The U.S. Army and Tesla owners share a common problem.
How do you recharge an electric vehicle?
Finding a charging station on a road trip may be a hassle for automobile owners. But on the battlefield, it will be a life-and-death issue for crews of electric combat vehicles.
The Army has embarked on a journey to develop next-generation vehicles powered by electricity. This may ultimately result in combat brigades that rely on electricity to meet their power requirements. But one downside is recharging capability. For supply trucks operating in the rear, that won’t be such a problem. But hooking up to a recharging station under fire is a different matter.
That’s why the Army wants a battlefield recharging system capable of recharging multiple vehicles simultaneously – while remaining small enough to be deployed to remote locations.
“Currently the Army does not have the ability to recharge an all-electric or plug-in electric tactical or combat vehicle in an austere battlefield environment,” according to the Army’s research solicitation for a Tactical Battlefield Recharger (TBR). “This lack of tactical recharge capability severely restricts the Army’s ability to exploit the advantages of highly electrified military vehicles including persistent silent watch, silent mobility, improved mobility and electrified weapon systems.”
Not as easy as recharging a Tesla
While the military can leverage recharging technology and techniques developed for civilian electric vehicles, combat presents four unique requirements, according to the Army:
- Mobility. Commercial charging stations are fixed and heavy. The Army needs mobile chargers that can be rapidly transported to austere locations.
- Not drawing power from the grid. Commercial chargers are hardwired into the commercial power grid, an unlikely option for combat vehicles operating in deserts or jungles. That means developing “multi-megawatt power generation within the highly mobile EV battery charger,” the Army said.
- Bigger chargers. Commercial chargers range between 400 kilowatts to 400 megawatts. “Given the size of our military vehicles and the desire to simultaneously charge multiple platforms off from a single charger, the DOD will eventually need much larger chargers (scalable to greater than 6 megawatts) than what commercial industry is investing in to facilitate widespread adoption of all-electric combat platforms,” said the Army.
- Harsh environments. Military chargers must be built to function amid extreme temperatures, exposure to salt and sand, and strong shocks and vibrations.
The Army wants a charger that can “provide 700kW(T)/1MW(O) of power with designs/concepts provided to show a scalable architecture capable of providing greater than 6MW of power needed to accommodate future power needs for larger military EV platforms or as size of the Army inventory of EVs increases,” according to the solicitation.
The TBR must include at least two commercial 50-kilowatt Level 3 chargers, with the capability to add at least two more charging devices, or one 350-kilowatt fast charger that can be expanded with two 50-kilowatt chargers. It must also provide 480 VAC power to support forward bases.
The TBR will be powered by JP-8 fuel, or by the available electric grid of the host nation. Further, it has to be a self-contained system that can fit into a 20-foot container transported by tactical vehicles such as the HEMTT.
Interestingly, the solicitation specifies that the charger be capable of “reduced thermal/acoustic signature operational modes,” which suggests the system has to keep a low profile to avoid fire from adversaries who know that crippling a brigade’s power generation capacity would also cripple the brigade.
A change is coming
Under the $1.7 million, 18-month contract, the winning company must first deliver a Technology Readiness Level 6 system with a functioning prototype. The next phase will then focus on increasing power output as well as exploring new types of electrical connections such as wireless recharging.
The electrification of military vehicles is coming. This is partly because of concerns about climate change and Pentagon’s push for zero-emission non-tactical vehicles. But it is also the realization that reliance on fossil fuels to power vehicles creates vulnerabilities. One reason that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has stalled is that Ukrainian forces have aggressively targeted Russian fuel trucks.
Electric combat vehicles present their own challenges, such as generating capacity and recharging time. Weaning the Army’s combat and non-combat vehicle fleet from gasoline and diesel, to electric power, will require changing not just the vehicles but also the entire logistics system. Yet it’s a change that seems to be inevitable.
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