Many applications of nanotechnology have military potential. Military spending makes up almost a third of the funds being allocated by the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative. Every branch of the military is involved in nanotechnology programs.
One of the military's most high-profile programs is the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology (ISN), launched by MIT under a contract with the army. The ISN's main focus is the development of a battle suit intended to reduce casualty rates in conflict. The suit will take advantage of many of the unique properties of nanomaterials, as well as the miniaturization made possible by nanotechnology. The suit will be lightweight and bulletproof, and the material itself will have the ability to treat injuries. It will contain an automatic communication system. Sensors embedded in the material will detect and protect against the presence of chemical and biological agents in the area. Possibly, it will have “exomuscles” that augment the soldier's own strength.
The military partners with a number of companies that do not specialize in military applications of nanotechnology but whose products might be useful in a military context. Water filtration systems could be invaluable to soldiers on the field. Nanostructured steel and other composites could strengthen military equipment, buildings, and bridges. Sensors incorporating nanoparticles could detect traces of chemical or biological agents, and other nanomaterials might detoxify these agents. Similarly, lab-on-a-chip technology could provide quick, on-the-spot analysis of unknown substances.
Nanotechnology could also be used to improve weapons. Firearms could be developed that do not contain any metal. Improved munitions would be more powerful and better controlled.
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