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International Journal of Impact Engineering 37 (2010) 242249

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International Journal of Impact Engineering

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Effect of heat treatment on mechanical and ballistic properties of a

high strength armour steel
P.K. Jena*, Bidyapati Mishra, M. RameshBabu, Arvindha Babu, A.K. Singh, K. SivaKumar,
T. Balakrishna Bhat
Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory, Kanchanbagh, Hyderabad 500 058, India

a r t i c l e i n f o

a b s t r a c t

Article history:
Received 11 February 2009
Received in revised form
8 September 2009
Accepted 16 September 2009
Available online 6 October 2009

In the present study an ultra high strength armour steel was austenatised at 910 C followed by
tempering at 200, 300, 400, 500 and 600 C. After heat treatment the properties of tensile strength,
ductility, charpy impact strength, hardness and microstructure were evaluated from the mechanical tests
and metallographic analysis respectively. The ballistic behavior of the heat-treated plates was evaluated
impacting against non-deformable hard steel core projectiles at 840  15 m/s at normal angle of attack.
The changes in the microstructure and mechanical properties with heat treatment have been correlated
with ballistic performance of the steel. Experimental results showed that 200 C tempering gives the best
ballistic performance.
2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Ultra high strength steel
Heat treatment
Ballistic property

1. Introduction
The armour on combat vehicles has always been constrained by
its weight, which with rising threat levels has become an increasingly serious problem. Much effort is therefore being devoted on
the development of armour materials that would provide greater
ballistic protection with little increase in weight.
Amongst all materials, ultra high strength (UHS) steels are the
most extensively used metallic armour today. They possess
a unique combination of high strength, high hardness with good
toughness, weldability and ease of heat treatment making them
attractive for ballistic applications.
Generally, quenching and tempering are well established means
to produce strengthening in UHS steels, while at the same time
retaining or even increasing its impact toughness. Of all the
structures produced by heat treatment, martensite forms the
highest level of strength in steels. However, because of large
internal stresses associated with the martensitic transformation,
martensite phase is rarely used in an untempered condition.
Tempering increases both the ductility and the toughness, which
are essential for enhancing impact energy absorption. Tempered
martensite lath structure also provides best dynamic strength in
steel [1,2].

* Corresponding author. Tel.: 91 040 24586332; fax: 91 040 24342252.

E-mail address: (P.K. Jena).
0734-743X/$ see front matter 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Considerable knowledge exists on how the alloy compositions

and the heat treatment processes affect the mechanical properties
[37]. However, the understanding of the effects of heat treatment
on ballistic performance is rather limited [8,9]. The present work
thus describes the effect of tempering temperature on the microstructure, mechanical properties and impact toughness of a high
hardness heat-treated armour steel. An attempt has also been made
to correlate these factors with ballistic properties.

2. Material and experimental details

The steel used is a medium carbon UHS steel that can be heattreated to provide a wide range of hardness values. This steel was
made by vacuum arc melting in Steel Authority of India Limited,
India. It was supplied in the form of 25 mm thickness rolled plates.
The nominal chemical composition of the steel is given in Table 1.
For determining the equilibrium austenite start (Ac1) and nish
(Ac3) temperatures, differential thermal analysis (DTA) was carried
out at a heating rate of 10 C/min Ac1 temperature gives the start of
formation of austenite from the ferrite-cementite mixture and Ac3
temperature indicates the completion of austenite transformation
[10]. Solid cylindrical samples with a diameter of 1 mm and a length
of 1 mm were cut from the as-received plates and were heated to
1400 C under vacuum for DTA experiment. Phase transformation
causes a net change in the latent heat of the material at a given
temperature. The change in heat ow in the DTA curve indicates the
occurrence of a phase change at that particular temperature. From

P.K. Jena et al. / International Journal of Impact Engineering 37 (2010) 242249

Table 1
Chemical composition of the steel.


Table 2
Variation in hardness with austenitisation temperature.

