What are the Military Applications of Tungsten?
Tungsten (W) is an element with an atomic number of 74. It is a metal found on the earth, usually as a compound with other elements. The works of Juan Jose and Fausto Elhuyar, two Spanish chemists, brought about its discovery in 1781.
It was discovered as a composite of an element known as Wolframite and eventually isolated as an individual element in 1783. Tungsten has unique properties that give it a wide range of industry applications. It is a very hard metal and has a low expansion coefficient. It has a high melting point, conducts heat and electricity very well, and is very dense.
These characteristics make tungsten a very useful material in producing materials across various industries. This article focuses on tungsten’s application in the military for the fabrication and production of military equipment.
Tungsten’s Properties for Military Applications
Although tungsten has a wide range of unique properties, some make it useful in producing military equipment. Some of those properties include:
- High Melting Point: Tungsten has a very high melting point. It melts at 3,442°C. It has the highest melting point of any known element. This makes it useful in producing materials that need to tolerate high temperatures without being deformed.
- High Density: Tungsten is also an incredibly dense metal. At 19.3 g/cm3, it is about as dense as gold, and both metals also melt at similar temperatures.
- Hardness: Tungsten is also an incredibly hard metal. It has a Mohs hardness number of 9. Only diamond is harder than tungsten carbide. Its hardness makes it a beneficial component of military armor and armor-piercing rounds, among other things.
- High Resistance to Corrosion: Tungsten is a very stable metal. It does not readily undergo oxidation, and it does not corrode easily. Even in very harsh conditions, tungsten does not quickly form combinations with other materials.
- Non Toxicity: Tungsten and its products are considered non-toxic to humans. They are environmentally safe and friendly. This makes it an excellent replacement for materials such as lead and uranium, typically used in producing equipment like bullets.
Tungsten’s Military Uses
Tungsten’s use in the production of military equipment goes back a long way. As far back as 1822, it was used to improve the durability of gun barrels. The steel used to make the barrels were highly susceptible to corrosion from contact with gunpowder. Adding tungsten to the steel improves its durability and ability to resist corrosion.
Reports show that as early as World War 1, guns made from steel alloyed with tungsten were more durable than guns made from just steel. The tungsten alloyed guns could fire more than twice the number of rounds as the steel barrel guns before getting damaged.
Some modern-day applications of tungsten in military materials include:
- Tungsten is used in making bulletproof vehicles, armored tanks, and other kinds of protective equipment designed to withstand the high-speed impact of bullets. This is due to the hardness of tungsten. And this property, as well as others, can be enhanced through alloying to yield stronger composite materials.
- It is also used in making armor-piercing rounds. These are designed to pierce through protective armor and vehicles designed to be bulletproof. Tungsten can tolerate high levels of shock and does not easily shatter. This makes it useful in making these kinds of rounds.
- It is used in making high-speed cutting tools. These tools are usually made of high-speed steel, and they cut much quicker than ordinary carbon steel. Tungsten’s ability to withstand high temperatures makes it indispensable in fabricating these tools. This is because of the high temperatures when cutting at such high speeds.
- Tungsten is also used in the manufacturing of rocket and aircraft parts. It is instrumental in manufacturing parts like engines because of the high temperatures they have to withstand. Tungsten has a high thermal resistance and can withstand high temperatures without defect.
Tungsten is a unique material. It has several unique properties that make it useful for a wide range of applications. So far, tungsten is used extensively in military equipment to produce almost every type of artillery imaginable.
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