Scientists are planning to develop a paint coating for military vehicles that would soak up a chemical warfare agent and then decontaminate itself, and could protect those operating in or around a vehicle after a chemical attack. According to a report by BBC News, the development work is being carried out by the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). Dr Steven Mitchell, from DSTL’s headquarters at Porton Down in Wiltshire, said the next generation of coatings could be engineered to absorb chemical warfare agents.

Further down the line, scientists are looking into reactive coatings. These would incorporate catalysts and possibly enzymes allowing the paint to “self-decontaminate”. “Ultimately, what we’d like to create is a coating that changes colour to indicate it’s been contaminated, decontaminates itself, then returns to the original colour when it’s clean,” said Dr Mitchell, acting team leader for hazard management and decontamination at DSTL. “This is a long-term but not unreasonable ultimate objective,” he added. Currently, strippable - or peelable - coatings are used when a new camouflage is required, changing a vehicle’s colour from green to, for example, “light stone” in order to blend with desert terrain. But even if something is not visible from far away, it may reveal itself by reflecting sunlight. The paint can also alter the vehicle’s “glint signature”, helping conceal it from hostile troops. “There are a number of advantages to this technology. One is its flexibility; it is easy to apply and easy to remove. You can change your colour or your signature in theatre in a relatively straightforward manner,” Dr Mitchell told BBC News. The coating is applied just like normal paint, often using commercially available spray guns.

The paint can be used to temporarily change a vehicle’s camouflage. “It’s a single pack emulsion. It looks much like paint you’d find in a DIY store for painting your house. So you could apply it with a paint brush, or you could apply it with a roller. It’s really flexible,” Dr Mitchell explained. “That’s important for potential use in theatre because you might not have a sophisticated paint spray system available,” he said. Dr Mitchell said DSTL was currently working in partnership with industry to develop a version of the coating that would absorb the vast majority of a liquid chemical warfare agent.

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