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Lockheed Martin lands $1.5 million U.S. Army contract for lightweight aircraft armor

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Lockheed Martin has landed a $1.5 million contract from the U.S. Army for the development of its Kinetic Energy Net aircraft armor.

Bethesda, Md.-based aerospace giant Lockheed Martin has landed a $1.5 million contract from the U.S. Army Applied Aviation Technology Directorate for the development of its Kinetic Energy Net aircraft armor design.

The armor, nicknamed KEN, is a modular composite system that is lighter than current aircraft armor, but with comparable protection.

Lockheed says internal testing shows that KEN armor offers more protection than steel plates, but is lighter -- so light, in fact, that it's 13 percent lighter than advanced ceramic and composite armor designs on the market, the company says.

The $1.5 million prize will be put to use to try to make the armor even lighter -- to the tune of 40 percent lighter, without sacrificing protection.

"Aircrews operate in some of the most exposed places on the battlefield, but due to weight constraints users don't have as much armor protection as they'd like," said Glenn Miller, vice president of Technical Operations and Applied Research at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, in a statement.

"We developed KEN armor so it can also be integrated directly into the aircraft structure instead of attaching plates to the fuselage, which adds weight."

Lockheed also says it plans to improve the armor's protection by testing more advanced ballistic materials and experimental strike faces.

The research is important: even though the armor is developed for aircraft, its application could easily move to ground vehicles or even structures that need lightweight ballistic protection.

Image: F-35 Lightning II/Lockheed Martin

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Andrew Nusca

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Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure