A recent order from the U.S. Army will extend deployment of a wearable power system that allows soldiers to keep multiple devices charged while in the field.
The $2.3 million order will allow Auburn, Ala.-based Electric Fuel Battery, a division of Arotech, to augment the 330 systems already deployed in Afghanistan, adding 1,100 units to the existing inventory.
The system known as SWIPES — Soldier Worn Integrated Power Equipment System — allows soldiers to keep radios, GPSs, PDAs and other items at the ready while toting 30 percent less battery weight, said Jeff Jubin, director of sales and marketing for Electric Fuel Battery.
Soldiers in the field are likely to leave base camp laden with replacement batteries, sometimes as many as 10 for a multiday mission, to safeguard functioning of their communications devices. The extra gear can add 15 to 25 pounds to their load.
SWIPES takes a different approach, integrating a power system into a modified improved outer tactical vest. The system comprises two 150-watt-hour batteries at 2 pounds each, “so we’re eliminating a whole bunch of battery weight,” Jubin said.
The SWIPES system costs $1,100 to $3,600 depending on the required configuration, which may vary according to the number of devices and other factors. The system also helps resolve a common sticking point among current systems: the encryption key.
Military radios typically are embedded with encryption keys, a code used to obscure the signal from prying ears. When battery power goes down, for example, when batteries are being changed, it becomes necessary to re-enter the key, a procedure that can be hazardous if ill-timed.
“If you are being shot at, I promise you that is not the time you want to be putting in encryption keys,” Jubin said.
Plugged into a networked radio system, which might require an encryption key, SWIPES can run 48 hours continuously, while in a conventional setup a soldier would likely be changing batteries every four to six hours, Jubin said.
In addition to SWIPES, the company is producing a 3-pound, 400-watt-hour battery that has the advantage of being disposable. Unlike traditional, chemically toxic batteries, this zinc oxide product can be left behind without environmental damage, giving the soldier an added logistical edge. And the $180 price tag undercuts the $300 cost of a conventional battery.
From a logistics perspective, SWIPES’ designers say their low-weight battery will do much to free up soldiers on the go. Just as significant, though, is the promise of a continuously reliable charge.
“Once you’ve left that camp, you have to have a radio that works,” Jubin said. “It has to work reliably, otherwise you are alone.”