Material Chemical Composition




Temperature ( C)




0.30.35% C, 0.20.3% Si, 0.50.7% Mn, 1.41.7% Cr, 1.52.0% Ni, 0.3
0.5% Mo, 0.10.2% V, 0.02% Al, balance Fe

this study, the Ac1 and Ac3 temperatures are found to be 758 C and
808 C respectively as illustrated in Fig. 1.
Samples of 150  100  25 mm were cut from a single plate and
subjected to heat treatment for modifying the microstructure and
mechanical properties. For the present tests, in order to determine
the optimum austenitisation temperature the samples were rst
austenitised at 830, 870, 910 and 950 C temperatures for 1 h followed by quenching in oil. Table 2 shows the hardness values
obtained in the quenched condition for different austenitisation
temperatures. On the basis of the obtained hardness values, 910 C
was chosen as the austenitisation temperature. For getting different
quenched and tempered martensite structures, samples from the
as-received steel were austenitised at 910 C and held at this
temperature for 1 h followed by quenching in oil to get a fully
martensitic structure. Then the plates were immediately tempered
at temperatures of 200,300,400,500,600 C for 2 h followed by
cooling to room temperature in air. Austenitizing and tempering
were carried out in a neutral atmosphere furnace.
Small samples were cut from the heat-treated plates and subjected to metallographic examination to observe different phases
present. The samples were mounted in epoxy mold, and then they
were ground using 2201000 grit abrasive SiC papers. Immediately
after the last grinding step the samples were washed with water,
rinsed with methanol and dried. The ne polishing was conducted
using 9,3 and 0.5 micron diamond paste. The specimens were
subsequently etched at room temperature using 2% Nital (2 ml
HNO3, and 98 ml Methyl Alcohol) to reveal the microstructure.
Scanning electron microscope was used to observe the microstructure of the heat-treated plates. Following metallographic
observations, the bulk hardness of the target plates were measured
according to ASTM E 140-02 using an AFFRI Vickers hardness tester
under 30 kg applied load for 15 sec. The average hardness of
a particular sample was reported from measurements over 10
Cylindrical tensile specimens were machined from the heattreated plates in the longitudinal orientation of the rolled plate. The
size and geometry of the specimens as well as the testing procedure
are in accordance with ASTM E8-93. It was tested at a strain rate of
4.8  101s1 using an Instron Universal Testing machine (Instron

5500R) to nd out the mechanical properties. Five samples each

were taken and tested at room temperature. The mechanical
properties, such as ultimate tensile strength (UTS), yield strength
(YS), percentage elongation (%El) and percentage reduction of area
(%RA) are calculated from the loadelongation diagrams obtained
from the tensile testing Fig. 2.
Standard charpy V-notch (2 mm deep notch) specimens (10  10
 55 mm size) were also machined as per the ASTM standards
(E23-02a) and the tests were carried out using the Tinius-Olsen
impact testing instrument to nd out the impact properties. The
weight of the hammer used in the impact test was 27.3 Kg. Five
samples of each heat treatment were tested and their average value
was taken as the impact value of plates at that heat treatment.
Following the charpy impact testing, the observations of the fracture surface for each fractured impact specimen were also carried
out. The topographical features were observed by using a LEO
scanning electron microscope operated at 2.5 kV.
Philips X-ray diffractometer (PW3020) was used to nd out the
phases present in the steel plates after quenching. Specimens were
cut from different regions and polished for the X-ray diffraction
(XRD) measurements.
Depth of penetration method was used to evaluate and compare
the ballistic performance of differently heat-treated plates. Heattreated steel plates were impacted against non-deformable armour
piercing steel projectiles of 930 Vickers hardness to evaluate its
ballistic efciency. The nominal diameter of the projectile was 7.62
mm and its mass was 5.34 g. The angle of attack was normal to the
steel plates. The striking velocity of the projectile was 840  15 m/s,
which was measured using infrared light emitting diode photovoltaic cell by measuring the time interval between the interceptions caused by the projectile running across two transverse beams
placed 2 m apart. The projectile was red with a ried gun from
a distance of 10 m. The projectile description and testing arrangement is given elsewhere [11]. Five shots were red to each plate and
three sets of plates of each heat treatment were red in order to get
the ballistic behavior statistically. The average penetration value
was taken as the ballistic performance of the plate. Following







Load (kN)

Heat flow (arb. units)















Temperature (oC)


Displacement (mm)
Fig. 1. Differential Thermal Analysis curve showing austenitisation start (Ac1) and
nish (Ac3) temperatures.

