Electrifying the Frontlines: The Emergence of Military Electric Vehicles in Combating Climate Change
The Department of Defense (DOD) recognizes climate change as a national security issue, with the capacity to impact military installations and national infrastructure, introduce risk to service members and public life, and alter overall operational requirements at home and abroad. In response to these demands, the various branches of the military and other federal agencies have released climate adaptation plans (CAPs). These plans outline their actions to reduce climate change amplifiers and ensure operational resilience under changing conditions.
The US military is the world's biggest user of petroleum products, consuming over 4.2 billion gallons a year. As such, one clear strand throughout the DOD's planning is expanding electric vehicle (EV) usage in operational situations and personal transport. This will involve internal innovation and external collaboration with private industry to ensure the military meets its EV goals.
In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at these goals, why they have been set, and the efforts being made to reach them, taking a particular look at tactical supercharging for military electric vehicles.
Why the Need for Military EVs
There are several reasons why the military is moving towards greater use of electric vehicles and expanding the infrastructure and technology needed to support them. These include:
Reducing Carbon Emissions
As mentioned, climate change is creating significant risks to human life and has become a national security threat. This also plays out abroad, where climate change pressures such as drought, famine, flooding, and other major natural disasters can inflame conflict or require humanitarian assistance.
On a physical level, the military has also been dealing with the impact of climate change. Examples include the Missouri river flood in 2019 that caused $500 million worth of damage to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska and Hurricane Michael destroying half the buildings at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida in 2018. Moreover, the military is committed to reducing its contribution to these effects by lowering its carbon output, with all branches committed to net-zero emissions by at least 2050.
Fuel Risks and Costs
The US military spends over $9 billion on fuel annually, and the cost of delivering that to remote outposts can be as much as $1,000/gallon. This is a significant portion of the military's budget and entails great risk for service members. For example, during the height of the most recent Iraq war, 1/8 of US and partner nation casualties were from transporting and protecting fuel. On-base fuel generation through renewable sources like solar, wind, or even mini-nuclear reactors would reduce those costs and risks.
While in a domestic setting, the soundless movement of EVs is considered a danger, in a tactical setting, the lack of engine noise can deliver considerable advantages. Approaching objectives without engine noise improves service member safety and allows for closer vehicle support.
Military Climate Adaptation and Electric Vehicles
The DOD Climate Adaptation Plan outlines several specific lines of effort (LOE) that are priorities for achieving their adaptation goals. We’ll look at those LOEs here, specifically focusing on what it means for military EVs and charging infrastructure.
LOE1: Climate Informed Decision Making – Logistical planning and long-term decision-making are required to account for emissions. Greater use of electric vehicles, such as among the fleet of 170,000 non-tactical vehicles operated by the military, is one of the biggest examples of this climate-informed decision-making.
LOE2: Train and Equip a Climate Ready Force – This includes the “incorporation of climate change considerations in warfighting concepts,” such as the expanded use of military EVs. Examples of this include Canoo Light Tactical Vehicle (LTV) concept and the hybrid electric drive (HEV) Bradley concept that is being developed.
LOE3: Resilient Built and Natural Installation Infrastructure – Improving installation resilience through several measures, including installing EV charging points and the load capacity to support them, leads to fewer "lost days" and risks at bases.
LOE4: Supply Chain Resilience and Infrastructure – The military has made several steps in this direction by working with US-based EV manufacturers to "onshore" more of the EV supply chain. Reducing the potential need for fuel supply chains and powering EV fleets locally will also reduce the risks and costs of supply chain management.
LOE5: Enhance Adaptation and Resilience through Collaboration – Building on the work of private industry, public agencies, and academic institutions can lead to significant innovation and improvement of EV rollout and the charging systems to support them. An example is the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) working with GM Defense to build battery packs for military EVs based on GM’s Ultium Platform.
Tactical Supercharging of Military EV
The move towards greater use of military EVs will also require much greater infrastructure. One of the biggest challenges in the JP-8 vs. electric debate is how quickly a vehicle, or a whole fleet, can return to base and be operational again. Current battery charging times are several orders of magnitude slower than conventional refueling. For example, John Szafranski, division chief for vehicle electrification at the Army's Ground Vehicle Systems Center, stated that six trucks with 300-kilowatt-hour batteries would require a 7-MW charging system to recharge them in 15 minutes (the time it would take with JP-8). This is far beyond the military's capacity or operational feasibility at present.
The DIU has made tactical supercharging one of its core priorities and has solicited invitations for collaboration with private industry under its EV Charger Project. They seek to work on Level-2 and Level-3 chargers, which are midrange and the fastest possible chargers. The project will also look at the potential of a charging-as-a-service model, where payments from private users would help fund the rollout costs.
The infrastructure to support tactical supercharging of military EVs will dovetail with their work on improving installation resilience through creating energy microgrids. An extreme example of the work already being done in this direction is the cold weather microgrid being prototyped to help the US stay competitive in the Arctic. The collaboration between the DIU and several other partners would see them meet requirements for a high-performance microgrid capable of operating and generating its own energy at temperatures as low as -60°F.
The expanded use of electric vehicles in the military and the charging infrastructure to support them is a major part of the DOD’s Climate Adaptation Plan. Military EVs will help meet the various objectives of this plan by reducing GHG emissions, reducing supply chain issues, and providing operational advantages in the field.
One of the biggest issues with EV rollout, especially in tactical settings, is the energy and time requirements to refuel them. As a result, the DIU is investing and collaborating with private industry to build a tactical supercharging capacity that will support the expanded use of EVs in all military settings.
At Enercon, we have worked worldwide on energy infrastructure and microgrid projects, including with the DOD. If you have any questions about how our expertise and manufacturing capacity can deliver value for your project, you can read more here or contact our sales team for more information.