Earlier this year, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi Monday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Troop Comforts Limited (TCL), a Government of India enterprise, to develop Smart Protective Clothing for the Indian security forces.
In June 2021, the United States Army announced that it is developing smart fibres that can record, store, and transmit data. The army expects that by weaving microchips into the fibres of a uniform, the clothing takes on a dual role that includes protection, plus the ability to perform computational tasks.
In May 2022, the Australian Department of Defence started the rollout of the Royal Australian Navy’s new maritime uniform. This uniform was developed by partnering with Workwear Group, Melbourne, and Bruck Textiles Group and is incorporated with inherent fire-retardant properties within the fabric.
Smart textiles is emerging as a dominant player in the textile space with global security forces keen on smart textile for their security personnel.
Smart textiles are defined as textiles capable of sensing and reacting to mechanical, thermal, magnetic, chemical, electrical, or other sources of environmental stimuli in a predetermined way. Smart textiles integrate electronics, circuits, and sensors such as heart rate sensors, and accelerometers into the military uniforms and other clothing used by the military.
A recent study conducted by Mordor Intelligence indicated that the smart textile business for the security forces globally is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 15 percent from 2022 to 2027.
The report further indicated that the global military expenditure reached USD 2.1 trillion in 2021, with several military powerhouses continuing to invest in soldier modernisation and in the research & development of advanced technologies for the soldiers. Several such investments are focused on the development and deployment of advanced smart textiles for their military personnel, which is expected to propel the growth of the market.
Textile companies and research facilities are currently focusing on the various categories of technology-enabled fibres, such as dual-channel data transfer capable fibres, color-changing fibres, and fibres that can store electricity. Also, textile-based materials equipped with nanotechnology and electronics play a key role in the development of technologically advanced military uniforms and materials.
The growing focus on the integration of technologies into military textiles is expected to bolster the market prospects in the next 10-years.
One of the factors driving global security forces towards smart textiles is the security operations of security personnel in harsh terrains for extended tenure necessitates protection from elements and battle hazards. Biological and chemical agents continue to pose severe threats because of their broad defensive and offensive potential.
Recently, the threat of bioterrorism increased due to the concerns that non-state armed actors, such as terrorists and militia groups, could use biological agents to target air, water sources, food supplies, and other vital infrastructures.
The integration of IoT sensors in smart clothes to determine the presence and level of hazardous gas in the environment and allow the military to mitigate the harm caused by hazardous gases efficiently.
In the field of smart textile, Acellent Technologies Inc – a US-based company, in collaboration with the US Army, developed the SmartArmor system that can be used for the in-service monitoring of the health of body armour structures. The system is specially designed to monitor personal body armour comprising of SMART layer and software to increase the safety of the soldiers in a combat zone. Furthermore, as of May 2022, researchers in the US are working on wearable gas sensors integrated with uniforms. The flexible, porous, and highly sensitive nitrogen dioxide sensors can be used for military applications to monitor the health and safety of the soldier on the battleground or in case of the presence of hazardous gases.
Several such technologically advanced product research and developments are expected to drive this segment of the market at significant growth rates during the forecast period.
The Mordor Intelligence report further indicated that Asia-Pacific houses some of the largest importers of arms such as India, Australia, China, South Korea. Due to the ongoing territorial issues and geographical tensions in the region, the countries in the region are rapidly increasing their military spending.
China and India are two of the world’s largest defence spenders with USD 293 billion and USD 76.6 billion in military spending in 2021, respectively. The increase in defence spending is propelling the investments toward the development and deployment of smart textiles for military personnel.
The growth in the research activities to develop smart textiles for the militaries of countries like India, Japan, among others is expected to drive the market growth for the next 10-years.
In November 2020, China has shortlisted nearly two dozen private companies to supply advanced unmanned weaponry and graphene clothing to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) regiments deployed along with the long high-altitude border areas with India. The Chinese armed forces are also looking for advanced logistics support equipment like portable solar chargers, smart warm clothing made of graphene, and portable oxygenators to fuse its military needs with the technology available in the civilian sector. However, the adoption is not without its constraints and criticism associated with the lower security protocols that may threaten an entire operation due to hostile capture or manipulation of transmitted data. Hence, in recent years, China has imposed a ban on the use of smart wearables in the PLA Army and deemed the use of wearables with internet access, location information, and voice-calling functions should be considered a violation of confidential regulations when used by military personnel. This may limit the adoption of smart textiles and associated wearables in the region to a certain extent.
The smart textile market is emerging, with a lot of scope for technological advancements. Since several countries now realize the importance of these smart textiles on the battlefield, significant investments in R&D are anticipated from many countries, which may provide new opportunities for the Indian MSME and startup companies in the next 10-years.
Not too long ago, Former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat in a speech at the TechnoTex event organised by FICCI in 2021 expressed, “Indian armed forces will completely ban import of clothing needed to sustain its soldiers at extreme temperatures if the domestic textile industry can innovate and manufacture them.” He further added, “We are looking at the kind of clothing that can sustain our soldiers in the kind of extreme cold climate (near northern borders of Ladakh) and in the hot, dry and humid climate in the deserts and the north-eastern regions where we have the jungle and semi-mountainous terrain.”