In every market segment of the composite industry there are advancements that bring change and adaption in order to remain competitive and increase market awareness. This is especially true in the case of the military market, where composite technology is being fielded to protect the lives of roughly 91,700 U.S. troops in Iraq and 111,700 in Afghanistan, as quoted by the Department of Defense’s Active Duty Military Personnel Strengths Report published March 31, 2011. Not only must the technology hurdle stringent military codes and standards but it must compete against incumbent traditional materials like steel and aluminum. Composite technology is currently used in ballistic panel applications, light weight vehicle protection, aerospace manned and unmanned vehicles, and integrated into naval markets. As stated by Hardwire LLC President George Tunis, this technology is not focused on the advancement of the material but rather in the application. The motivation of these companies is to create composite solutions—by land air and sea—that you can bet your life on and save another.

Mission: Structural Support in Underbelly Attacks

In April 2008, George Tunis, CEO of Hardwire LLC, Pocomoke, Md., met retired Marine Staff Sergeant Octavio Sanchez at the Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency (DARPA) 50th Anniversary Show in Anaheim, Calif.

While serving in Iraq, Sanchez suffered from third-degree burns over 70 percent of his body caused by a roadside bomb that killed most of his crew in a High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV or Humvee). Inspired by Sanchez’ story, Tunis focused his advanced composite armor company on alleviating the damage caused during an underbelly attack.

Threat of improvised explosive devices

Roadside bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IED), are homemade explosives that are a common threat to U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, the number of U.S. troops killed by IEDs increased by 60 percent and reported injuries rose by 178 percent. After meeting Sanchez, Tunis was resolved to investigate the problem of underbelly attacks and submitted a proposal to DARPA, whom it had previously worked with in 2005 to develop armor to protect against explosive form penetrators (EFPs). The proposal to research, build and test prototypes for protecting tactical vehicles from under-vehicle IEDs was accepted and in August 2009 Hardwire began investigating the impact of IEDs on the Humvee’s structure.

During research, Hardwire evaluated various materials, including high performance composites, as well as design structure and other protective measures. “After base lining with existing designs, we quickly saw ways we could help improve the Humvee’s hull design, and do so in such a way as to avoid much of the blast energy,” says Tunis. Hardwire also worked with the Humvee’s original manufacturer, AM General, to incorporate its proprietary design into the Humvee. While competitors attempted to solve the problem by adding more mass into the vehicle design, Hardwire sought to avoid the blast and remain light using lightweight composites.