The concept of getting advanced composites into more U.S. military systems and upgrades moved a step forward in a recent congressional report. ``The report tells the Secretary of Defense to find opportunities to put materials such as polymer matrix composites in field systems,'' said Jeffrey Abboud, director of government affairs for two trade groups. ``That is good timing when considering we have had development money over the last few years.''
Abboud works for the Arlington, Va.-based Suppliers of Advanced Composite Materials Association and the U.S. Advanced Ceramics Association. During the past year, the groups worked to place language in congressional reports authorizing Defense Department actions for fiscal-year 1997 beginning Oct. 1.
The associations asked Congress to act following the Department of Defense's release of a January ``analysis and assessment of specialty metals and advanced composites.'' The 106-page analysis allotted 18 pages to polymer matrix composites, but early drafts of the congressional authorization reports omitted mention of the technology.
Industry observers thought the omission might be the Pentagon's way to justify a change of direction for its Advanced Research Projects Agency.
With the end of the Cold War, use of polymer matrix composites for defense programs has declined, and industry supporters have found it tougher to promote the materials for military/commercial dual-use benefits.
A 1987 forecast said the Department of Defense's carbon-fiber market would be 7 million pounds in 1995. The actual market for 1995 was 1 million pounds. Units of Hexcel Corp. and Amoco Corp. are domestic suppliers of carbon fiber for Defense Department applications.
Beginning in 1993, ARPA supported private-sector use of composites to preserve the industrial base, particularly through an affordable composite-structures in-itiative. Congress, however, criticized the agency's Technology Reinvestment Program last year in funding discussions. Most elements of the initiative have waned. An exception is the affordable composites-in-propulsion program, which began in May 1994 as a five-year, $370 million effort. ARPA allocated $35 million in second-year funding for the widespread vertically integrated program at United Technologies Corp.'s Pratt & Whitney unit in fiscal year 1996. Industry is working to assure funding in 1997, not necessarily through ARPA.
The congressional authorization report keeps polymer matrix composites in the game for federal dollars and could lead eventually to additional military requirements that would draw on industry's production capacities.