All major powers are making efforts to research and develop nanotechnology- based materials and systems for military use. Asian and European countries, with the exception of Sweden (Swedish Defence Nanotechnology Programme), do not run dedicated programs for defense nanotechnology research. Rather, they integrate several nanotechnology-related projects within their traditional defense-research structures, e.g., as materials research, electronic devices research, or bio-chemical protection research. Not so the U.S. military. Stressing continued technological superiority as its main strategic advantage, it is determined to exploit nanotechnology for future military use and it certainly wants to be No. 1 in this area. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is a major investor, spending well over 30% of all federal investment dollars in nanotechnology. Of the $352m spent on nanotech by the DoD in 2005, $1m, or roughly 0.25%, went into research dealing with potential health and environmental risks. In 2006, estimated DoD nanotechnology expenditures will be $436m – but the risk-related research stays at $1m.
Proposed and actively pursued military nanotech programs cover a wide range of applications to improve the performance of existing systems and materials and allow new ones. The main areas of research deal with explosives (their chemical composition as well as their containment); bio and medicine (for both injury treatment and performance enhancement); biological and chemical sensors; electronics for computing and information; power generation and storage; structural materials for ground, air and naval vehicles; coatings; filters; and fabrics.
Most of the DoD dollars spent to date have gone into basic research and engineering. Insofar as these engineering and materials aspects of military nanotechnology incorporate engineered nanomaterials, there are near-term issues that need to be discussed and resolved: the potential toxicity of such materials (which applies to all engineered nanomaterials, not just those for military use), their impact on humans and the environment, and if and how release of such nanomaterials into the environment through military use could exceed release from non-military uses.
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