Composite materials have been used in military applications for a long period of time. One of the earliest types of composite materials was fiber glass which is made up of glass fibers which are embedded in a resin matrix. Other reinforcing fibers used in war include carbon fibers and boron fibers. The first major military production use of boron fibers was for the horizontal stabilizers used in the Navy's F-14 Tomcat Interceptor. By the year of 1981, the British Aerospace-McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier flew with over 25 percent of its structure made of composite materials. It seems natural that aerospace was one of the first war theater adopters of composite materials.
The most important thing to note about composite materials is that they are lightweight yet strong at the same time. This makes composites useful for a wide range of applications. There are not many materials on the face of the planet that have the same properties that composite materials have.
The first uses of composite materials date back to 1500 B.C. When the early Egyptians and settlers in Mesopotamia used a mixture of mud and straws to build strong and durable buildings. Of course, today's composites are more along the lines of carbon fiber and plastics. This era is commonly referred to as the plastics era. The first fiberglass and modern composite was introduced in 1935 by Owens Corning. This was the start of fiber reinforced polymers which gave birth to additional inventions.
The use of composite materials in military applications really began to bloom throughout World War II. Some of the greatest advancements made in the area of composites were made during the second world war. This is partially because alternative materials were needed for lightweight applications for military aircraft during the war. Not only did weapons need to be better, but metal was in tight supply too.
It was also during the second world war when it was discovered that fiberglass composites were transparent to radio frequencies and the material was good for sheltering electronic radar equipment.
Long after WWII, during the year of 2007, a military Humvee was introduced as the first military vehicle that was primarily made with composites. The use of composites in this vehicle made it significantly lighter and allowed for higher payloads.
The future of composites in the military certainly seems as if it will lie not only in aerospace and armor, but also the marine and Navy. Many military manufactures are looking at using composites for boats to make them lighter and faster for military purposes. Many research dollars are going into this area of investigation. In addition, adding a lightweight propulsion system would help offset the added weight from the armor that would be placed on the military boat.
It seems as if composite materials in the military are here to stay. It is very likely that as time progresses the military will begin to use more and more of these lightweight multi-faceted fiber reinforced polymer materials. The Department of Defense will likely continue to invest millions of dollars in composite research specifically for military purposes. This will ensure that our armed forces stay ready for the challenges that we face in modern day war.