WASHINGTON — A House draft of the fiscal 2024 defense policy bill would require the Army secretary conduct an analysis for determining which systems could store and distribute electric power on the battlefield.
The service’s reliance on battery-powered capabilities to manage daily operations is increasing. Soldiers need batteries to, for example, operate the Samsung-based Nett Warrior situational awareness system, and to keep command posts and operations centers running.
The Army is also moving toward using electric vehicles on the battlefield and alternative energy power sources for its facilities and bases. The Army’s climate strategy released in early 2022 lays out a plan to field hybrid tactical vehicles by 2035 and moving to all-electric tactical vehicles by 2050.
To get there, the Army told Defense News in the spring of 2022, it was preparing its first-ever operational energy strategy, expected by the end of the year. No such strategy has materialized.
According to legislation proposed by the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness panel, the Army would have one year to conduct its analysis of alternatives following enactment.
“The Secretary shall develop study guidance under which such an analysis is required to include for consideration as such potential alternatives to the full range of military commercially available capabilities for the storage and distribution of electric power,” the draft legislation states.
For each alternative examined, the legislation reads, the Army should include per unit cost, mobility levels, the ability to store and distribute electric power necessary for charging soldier-worn devices, the ability to store or distribute power through a network or microgrid for tactical command posts, and any other capabilities needed to meet operational requirements.
Once the analysis is complete, the Army secretary will have 90 days to deliver it to congressional defense committees. The report should include the full range of capabilities considered and an assessment of the types of analysis used to determine costs and benefits.
The report should also lay out concerns with prospective options related to “acquisition, operational requirements or user communities,” the draft legislation states, to include cost, capabilities and interoperability with existing or planned systems.
The proposed legislation would push the service to map out how it manages and distributes power in operations across the battlefield and to consider existing technology that could strengthen that logistics tail — from longer-lasting, lighter batteries to trailer-sized chargers to microgrids.
Industry has been busy coming up with ways to answer the call to support an ever-increasing electric-powered battlefield.
Oshkosh has developed a hybrid version of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle; and the Army’s new JLTV-maker, AM General, will also be expected to deliver the capability when the Army decides to move out on a requirement. Teams designing concepts for the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle that will ultimately replace the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle are also incorporating hybrid capability.
Companies developing microgrids like Schneider Electric, which built one that powers Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, are showing interest in the Army’s push to use the technology at installations and on the battlefield.
Plasan North America has spent the last year pitching its All-Terrain Electric Mission Module. The ATeMM is a single platform that solves a variety of power capability and logistics issues, including attaching to a vehicle and converting it into a hybrid platform, serving as a supplemental generator to power command posts, or acting as a mass mobile charging station for conformable wearable batteries.
The Army has made some headway engaging with industry over the past few years. For example, the service’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center has hosted electrification forums across the U.S., asking companies whether they were focused on how to recharge in an austere environment, Michael Cadieux, the center’s director, told Defense News last year.
At first, industry didn’t raise their hand, but now there has been a significant shift, Cadieux said at the time. Industry is “coming to the table and engaging with us, saying … they have something that [they] think is a unique product or capability and it starts to address or get at tactical recharging.”
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.