New Diamond Super-Material Enhances Aircraft Survivability

As the U.S. military continues to seek out and develop technology that will enhance survivability of manned and unmanned military aircraft systems, a new, diamond-based coating offers an effective countermeasure to state-of-the-art directed energy weapons, including electromagnetic and high-energy laser weapons. Whether it's reconnaissance drones, air force jet fighters or spacecraft for the newly formed Space Force, every branch of the military is seeking out technological advancements that keep our soldiers and the systems they operate safe. Existing coatings, such as infrared antireflective and diamond-like-carbon, when applied to sensitive control systems and cockpit areas, are susceptible to deficiencies like delamination, degradation and fluctuating optical transmissivity.

This new “super-material,” however, is a product of advanced chemistry and comprised of two materials that have not been able to be demonstrated together, until now. Thanks to advancements and breakthroughs in chemistry, physics and manufacturing, we're now able to fabricate composite diamond coated with Fluorinated Graphene Oxide (FGO), a feat never before accomplished until now. This new super-material opens up a world of new capabilities across a number of industries, especially defense, where it can be applied to countermeasure weaponry, specifically optical sensing, detecting and transmission - which are all extremely crucial to our military's efforts.

Historically, FGO is a costly and time-consuming material to fabricate (with chemical exfoliation alone taking over 12 hours), and it has failed to demonstrate the ability to adhere well with most materials, absent metals such as lithium and a few others. Today, however, thanks to innovations in advanced materials, we are able to fabricate an FGO and diamond composite that is the ultimate optics and semiconducting super-material and apply it to sensitive military aircraft systems.

The Process

Processing AKHAN Semiconductor's Miraj Diamond® Glass.

The process starts by using a combination of methane gas and plasma as source material. Through a state-of-the-art manufacturing process, the methane and plasma react to create the perfect, low-cost diamond wafer. In order to scale, chemical vapor deposition (CVD) reactors are used to form diamond nanocrystals below 400°C, allowing for the first-time integration with currently utilized materials in optics and electronics. The final product is a diamond composite that can be utilized in everything from complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) devices and commercial electronics to multilayer optics and display glass, and in this case, manned and unmanned aircraft systems.

The diamond coating protects these aircraft from two weapon systems rapidly being developed by adversaries: high energy lasers and electromagnetic (EM) weapons. Without the proper countermeasures, these weapon systems provide enemies with the ability to bring down jets and helicopters without explosives and negate drone swarms. Some of their other capabilities include:

High-Energy Lasers: Initially introduced during President Regan's administration, the originally dubbed 'Star Wars Defense Initiative' was matured through the 1990's and began making significant progress on high-energy laser systems in the early 2000s. Today's laser systems, with much higher beam efficiencies, and far more dense optical structures, are already proliferating worldwide. With sufficient power supply, high-energy laser weapons can represent a significant threat. With a nearly unlimited 'magazine', ranged precision attacks can hit multiple potential targets such as craft weapons, communications, support electronics, and pilots/operators. As laser systems continue to improve power efficiencies, and power supply densities, the deployment of these systems is envisioned to be widespread, ranging from craft to armed personnel.

Electromagnetic Weapons: Utilizing focused microwave energies, today's electromagnetic weapons systems are mainly utilized against UAV systems. With the ability to currently negate drone swarms, the next level of capability (requiring higher energy densities) will be able to affect larger areas and systems, ranging from carrier craft to communications. With Russia and China rapidly advancing their high-power electromagnetic weapons systems programs, the near-term threat of such systems is widely understood.

Miraj Diamond® Glass utilizes lab grown, thin-film diamond specially tuned for optical application.

Multilayer anti-reflective coating systems, like the diamond-coated FGO super material, are critical to military aerospace concerns because the technology further allows development of optical components with ultra-hardness, scratch-resistance, high thermal conductivity, hydrophobicity, chemical and biological inertness, and with high transmittance at a variety of critical angles. The diamond-coated FGO, with its high crystalline quality, high power handling capability, high current density, low threshold voltage, and ohmic contact, under room temperature operation, was previously undemonstrated across all diamond material types.

Today, thanks to the advancements mentioned above, we are able to fabricate diamond-coated FGO, which, when it comes to man and unmanned aircraft, particularly addresses the following:

Optical Sensing: Optical sensors respond to the quantity of input by making a functionally associated optical output. Currently utilized materials such as Boron Cubic Nitride (BCN) and Diamond-Like-Carbon (DLC) lack the hardness, strength, and thermal shock protection needed for optical sensing applications in defense. Protection of optical components against directed energy, oxidation, and debris without adding significant system weight and without significant optical loss (due to the atomically thin FGO layering) of the received signals, is for the 1st time, enabled by nanocrystalline diamond.

Optical Detecting: An optical detector picks up information of interest controlled in a modulated wave. With similarly utilized materials for the current market detector systems, the case is the same as in sensing, where detecting requires optical transmission and now modulation. Typically utilized substrate materials such as fused silica and sapphire lack sufficient strength and thermal shock resistance to meet current defense application requirements. Only nano diamond can bring the hardness, strength, high optical transmissivity, and thermal performance required to enable the next generation of detector systems.

A cleanroom technician holds a sample of composite diamond coated with FGO.

Craft Electronics: Perhaps the most vulnerable to electromagnetic weaponry, craft electronics perform critical functions from supporting flight to enabling reconnaissance. Protecting these non-optical components from directed energy and electromagnetic weaponry is no trivial task, as any material integrated cannot interfere with the electronics operations. Here diamond is uniquely positioned to address the problem set. In addition to the above integration capabilities, unlike the status quo heat transfer material copper, diamond can be directly integrated with craft electronics to keep devices operating within thermal budget (diamond transfers heat 5x more efficiently than copper) and without adding extra weight. Through direct integration with craft electronics materials (such as silicon) and craft body (such as metals and glass) the FGO/Diamond composite also enables 1st time EM and Directed Energy protection.

As adversaries continue to develop advanced weapons systems like high-energy lasers and EM weapons, the need for diamond-coated FGO becomes even more critical. Right now, we're focused on the material's aerospace applications, but there are nearly unlimited use cases for industries like telecommunications, virtual and augmented reality, electric vehicles, and especially in the defense sector - from submarines to missiles and even spaceships. Defense companies like Lockheed Martin are already testing diamond-based coatings as defense countermeasures, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. The U.S. Military is constantly in search of new, innovative ways to keep the brave men and women who defend this country safe, and diamond-coated FGO demonstrates that ability beyond any existing material.

This article was written by Adam Khan, CEO and Founder of AKHAN Semiconductor (Gurnee, IL). For more information, visit here .