WASHINGTON: The U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Research Laboratory is working on a collection of new batteries intended to propel the service toward hybrid and, eventually, all-electric vehicles — the ones that will give soldiers more operational flexibility in the field and could possibly power weapons systems.
In a recent interview with Breaking Defense, a lab official described how the service is in the early stages of a decades-long journey to add hybrid and all-electric vehicles to its fleet, in part to reduce its impact on the climate. , but also because of the operational impact of electrical energy. The service’s recent climate strategy calls for hybridizing the service’s tactical fleet by 2035, with all-electric vehicles targeted for 2050.
“As we start to get into our tactical vehicles, we believe these can be electrified quite easily during this 2050 timeframe,” said Lawrence Toomeybranch leader of the energy storage team at the Army’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC).
However, the service will need to work incrementally to reach that point, starting with upgrading to lithium-ion batteries for some ground vehicles. The army’s current vehicles are powered by 6T lead-acid batteries, common to 80-90% of its fleet, and a standard NATO power source, according to Toomey. The GVSC is finalizing a 6T Lithium-Ion battery that would replace lead-acid versions.
The operational benefits of this effort, he said, are that the lithium-ion batteries allow “extended” operations with the engine off. The battery will also improve anti-idling capabilities, allowing on-board electronics to continue to operate when the engine is off.
“What they want to do there is they want to facilitate longer silent surveillance,” Toomey said. “They want to shut down the engine and fly longer duration missions without the heat signature and noise signature of the engine. It also allows us to introduce the first stage of our hybridization strategy and it’s really anti-idle.
Toomey said the battery will be fielded in the “short term” in programs such as the Stryker, Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the new Mobile Protected Firepower, which has just been awarded to General Dynamics Land Systems.
The challenge for the 6T Lithium-Ion battery is its lower voltage and lack of cooling, limiting it to low-power operations. So the GVSC is also working on a higher voltage battery, called a high voltage modular battery, with an eye on hybrid applications.
The MHV program targets a range of 50 to 600 volts and focuses on the next generation combat vehicle program. Toomey said this program focuses on creating a modular, common battery for future army vehicles.
“Rather than focusing on a specific battery for, say, a specific platform, because we don’t have platforms yet, we are focusing on developing a common module that can be upgraded. ‘scale,” Toomey said.
Conceptually, the MHV battery connects 50 volt modules to switch to a high voltage power source, up to 600 volts. Toomey said that kind of power could be used for operations like silent mobility and electrified weapon systems. In addition, the batteries will have thermal management.
But this battery also presents challenges, including meeting military survivability requirements, such as nuclear hardening, shock and vibration, and extreme operational conditions, Toomey said, leading to potential financial downsides.
“The problem is going to be that this battery is going to be quite an expensive piece of technology, because you’re trying to address the most aggressive type of cutting-edge applications for these combat rigs,” he said.
To find more affordable options, the military, in partnership with the Navy and Defense Innovation Unit, turned to the commercial automotive industry which has already invested in the high-voltage batteries needed for large combat platforms. This effort, called JumpStart for Advanced Battery Standardization, examines how commercial battery technologies can be packaged to meet as many military requirements as possible. Instead of weaponizing the commercial battery itself, Jumpstart is also exploring strengthening the battery enclosure in the vehicle to ensure survivability.
Ultimately, the vehicles that use the batteries will likely depend on the size of the vehicles.
“The MHV battery can meet more military requirements but will likely be more expensive and is targeted for our toughest combat platforms,” Toomey said in a follow-up email. “The jump start battery may not meet all military requirements and therefore may not be suitable for the most aggressive combat platforms, [but] the battery should be less expensive and well suited for lighter tactical platforms and other DoD applications (such as Navy and Air Force vehicles).
Meanwhile, according to GVSC’s energy storage roadmap, it plans to launch a new battery program in fiscal 2023: the Extreme Energy Hight Voltage Battery. The roadmap says the program will run from fiscal year 23 to 27 and serve “plug-in vehicle and all electric vehicle applications,” while learning from the high-voltage modular program.
Then, on the road, come fully electrified vehicles.
“This last stage will be all-electric. That’s going to be the one that probably would take the most technological upgrades to be able to go for that combat-class vehicle,” Toomey said.
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