Abrams, Bradleys, Strykers, Paladins. These names mean nothing unless you’re in the business of war. But to the war fighter, they bring into direct focus main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, infantry carrier vehicles, self-propelled artillery and other offensive battle hardware.
There are a total of approximately 225,000 ground combat vehicles in the Army inventory. Their missions vary from combat to combat support to myriad additional requirements that must be met on the battlefield.
The Army is not alone in owning vehicles. The Marine Corps has similar requirements, and each of the other services needs one form of ground transportation or another to function. The issue is exacerbated when you include aircraft and ships. These add dramatically to the total vehicles and transportation modes owned and operated by the combat forces of the United States.
While incredibly varied as combat vehicles are, they do have one absolute thing in common: They all operate with fossil fuels. Some need diesel, some gasoline and some we haven’t mentioned need jet fuel. Without petroleum derivatives for our war fighters, our fighting forces can not survive, much less win on the battlefield.
So what is the current thinking by the Biden administration as to how to deal with the continuing need for fossil fuels to execute the National Defense Strategy while simultaneously eliminating this quintessential commodity — fossil fuel — from the nation at large? The situation is more than a dilemma.
A couple of major issues to begin with: budget and time. On the topic of budget, were the modification of combat vehicles to be planned, massive defense budget revision would be necessary. The work effort would be borderline cost prohibitive. Why? Combat vehicles are complex, expensive and constantly requiring upgrades.
Consider the technological workload to replace a 68-ton Abrams main battle tank currently propelled by powerful Honeywell gas turbine engines with an electric motor of equivalent capability. Doable? Of course. But it would take an extraordinarily large investment. Not possible with a 10 percent, $80 billion cut facing the military in the president’s fiscal 2022 defense budget.
On the issue of time, even if President Biden is to complete two full terms as president, eight years and well beyond is insufficient time to carry a major weapons system through the full engineering cycles required to bring a new or fully modified combat vehicle into production and fielding.
For example, can you pull a gas turbine out of the tank and make an engine designed for a Tesla fit in its place? Of course not — not without a major investment in basic and advanced research, prototype development and testing, procurement and fielding.
In reality, the scenario is unlikely, as such a program totally defies logic. But we’re in a time where much defies logic in America.
Should segments of the administration press this agenda forward as an inclusive part of the Green New Deal, success would take major weapons systems offline for modification for an untold period of time and seriously reduce overall combat capability of ground, sea and air forces. But such are our times.
I doubt China, Russia and Iran are currently modifying their respective heavy combat weaponry for electric propulsion, or installing charging stations throughout their respective countries. While they advance their weapons systems to have a powerful destructive combat capability against our own, our Green New Deal, if advanced in the direction discussed, does little but severely threaten U.S. national security.
Matthew Kambrod is a former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Army for aviation research, development and acquisition. He is also the author of “Lobbying for Defense.”