In sync with the Narendra Modi government’s push towards adoption of electric vehicles, the Army too has started to do its bit. And in its initial phase, few units at peace stations will see 25 per cent light vehicles (cars), 38 per cent buses and 48 per cent motorcycles switch from fossil fuel to electric mode. These vehicles will be meant for personnel transport and not for any actual combat duties.
The Indian Army is trying to catch up to other militaries of the world even as the US emerges as the player that has taken the lead, setting the benchmark in this green transition. The Abrams tank, the US Army’s Main Battle Tank, and Stryker armoured fighting vehicle are two big hybrid-powered military projects worth taking a look.
It is not just the demand for a greener military that is pushing the armed forces to look for such technologies but also a possible combat edge that they offer. Electric-powered vehicles come with reduced thermal and acoustic signatures, unlike the traditional diesel-powered ones. This means that it would be difficult for enemy radars and heat-seeking weapons from targeting.
The hybrid bridge before the EVs
According to Global Data’s thematic research, electric vehicles have the potential to transform the capabilities of armored vehicles and logistical and tactical trucks. “Their adoption into the armed forces is quickly becoming a reality and whilst there are technical stumbling blocks to be resolved before EVs are used in a combat setting, the new technology is already being utilized in some barracks,” highlighted the research paper.
However, “infrastructure and military issues like weight restrictions, charging options, and safety concerns are hampering the quick uptake of EVs into the arsenals of armed forces globally,” noted the research.
The paper also underlined that currently, the US Army is the primary military user of any EV, and even in these instances, usage is restricted to small logistical vehicles for transport in barracks.
“Due to the issues mentioned above, it is also likely that any near-term wider adoption would rely on hybrid technologies due to limitations of the current battery and charging capabilities. And hence, the current focus is on the development of hybrid vehicles for the armed forces before going full electric,” the paper noted.
The push in the West
The US and UK armies have independently commissioned the development of hybrid vehicles.
University of Wisconsin has been awarded a contract by the US Army to research how hybrid powertrains can be integrated into the fleet. And the US Army is also looking at an electric light reconnaissance vehicle (eLRV) that is likely to be initially equipped with a hybrid system before moving to a complete electric system.
The British Army’s Protected Mobility Engineering & Technical Support (PMETS) programme is on to electrify the MAN SV, Jackal and Foxhound vehicles.
GM Defense, part of General Motors, is taking a shot at making fully electric vehicles for the US military. “With GM’s $35 billion investment in the underlying technology for its Ultium base platform used in commercial vehicles, GM Defense president Steve duMont said he can leverage that work for the Army,” said a report published in the Bulletin.
At the British Army HQ’s biennial Defence Vehicle Dynamics (DVD) show this year, various hybrid-electric vehicle concepts were on display, including stealth e-bikes, which could potentially be used by paratroopers or special forces units, an indication that future is for such vehicles.
Earlier this month, GM Defense, was chosen by the US Army’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to create a battery pack prototype for testing and evaluation on Department of Defense platforms.
What comes into play is the GM’s most advanced battery technology – the Ultium Platform.
This award follows a similar announcement GM Defense made in July when the business was selected by the US Army to provide a GMC HUMMER EV pickup for analysis and demonstration.
The company says the award is intended to help meet the military’s requirement for a light- to heavy-duty battery EV that can support reduced reliance on fossil fuels in the operational and garrison environments.
However, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in a study last year has said that all-electric vehicles are not yet practical — at least through 2035.
The study said that battlefields of the future will require the Army to invest in a mix of energy sources.
Sponsored by the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology, the study was tasked to analyse the energy needs of dismounted soldiers, manned and unmanned vehicles, and forward operating bases on future multi-domain battlefields.
The study noted that the energy density of batteries today is roughly two orders of magnitude less than Jet Propellant-8, which leads to excessive package weight and volume to meet manoeuvre requirements.
It added that recharging all-electric vehicles in a short period of time would require massive quantities of electric power that are not available on the battlefield.
Decoding the hybrid tech
In the AbramsX, “the technology demonstrator features reduced weight for improved mobility and transportability, delivering the same tactical range as the M1A2 Abrams with 50 per cent less fuel consumption,” according to a PR Newswire report.
General Dynamic said that the AbramsX’s hybrid power pack supports the US Army’s climate and electrification strategies, enhances silent watch capability and even allows for some silent mobility.
“The StrykerX technology demonstrator brings to the Stryker family of vehicle capabilities such as silent movement, silent watch, exportable electric power and reduced fuel consumption via a hybrid diesel-electric power pack,” the company said.
The developers have also come out with a hybrid Tracked Robot 10-ton (TRX) technology demonstrator for obstacle remover.
BAE Systems, the British arms manufacturer, is working on coming out with hybrid vehicles, including heavy-duty trucks, and buses.
It has a “scalable hybrid system that can fit vehicles of 30-60 tons, which covers the whole portfolio except the American Abrams tank and the recovery vehicle,” said company’s director of business development, Jim Miller in a report published in DefenceNews.
BAE has already handed over two hybrid Bradley fighting vehicles to the UK Army for trials.
Another interesting venture has been by American firm Oshkosh Defense, which is offering the US Army and US Marine Corps the hybrid version of in service Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) with claims of addition of silent drive, extended silent watch, enhanced fuel economy, and increased exportable power that enables it to be used in combat and reconnaissance scenarios.
At the biennial Eurosatory trade conference earlier this year, European vehicle manufacturers lined up a slew of military vehicles with electric and hybrid propulsion. This is because the French Defence Ministry has been focused on finding solutions for more efficient energy to propel its vehicles.
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(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)