Commercial airliners are often

retrofitted with large boxes on top to communicate with satel- lites. “That is an expensive instal- lation and it disrupts the aerody- namics of the air frame,” Lettow said. “The designers try to put structures around it to smooth the edges, but it still looks like a big box sticking out of the top of the airplane.” In military aircraft, “you see it

in spades,” he added. “You have a number of protrusions sticking out the skin of the aircraft. Those are primarily for sensor and an- tenna systems.” The newfangled antenna will

deployed; you don’t have to stop once you hit ground and do that.” Soldiers carry 50–100 pounds

be ready for incorporation into airplanes within two years, Let- tow said. Vorbeck has also saddled up with apparel firm Bluewater

Defense (Corozal, Puerto Rico)—another AFFOA member. “We have been looking at communications as a major role

that soft goods and fibers and fabrics can play in bringing new technology into the defense community,” Lettow said. Today, infantry soldiers jumping out of planes and re-

pelling from helicopters lug around backpack radios that, when assembled and ready for use, have long antennas sticking out of them. “The first thing most radio operators will tell you is that

that makes you an enormous target,” he said. “The second thing is that there are different antennas for different uses and different frequency ranges. So you frequently have to stop, take down one antenna, take out another one, deploy that, hook it into your radio and then proceed if you want to switch between certain frequency ranges.” Two years from now, antennas Vorbeck is supplying to

Bluewater may well be in play on the physical battlefield, Lettow predicted—woven into military backpacks. “This way, you have all of those antennas literally in your backpack, hooked directly into the radio simultaneously,” he said. “So that you can easily switch between different com- munication panels. And it obviously doesn’t stick up out of the backpack, since it is part of the structure of the back- pack. That minimizes that target aspect of being a radio op- erator. Finally, if you are jumping out of an airplane or coming down the rope out of a helicopter, your antennas are already


An engineer at Vorbeck Materials tests a Bluewater Defense/Vorbeck backpack and combat shirt with integrated antenna suites wired to a tablet for RF communication. The graphene antennas were printed onto this backpack. In the future, they will be woven in.

(22.7–45.4 kg) of gear, which limits their mobility. The AFFOA members will lighten soldiers’ load by not only weaving an- tennas into backpacks but also incorporating energy harvesting and the sensing of hazardous chemicals directly into uniforms, he said. Energy harvesting can involve scavenging power from body motion or body heat, as well as use of flexible solar to col- lect energy from ambient light. Graphene technology, devel- oped under a NASA-sponsored research project at Princeton University, is now “going into everything wearable, not just

antennas and communications but wearable sensors and devices,” Lettow said. “For example, measuring heart rate and temperature through your shirt, not just a band on your wrist, and therefore being able to provide that data much more accurately.” Using graphing antennas for RFID will be important

moving forward, “both from a defense logistics standpoint and from a commercial logistics standpoint,” Lettow said. That’s because it’s relatively easy to print and/or directly incorporate the RFID antennas and tags onto/into articles. Tires are another use. “Graphene significantly reduces

the rolling resistance of the tire and therefore can save significant amounts of energy—without having to change a drive train system or infrastructure for fueling.” But aerospace will continue to be one of Vorbeck’s chief focus areas—because funding is plentiful.

More DOD cash for ‘multicapable systems’ The US military is about to intensify the hunt for “multi- functional systems” or “multicapable systems.” A new Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

(DARPA) program the Obama administration plans to launch this year will promote combining new materials with “the lat- est in simulation and structural design to come up with whole new concepts and plans to redesign aerospace vehicles and other types of structures” with new capabilities, Lettow said, noting that “multifunctional materials” are of great interest.

Summer 2016

Courtesy Bluewater Defense

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