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Issue Brief

November 3, 2022

Power projection: Accelerating the electrification of US military ground vehicles

By Reed Blakemore and Tate Nurkin

FORWARD DEFENSE & GLOBAL ENERGY CENTER

ISSUE BRIEF

To date, the US military has been driven by climate imperatives to begin to transition its ground vehicle fleet to electric power (in place of fossil fuels). But just as compelling rationales, if not more so, are the tactical, operational, and strategic advantages offered by electric power for military ground vehicles. This issue brief recommends an aggressive yet phased approach to vehicle electrification that will allow the US ground services to better compete in a future electrified battlefield that will support key elements of the future fight, from artificial intelligence to directed energy.

Battlefield electrification and the future fight

Today, Ukrainian troops are using quiet electric bicycles to slip past Russian front lines and wreak havoc against Russian units. In the future fight, many of the concepts that planners imagine–from human-machine teaming to edge-computing-powered platforms–will rely on electric power. To support that, future ground vehicles will require significant charging ability.

Military electrical vehicles and climate change

Climate change is neither a necessary nor a sufficient motivator for the US military to adopt electrified ground vehicles, although it has been a primary driver to date. Military electric vehicles can today offer tactical and operational advantages over their internal-combustion-powered peers quite apart from their climate bona fides. Indeed, adoption of electrified military vehicles would not be sustainable if the only benefit was to climate goals.

More than climate: The military value of electrical vehicles

Key advantages of electrified military vehicles lie in performance, power distribution, new and enhanced missions, sustainment, and logistics. Electric and hybrid vehicles have better torque and performance at low speeds, making for improved off-road handling. Moreover, they can move and idle with low sonic and thermal signatures, allowing for stealthier movement and silent reconnaissance watch. Electric tactical vehicles can serve as a power source for a range of onboard capabilities, from sensors, to small uncrewed systems, to directed-energy systems. Electric vehicles generally have fewer moving parts and can collect better data, allowing for less maintenance overall and a greater ability to maintain proactively.

Understanding the challenges of EV adoption

The US military will not adopt military EVs fleet-wide overnight. Years of progress must be made in energy density before heavier vehicles (tanks, for example) can be propelled by electric motors. Still, lighter vehicles can be fully electrified and heavier vehicles equipped with auxiliary power systems in the near term. Generating, storing, and distributing electric power to future formations of many electric vehicles will require advances in technology and in ground force operational concepts to be successful. Achieving electrification will also require the ground services to set forth clearer requirements and work better with the commercial sector–a persistent challenge for the Pentagon–to capture the innovation in electrified mobility that is primarily occurring in civilian contexts. The ground services will also have to manage supply chain risks introduced by existing bottlenecks for battery components.

Generously sponsored by

GM Defense

About the authors

Forward Defense

Forward Defense, housed within the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, shapes the debate around the greatest military challenges facing the United States and its allies, and creates forward-looking assessments of the trends, technologies, and concepts that will define the future of warfare.

The Global Energy Center promotes energy security by working alongside government, industry, civil society, and public stakeholders to devise pragmatic solutions to the geopolitical, sustainability, and economic challenges of the changing global energy landscape.