WASHINGTON — A top Army civilian predicts the service will field an all-electric fleet of vehicles, and soon.
“In 10 years, some of our brigade combat teams will be all-electric,” Donald Sando, the Maneuver Center of Excellence’s deputy to the commanding general, told an audience at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting on Wednesday. Sando participated in a panel discussion on innovation in defense manufacturing hosted by Defense News.
“That’s a generational change. It’s significant; and we’re going to do it; and we’re going to need industry’s help,” Sando said. “There’s plenty of people who say we can’t do it.”
It’s an incredibly lofty goal given the Army’s infrastructure and fleet have long been geared towards gas-powered vehicles and that today’s Army’s not known for embracing and adopting cutting-edge technology.
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The Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., develops future requirements for individual soldiers and the maneuver force.
Sando envisioned 75-ton vehicles powered by high-capacity batteries with electric motors capable of being recharged by a10 kilowatt to 50 kilowatt generator.
“Does that mean in 10 years, the Abrams tank will be fully electric? No, we’re going to replace it,” Sando said, adding that tens of thousands of vehicles in the Army’s fleet would be replaced rather than recapitalized.
“The institution’s inertia is to recapitalize right now. It makes good business sense, but it’s also making us less relevant on the battlefield,” he said.
Sando pointed to the Next-Gen Combat Vehicle program, a prototyping effort underway at the Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center. A seven-year, $700 million contract was recently awarded to an SAIC-led team to produce two prototypes by late 2022.
“We need to go to the next-generation squad, and we need to go to the next-generation combat vehicle,” Sando said. “If they’re not electric or hydroelectric, then I’m wrong.”
General Motors unveiled an electrical autonomous vehicle, called Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure, or SURUS, at the AUSA expo. Over the last year, GM has been testing another fuel cell platform with the U.S. Army — its ZH2 hydrogen cell-powered demonstrator.
How would electric vehicles fight? Sando acknowledged that to send electric vehicles to an austere country, like Afghanistan, the U.S. Army would have to bring power grid technology to support them.
“No. 1, there is a huge amount of investment that would have to occur in research and development,” said the commander of Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins.
Wins suggested the service closely follow and partner with the commercial automotive industry, as it introduces the technology into the market. He said the Army would “not be a leader but leverage the expertise of industry and what they produce.”
“In 15 to 20 years, it‘s hard to believe if industry moved in the direction of electric-powered vehicles that the Army would not be somewhere near there,” Wins said. “Its brigade combat team consumes 2,000 gallons of fuel per day. We’ve got to think about other ways.”
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.