Fig. 2. Load-displacement comparison graphs for the tempered steel samples.


P.K. Jena et al. / International Journal of Impact Engineering 37 (2010) 242249

impact and penetration damage patterns at the front face of the

target plates were investigated.
3. Results
3.1. Microstructural observations
The microstructure of the steel in quenched condition is shown
in Fig. 3 (a). The microstructure consists of tempered martensitic
structure. From the scanning electron micrographs it can be seen
that increase in tempering temperature affects the microstructure
of the steel (Fig. 3 (b)(f)). All the microstructures exhibit lath
martensitic structure. However, coarsening of the laths with
increase in tempering temperature is clearly visible from the
3.2. Mechanical properties
The mechanical properties, i.e. ultimate and yield strength,
hardness, reduction in area, elongation and charpy impact energy
are measured as functions of tempering temperature. The properties of the as quenched condition are also evaluated for
comparison. The mechanical behavior of the steel appears to be
quite sensitive to the tempering temperature, Table 3. It can be
observed that by varying the tempering temperature a wide range
of mechanical properties can be achieved. The yield strength and

tensile strength change in the range of 11461463 MPa and 1247

1900 MPa, respectively depending on the tempering temperature.
Under as quenched condition, the material exhibits the highest
level of strength and hardness. The UTS gradually decreases with
increase in tempering temperature. However, there is an increase
observed in YS up to 300 C followed by a steep decrease beyond
that. The hardness of the steel varies between 381 and 586 VHN.
Like UTS, hardness shows a decreasing trend with increase in
tempering temperature. It is clear that the ductility of material as
measured in terms of percentage elongation and percentage
reduction of area, increases with the tempering temperature.
But, there is a drop observed in toughness and ductility when
tempered at 300 C.
Charpy impact energy gives a good indication of the energy
required to initiate and propagate a crack. The charpy impact
energy varies in the range of 1985 J depending on tempering
temperature. The impact energy of the as quenched sample is 19 J.
With increase in tempering temperature impact energy increases
to 31 J at 200 C, followed by a drop to 22 J at 300 C. With further
increasing tempering temperature a steady increase in the impact
energy has been observed.
3.3. Fractography
Scanning electron microscopic observations were made at the
fracture surface of the charpy impact samples to identify the mode

Fig. 3. Scanning electron microstructures of heat-treated samples showing variation in neness of tempered martensite laths with tempering temperature. (a) As quenched from
910 C (b) Tempered at 200 C (c) Tempered at 300 C (d) Tempered at 400 C (e) Tempered at 500 C (f) Tempered at 600 C.

P.K. Jena et al. / International Journal of Impact Engineering 37 (2010) 242249


Table 3
Variation of mechanical and ballistic properties with tempering temperature.
Tempering Temperature ( C)

Yield Strength (MPa)

UTS Impact (MPa)


Hardness (J)

%Reduction (mm)













