, hiking eight hours a day with no cell[phone] or computer, your brain has no choice but to process the trauma of experiences. Next, you’re with other combat vets who’ve had similar experiences. Finally, there’s great support from little towns we pass with people you don’t know giving you a hot shower, meals, and a bed. It helps reconnect with normalcy.”

Many of the hosts Warrior Hike depends on are veterans’ groups who provide mentorship and crucial insight, Gobin says.

The 2015 Warrior Hike group started on the AT March 15 and will spend May hiking through Virginia. Not every thru-hiker — veteran or civilian — makes it all the way. The typical attrition rate is 80 percent, says Gobin. “We’re closer to 50.” But, he says, those who only hike for a month still experience transformation.

— Col. Glenn Pribus, USAF (Ret), and Marilyn Pribus

No responses yet

« Prev - Next »