Military vehicles have progressed mightily over the last century. The differences between a Sherman tank from the Second World War and an M1A2 Abrams tank are significant. But one thing hasn’t changed: military vehicles must be consistently refueled to stay operational. This is a complicating factor in military logistics as fleets of tanker vehicles carrying thousands of gallons of diesel and gasoline must accompany the supply line in a military theater.
The emergence of military electrification addresses this, as the use of electric and hybrid electric vehicles can reduce a military’s need for fuel and make it less vulnerable to supply chain disruptions. The U.S. Army has already begun hashing out an electric transition with a comprehensive strategy that calls for electrifying its fleet of non-tactical vehicles and developing a variety of hybrid-electric combat vehicle systems, reducing its reliance on traditional fuels in the process.
Less reliance on traditional fuels brings tactical advantages too, including stealth
Due to the lack of an internal combustion engine, electric vehicles are notoriously quiet. In fact, they are so quiet that in 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration established a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard requiring electric and hybrid vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds to come equipped with a pedestrian warning sound so pedestrians could hear them coming. What was once a potential safety hazard on civilian streets is a major opportunity for military forces, allowing motorized and mechanized infantry to advance quietly or a special operations detachment to insert silently behind enemy lines.
This noise advantage makes electric and hybrid-electric military vehicles optimal for operating at night, where they are not only extremely quiet but generate a much smaller heat signature compared to internal combustion vehicles. This makes them much harder to track with thermal imaging technology.
The switch to electric and hybrid-electric vehicles could provide militaries with multiple other advantages as well, including:
- Greater Range: Electric vehicles can be designed to have a greater range compared to traditional combustion-engine vehicles, allowing for extended missions without the need for frequent refueling.
- Instant Torque: Electric vehicles have instant torque, allowing them to accelerate quickly and perform well in off-road conditions.
- Low Maintenance: Electric vehicles have fewer moving parts and require less maintenance compared to internal-combustion vehicles, reducing downtime and increasing operational readiness.
The timeline for electrification in the military will depend on several factors, including technological development, cost, and policy priorities. A variety of technologies, such as tactical and non-tactical hybrid and electric vehicle platforms, are currently in development. The speed of adoption will also depend on policy decisions by military leadership and governments.
Electric military technology is emerging, and there are promising technologies on the horizon
These exciting developments include:
- Electric Aircraft: Electric aircraft offer many advantages over traditional aircraft, including reduced noise and emissions, and lower operating costs. Companies like Boeing, Airbus, and Lockheed Martin are already investing in electric aircraft technology. The U.S. Air Force is also interested. The Air Force conducted the first military-crewed flight of an electric aircraft in March 2022 when two Air Force pilots flew an experimental electric aircraft called the ALIA, which was developed by Beta Technologies. There is much work to be done on this front, but militaries around the globe are beginning to support the development of this technology.
- Electric Ground Vehicles: Electric ground vehicles, such as tanks and trucks, offer many of the same advantages as electric cars. Several military organizations, such as the U.S. Army, are exploring electric ground vehicle prototypes and concepts such as the Electric Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (eJLTV) and the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) program, both of which are intended to feature hybrid-electric powertrains
With continued investment and innovation, electrification could transform the way the military operates and offer new advantages in warfare.
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