of fracture as a function of tempering temperature. In all of the

tempered specimens, ductile fracture mechanism is dominant as
shown in Fig. 4 (a). A large number of dimples with a fairly wide
variation in shape and size can be seen on the fracture surface of
tempered specimens. This dimple like morphology clearly indicates
a ductile failure mode and the progress of damage follows a void
nucleation, growth and coalescence process. However, the fracture
surface of the specimens tempered at 300 C shows presence of
quasi cleavage feature with dimples, which suggests a mixed mode
kind of fracture behavior at 300 C tempering (Fig. 4 (b)). The
fracture surface of 300 C tempering sample can be clearly distinguished into two regions. The region A of quasi cleavage fracture
pattern and the region B, where the fracture follows a void growth
and coalescence process.
3.4. Ballistic properties
After the ballistic tests, each impact site has been subjected to
detailed examination. First, all the holes on the front face of the
target plate were photographed. Damage patterns at the front
face of the target plates were investigated. Fig. 5 shows
a macroscopic comparison of the craters formed at the front faces
of steel targets tempered at different temperatures. Broken petal
is observed at the front face of all the heat-treated targets except
from 600 C tempered target. Lip formation is also seen around
the periphery of crater. Inside the crater wall, cracks are observed
for as quenched and 300 C tempered targets (Fig. 5 (a) and (c)).
No damage or bulging is observed at the rear face of the target
During the measurement of depth of penetration (DOP),
a common error arises due to the lip formed at the front surface of
the target plates. The lip leads to erroneous increase of the DOP
values. In order to avoid that, a simple method was employed to
measure the depth of penetration of the plates. Fig. 6 shows the
schematic of the depth of penetration measurement. In this
method, a ne needle of 0.75 mm diameter with a pointed tip is
inserted into the crater. Care is taken to touch the bottom most
portion of the crater. The portion of the needle remain above the
plate is measured minutely with the help of a vernier calipers. Then
deducting it from the total needle length, the actual depth of
penetration is obtained. At normal angle of impact this method
seems to provide a more error free measurements of DOP. The
average DOP values for all the heat-treated plates are measured and
given in Table 3.
Fig. 7 illustrates the variation of ballistic performance, measured
in terms of DOP. The DOP verses tempering temperature plot can be
broadly divided into 4 regions AB, BC, CD and DE as shown in Fig. 7.
In the rst region AB, which corresponds to tempering temperature
up to 200 C, there is a decrease in DOP with increase in tempering
temperature. In the second region BC, corresponds to tempering
temperature 200300 C, a small but signicant increase in DOP is
observed. The third region CD exhibits an insignicant increase in
DOP. There is a steady and sharp increase in DOP observed in the
fourth region DE, at temperatures beyond 400 C.

4. Discussion
From DTA observation in Fig. 1, it is found that complete austenitisation takes place at 808 C. On the other hand from the
as quenched hardness measurements, it has been observed that
austenitisation at 910 C followed by quenching in oil gives the
maximum hardness (Table 2). Fig. 8 shows the X-ray diffraction
pattern of the heat-treated plates quenched from 850 C to room
temperature. The XRD pattern clearly exhibits high intensity peaks
corresponding to the martensite-Fe phase only. The lower hardness
values observed in quenching below 910 C can be probably
attributed to the formation of softer phases like ferrite, which can
not be detected by XRD due to low volume fraction (<5%). However,
a detailed transmission electron microscope study is required to
conrm the presence of any softer phase in the steel plates when
quenched below 910 C. The observation of maximum hardness at
910 C can be explained by understanding the dissolution of alloying elements. The dissolution of alloying elements including carbon

Fig. 4. Scanning electron micrographs of the fractured surface of Charpy impact

sample. (a) Well dened dimple structure represents ductile fracture in heat-treated
samples. (b) Mixed mode fracture observed at 300 C tempering sample. A region
indicates the quasi cleavage fracture and B region represents ductile mode of fracture.


P.K. Jena et al. / International Journal of Impact Engineering 37 (2010) 242249

Fig. 5. Views of the front side of the target plates after projectile penetration. (a) As quenched sample (b) Tempered at 200 C sample (c) Tempered at 300 C sample (d) Tempered at
400 C sample (e) Tempered at 500 C sample (f) Tempered at 600 C sample.

from carbides increases with increase in austenitisation temperature. Thus, quenching from higher austenitisation temperature
leads to greater amount of carbon in the solution and a subsequent
increase in hardness. Beyond 910 C, grain growth of prior austenite
grains becomes signicant, which deteriorates hardness. The grain
growth after 910 C could be due to the absence of carbides that pin
the grain boundaries. Similar correlation of austenitisation
temperature with hardness has also been reported in other studies
on armour steels [9,12].
As expected, highest level of strength and hardness is observed
in the as quenched condition. This is due to the transformation of
harder martensite phase from austenite during quenching, Fig. 3
(a). Martensite formation is accompanied by a large amount of
distortion which rapidly increases the strength and hardness of

steel. However, the internal stresses generated during martensite

formation causes signicant reduction of the ductility and toughness as can be seen from Table 3. Tempering process relieves the
internal stresses across the lath boundaries by permitting local
rearrangement of atoms. Below 300 C tempering temperatures,
internal stresses generated are not fully released. With complete
recovery of stresses at 300 C tempering, a rearrangement of
dislocation structure takes place, which restricts their movement
and in turn lead to an increase in the yield strength. Similar increase
in YS of high strength steels at this stage of tempering has also been
reported in literature [9,1315]. On tempering above 300 C,

Length of the needle
outside of the crater
Lip Height

Crater formed after

ballistic impact

Fig. 6. Schematic of the depth of penetration measurement method.

