Within the defense industry, advanced ceramics are at the heart of modern armor systems due to their comparatively low weight and high performance during ballistic-scale impacts. Ceramic materials have been developed as an armor material since World War I, when enameling of steel plates was shown to improve their resistance to incoming bullets. Ceramic armor became more widespread during the Vietnam conflict, where boron carbide (B4C) was used in helicopter seats as protection against small-arms fire from the ground. Ceramics in defense has been around for a long time, but finding new applications for it may prove useful for the future.
Over time, ceramic armor systems were found to be capable of stopping bullets and other projectiles while being more lightweight than other materials, such as metals. As we move into the 21st century, ceramic materials such as aluminum oxide (otherwise known as alumina, Al2O3), silicon carbide (SiC) and titanium diboride (TiB2) are used in aerospace, armored vehicles, and personal armor. The defense industry has been actively seeking novel armor materials that provide superior ballistic performance to existing materials while maintaining or improving the weight advantage.
The principal requirement of any armor material is its ability to resist high-energy ballistic impacts (i.e., to have high ballistic performance). In addition, a reduction in the weight of personal armor is essential to increase a soldier’s maneuverability in the field, and alleviate long-term health problems associated with carrying heavy equipment. Furthermore, reducing the weight of armor also benefits vehicles by reducing their fuel consumption and structural strain, as well as helping with long-distance transport and other logistical issues. In addition to ballistic performance and low weight, these capabilities will ideally be features of a material that can be manufactured at low cost.
The development of armor materials has a very direct effect on human lives; optimization of their processing and the evolution of new materials is a never-ending challenge. Understanding test conditions is also essential if ceramic armor development is to continue.