US Army’s Electric Tanks on Hold as Battery Technology Develops
In a grand vision for the future, the US Army has been exploring the possibility of transitioning to an all-electric fleet of tanks. However, this ambitious plan is facing a major setback: the current state of battery technology is not capable of delivering the power required by the Army. According to Pentagon officials, there is not a single all-electric fighting vehicle deployed in the field.
Technological Challenges and Power Needs
The primary challenge lies in the ability to charge a 50-ton tracked combat vehicle within the Army’s desired timeframe of 15 minutes. To achieve this, soldiers would need a massive 17-megawatt charging station, which is more than twenty times larger than the Army’s largest mobile generator. Dean McGrew, branch chief for powertrain electrification at the US Army DEVCOM Ground Vehicle Systems Center, explains the current technological limitations.
Lt. Gen. Ross Coffman, who leads the Army Futures Command’s next-generation combat vehicle team, expressed the Army’s interest in full electric vehicles, but acknowledges that the technology does not yet exist to generate, store, and distribute power in a tactically relevant amount of time for frontline troops. While electrification may be possible for support vehicles in less dangerous areas, the challenge of providing large, heavy vehicles with enough batteries for long distances and rapid charging remains a major hurdle.
Focus on Hybrid Vehicles
As a result of these technological limitations, the Army is currently focused on developing hybrid combat vehicles. While hybrid vehicles still rely on traditional fuel sources, they are seen as more attainable and useful for reducing the Army’s sustainment footprint. However, no hybrid combat vehicles have been deployed in the field yet.
The Army does have electric non-tactical vehicles at various camps and stations across the country, which are used for tasks such as moving supplies. But these vehicles serve a different purpose and are not suitable for combat situations.
The Army’s Timeline for Electrification
The Army has set ambitious goals for electrifying its fleet. According to its 2022 climate plan, it aims to field a fully electric tactical vehicle by 2050 and develop the necessary charging infrastructure to support these vehicles by the same date. By 2035, the Army plans to have a hybrid tactical vehicle in service and a fully electric non-tactical fleet.
To support these goals, the Army’s budget for electric vehicles has been steadily increasing. In fiscal 2022, $47.8 million was allocated for electric vehicles, and this figure rose to $78.4 million in fiscal 2023. The Army has requested $270.6 million for fiscal 2024.
The Potential Benefits of Electrification
Reducing wartime casualties is the primary motivation behind the Army’s push for electrification. An all-electric fleet would eliminate the need for personnel to go on dangerous refueling missions, which often divert combat forces away from the battlefield. Paul Farnan, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy, and environment, has emphasized this point.
In addition to safety, electric vehicles offer other advantages in combat situations. They are much quieter and harder to detect by enemy surveillance systems due to their minimal heat generation, according to Lt. Gen. Ross Coffman.
The Military’s Role in Scaling Battery Technology
Battery research serves as a prime example of the opportunities and challenges that the military provides for scaling up clean energy technology. While the Defense Department functions as a major source of demand, it also requires rigorous testing and validation. Charlie Welch, a battery expert and former military contractor, explains that the military’s approach is to take proven technology and make it battle-hardened for field use.
Welch’s startup, ZapBatt, which specializes in fast-charging battery systems for consumer appliances, has already attracted the attention of the military. ZapBatt’s batteries can fully charge in under 20 minutes, have a lifespan of over 20 years, and are resistant to catching fire. Other companies, such as GM Defense, are also investing heavily in electric vehicles and battery technologies, leveraging their experience in the consumer market to innovate military solutions.
- The Army’s interest in electrification aligns with the broader trend toward clean energy and sustainability across industries.
- Battery technology continues to undergo rapid development, with breakthroughs expected in the coming years.
- While the Army faces challenges in deploying electric tanks, progress is being made in other areas, such as drones and unmanned vehicles.
The US Army’s vision of an all-electric fleet of tanks is currently on hold due to the limitations of battery technology. While the Army continues to invest in the development of hybrid vehicles, the goal of achieving a fully electric fleet remains a significant challenge. However, with ongoing advancements in battery technology and the military’s role in scaling up clean energy solutions, it is possible that breakthroughs will occur in the future.
The quest for an all-electric fleet of tanks by the US Army is facing obstacles due to the limitations of current battery technology. However, the Army’s focus on developing hybrid vehicles and investing in research and development demonstrates its commitment to exploring sustainable and efficient military solutions. As battery technology continues to advance, it is hopeful that the Army will achieve its goal of fielding fully electric tactical vehicles and reducing its reliance on traditional fuel sources.