DOP (mm)











Tempering Temperature (C)

Fig. 7. Fig showing variation of DOP with tempering temperature.


P.K. Jena et al. / International Journal of Impact Engineering 37 (2010) 242249




m: Martensite


DO P ( m m )







Yield Strength











Position 2 ()
Fig. 8. X-ray diffraction pattern of the heat-treated plate quenched from 850 C.

decrease in YS occurred owing to following attributes: (i) coarsening of martensite laths, (ii) easy movement of dislocations by
thermal assistance and (iii) precipitation of cementite.
Presence of cracks in the inside crater wall of the as quenched
and 300 C tempered targets as observed in Fig. 5 (a) and (c), can be
attributed to loss of ductility and toughness. The drop in ductility
and charpy impact toughness at 300 C suggests the occurrence of
temper martensite embrittlement. Temper martensite embrittlement is evident from the fractographs of the specimen tempered at
300 C, Fig. 4 (b). Due to embrittlement, there is a change in mode of
fracture from complete ductile to a mixed mode type of fracture.
Temper martensite embrittlement is inherent in many ultra high
strength steels in the above mentioned tempering temperature
range and is characterized by a reduced impact toughness [4,13]. In
general temper martensite embrittlement is thought to be due to
the formation of carbides on decomposition of martensite [16].
Fig. 9 illustrates the correlation between strength properties and
ballistic performance. It can be very well seen that with increase in
tempering temperature DOP increases or decreases depending upon
the effect on the mechanical properties. DOP follows a gradual
increasing trend with decrease in tensile strength. However, DOP
follows a different pattern with YS than that with UTS. DOP keeps on
increasing irrespective of increase or decrease in YS. It is also
observed to be increasing irrespective of any change in ductility and
charpy impact energy, Fig. 10. Further, DOP not only depends upon
change in strength, ductility and toughness values but also depends
upon the degree of this change as is evident from Table 4.
From Table 3 and Fig. 9 it may be observed that ballistic properties exhibit a direct correlation with UTS and hardness. Many
earlier investigations have described the dependence of ballistic
penetration properties on the hardness of the target [1720].
Increase in target plate hardness enhances the erosion and fracture
of the projectile, in turn giving a lesser penetration. DOP in the as
quenched condition is observed to be higher than that of the steel
tempered at 200 C, although it has very high hardness. This can be
attributed to the fact of presence of internal stresses, which results
in lower toughness of the steel in as quenched condition. Although
strength values are highest but low toughness and presence of

internal stresses causes high DOP. With tempering at 200 C

internal stresses are relieved and the toughness of the steel gets
improved, resulting in a lower DOP. With increase in tempering
temperature hardness of the target plates decreases which leads to
lesser resistance and hence an increase in DOP. UTS is a strong
function of hardness [21]. For that reason variation of DOP with UTS
follows the similar trend as with hardness. Other authors have also
mentioned similar dependence of ballistic performance on UTS
[22]. We nd that however, in the as quenched condition though
maximum UTS and hardness values were observed, its DOP is not
the lowest, Table 3. Thus from Table 3 and Figs. 9 and 10 it may be
said that higher hardness, higher UTS, higher YS, higher ductility
and toughness or higher charpy impact energy values alone may
not be sufcient to indicate good ballistic performance.
In order to get a better understanding of the effect of tempering
temperature on mechanical properties and ballistic performance of
the studied steel the different regions of Fig. 7 has been presented
in Table 4 along with the associated percentage changes in the
mechanical property and DOP respectively in that region. The
effects of different mechanical properties on DOP are more prominently visible when the percentage changes in properties through
that region are calculated. In the region AB (tempering temperature
range 0200 C), UTS and hardness decrease by approximately 5% at
200 C from the as quenched values. However, there is an increase

DOP (mm)



Fig. 9. Variation of DOP with strength properties.



