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US Army evaluating options for electric wheeled vehicle fleet

Illustration. Photo: US Army

The US Army has started to look at ways on how commercial-led advancements in electric vehicle technology could be integrated in the service’s wheeled-vehicle fleet.

A draft white-paper proposal focusing on the employment of electric vehicles is currently in the works, said Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley, the Army Futures and Concepts Center director, during a press briefing Tuesday.

The head of Army Futures Command, Gen. John Murray, will be among the first to review the proposal, which is slated for internal release this summer, Wesley added.

Private and public consumer interest in electric vehicles has seen a substantial increase over the past 10 years, officials said.

Tesla recently unveiled its first battery-powered semi-truck, illustrating the untapped potential behind this technology, Wesley said. Further, FedEx and UPS have both made significant investments in electric vehicles for consideration into their fleet.

As the world migrates toward this idea of electrification, Wesley said there are several reasons why this initiative is essential to the army’s way ahead.

For starters, the integration of electric vehicles could decrease costs, he said. The number of parts required to maintain each vehicle is considerably less than its fuel-consuming counterpart.

Moreover, the prices for internal combustion engine parts will increase as the engine-component supply chain starts to lower its production, Wesley said.

Beyond vehicle maintenance, the army must also consider the logistical challenges and costs associated with in-theater supply routes, he said. Dependency on fossil fuels continues to be a challenge, and it becomes increasingly more difficult to move fuel across a battlefield.

Electrification could provide an alternative approach and lessen the army’s overall fuel dependency, he said.

Battery life and recharge time are just some of the many issues the army must address before moving forward with the program, Wesley said. Soldiers in the field will need access to a reliable power source, and current electric vehicles take a long time to recharge.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense is currently looking into organic alternative fuel options and considering “mobile nuclear power plants.” These portable power plants are said to be safe for forces to operate and do not pose a risk to their surrounding environment, Wesley added.

A rise in alternative power options combined with improved capacitor technology could extend the life of a battery and decrease charge time. These capabilities could be available in 10 years, based on the current trends in technological growth, he said.

However, program officials have yet to find technology capable of powering the army’s heavy-vehicle fleet, he said.

“It is just too much of a drain on the battery,” he said. “But, if we can reduce fossil fuel consumption by transitioning our wheeled vehicles … wouldn’t it be prudent to consider that (as an option) and have a plan to do so?”

Looking ahead, the army must have a transition plan in place, Wesley added. This plan should include a step-by-step strategy, building blocks to develop requirements, and industry objectives to transition vehicles to support the electrification of the force.