Strength (MPa)

Impact Energy


Reduction of area
% Elongation






Mechanical Property
Fig. 10. Variation of DOP with ductility and Charpy impact energy.



P.K. Jena et al. / International Journal of Impact Engineering 37 (2010) 242249

Table 4
Table showing variation of mechanical and ballistic properties in different regions of
Fig. 7.



DOP decreases (24%)

Yield strength increases (3.6%)
UTS decreases (4.8%)
Hardness decreases (5.3%)
% Elongation increases (25%)
Charpy impact energy increases (63%)



DOP increases (23%)

Yield strength increases (3%)
UTS decreases (6%)
Hardness decreases (6.7%)
% Elongation decreases (37%)
Charpy impact energy decreases (29%)



DOP increases (3%)

YS decreases (2%)
UTS decreases (6.6%)
Hardness decreases (5.4%)
% Elongation increases (33%)
Charpy impact energy increases (18%)


Range ( C)


Serial No


DOP increases (28%)

YS decreases (20%)
UTS decreases (21%)
Hardness decreases (22%)
% Elongation increases (56%)
Charpy impact energy increases (227%)

of 3.6% in YS at 200 C. But, the DOP decreases by a signicant 24%.

So, the improvements in ballistic performance can be attributed to
the increase in YS along with the large increase in ductility (25%)
and charpy impact energy values (63%). In the region BC (tempering
temperature range 200300 C), though YS increases by nearly 3%
the decrease in rest of the properties like UTS, hardness, elongation
and charpy impact energy leads to the substantial increase in DOP.
It shows that though YS is increased, but the increase is not
substantial. The decrease in elongation and UTS values are much
higher than the increase in YS value, and hence lead to increase in
DOP. In the region CD (tempering temperature range 300400 C),
there is a decrease in YS, UTS and hardness values, where as both
the elongation and the charpy impact energy increase. The
decrease in strength and hardness is more or less counter balanced
by increase in ductility and charpy impact energy. This has resulted
in an insignicant change in DOP observed in this region. Region DE
(tempering temperature range 400600 C), shows similar change
in properties as of region CD. There is a decrease in strength and
hardness and increase in elongation and charpy impact energy with
increase in tempering temperature. Though, there is a large
increase in ductility (56%) and charpy impact energy values (227%)
in this region, due to noteworthy decrease in strength (20%) and
hardness values (22%) DOP increases rapidly. Low strength and
hardness reduces impact energy absorption by the material [1,2].
Material strength is a much more important feature than ductility
against non-deformable small arms projectiles [23]. Hence ballistic
performance of the material deteriorates considerably.
5. Conclusions
Ballistic properties are a complex function of many properties
like yield strength, tensile strength, hardness, ductility, charpy
impact energy. None of the properties alone is self sufcient to
indicate appropriately the ballistic behavior. An optimum
combination of strength, hardness and toughness is essential
for good ballistic performance, which can be achieved by

critical heat treatment cycle. In the present steel these

combinations are: YS: 1400 MPa, UTS: 1800 MPa and Charpy
impact energy: 30 J approximately and the corresponding heat
treatment cycle is 910 C austenitising followed by 200 C
Depth of penetration is not a linear function of strength and/or
toughness values. Degree of change in the mechanical property
varies differently with tempering temperature. This degree of
change in the mechanical properties in turn results in increase
or decrease in depth of penetration.
There is a threshold strength (YS and UTS) value. Below which
depth of penetration increases sharply as observed in case of
tempering above 400 C.
In order to further improve the ballistic properties one may
look for alloys or processes, which increase specic desirable
mechanical properties with out deteriorating the other
The authors are grateful to Defense Research & Development
Organization (DRDO), India for nancial support to carry out this
work at Defense Metallurgical Research Laboratory, Hyderabad.
The authors wish to express their gratitude to the Director, DMRL
for granting permission to publish this paper. The authors wish to
thank Small arms Range team of DMRL for their help in carrying
out ballistic trials. The support rendered by ofcers and staff
of metallography, mechanical behavior group are also
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