In yet another sign that the US Department of Defense is getting ready to expand its fleet of electric vehicles, the newly signed 2022 Defense Authorization Act includes a provision that supports the Army’s Electric Light Reconnaissance Vehicles program, which reportedly went into limbo earlier this year. The NDAA endorsement could mean new life for a program that could spark a new round of EV buying at the DOD. And if it does not, the Army’s existing fleet of comparable gasmobiles is already in position for a pivot into electrification.
The Electric Light Reconnaissance Vehicles Program Lives Again
Our friends over at Defense News took note of the apparent demise of the Electric Light Reconnaissance Vehicles program last May, after the Army invited automakers to showcase their concepts for the special-purpose electric vehicles at Fort Benning in Georgia.
Until now, the Defense Department’s interest in electric vehicles has been confined mainly for non-critical uses that could be fulfilled by ordinary electric cars, vans or trucks. The leap to tactical vehicles is a big step up the decarbonization ladder, if it ever comes happens.
“The Army has wrapped up an industry demonstration of a variety of possible Electric Light Reconnaissance Vehicles (eLRV), but the future of the program remains uncertain due to the absence of funding,” observed Defense News reporter Jen Judson.
Not to worry. Earlier this week US Senator Gary Peters of Michigan announced that the eLRV program has been reauthorized through the 2022 NDAA.
“The bill includes a provision that authorized the research and engineering of electric and alternative fuel vehicle development for the electric vehicle program, which is conducted in Michigan,” Senator Peters’s office explained. “This funding will help ensure research and development for these vehicles is conducted in Michigan, helping to create good-paying jobs and keep us at the forefront of mobility.”
Next Steps For The Army & Electric Vehicles
It’s too early to break out the pom-poms just yet. The NDAA sets Defense Department policy, but the actual funding stream is up to Congress.
In addition, opposition to the Build Back Better climate bill could slow the momentum. The bill died in the Congress earlier this month after a lone Democratic Senator (you know who you are) added his vote to unanimous opposition by the 50-strong Republican caucus.
Nevertheless, President Biden’s December 8 climate-friendly Executive Order on federal procurement could get the DOD’s electric vehicle train back on track.
All eyes are on the Army due to its colossal ground fleet of ground vehicles, so let’s take a look at some recent observations by Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly, the commanding general of the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia.
Maj. Gen. Simerly formerly headed up the 19th Expeditionary Support Command, so he knows a thing or two about expeditionary support. Also of interest is Simerly’s Master of Science in National Resource Strategy from the National Defense University, where key national resources such as fossil energy are among the topics of study.
Not to not to overstate the obvious, but Simerly does anyways. “Combat formations that lack adequate sustainment risk early culmination and, ultimately, mission failure,” Simerly warns at the beginning of an article posted on the Army website on December 16.
In the article, Simerly notes that the Army’s demand for expeditionary energy is large and growing, with significant new energy-sucking systems set to squeeze through the development the pipeline in the coming years. He also noted that the Army has only made limited progress on ensuring an sufficient level of support for those systems. It is simply not keeping pace with energy demand.
“In short, the Army must reverse this trend before our combat formations run out of energy,” he concludes.
How To Not Run Out Of Energy, Electric Vehicles Edition
That was just the beginning of the article. Simerly then presents a laundry list of Army programs and policies aimed at limiting the future growth of energy demand, which boil down to five priorities (follow the links to see examples from the CleanTechnica archives).
Topping the list is effectiveness and efficiency, including multifuel, mobile microgrids and next-generation energy storage technology. Both of these areas dovetail with the potential for introducing more electric vehicles into expeditionary operations, as Simerly notes.
Specifically, Simerly warms the hearts of eLRV fans everywhere by giving a shout-out specifically to the eLRV program. “The Maneuver Center of Excellence currently is developing a prototype electric light reconnaissance vehicle (eLRV) that will be purpose-built as a hybrid or run entirely on battery power,” he writes, adding that “the eLRV would replace High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) in every scout platoon.”
So much for the good news. The even better news is Simerly’s point-by-point list of the multiple advantages held by electric vehicles over their fossil-powered counterparts.
“If successful, the new vehicle will provide increased operational duration, silent mobility and silent watch capability, enabling scouts to go longer and farther with less risk of detection,” he concludes.
More Diesel-Killing Electric Vehicles For The US Army, Eventually
Members of Congress who are allied with fossil energy industries may try to stomp out that fire, but they will have a lot of stomping to do. Simerly notes that work is also under way on electriflying the current fleet of HMMWVs. They could be returned to service as electric vehicles before the first purpose-built eLRV hits the battlefield.
HMMWVs probably don’t not get as much attention from the general public as their more muscular cousins on the battlefield, such as the Abrams tank. However, as a class they comprise the largest single fleet in the Army. Replacing them all with electric vehicles is going to be a tough row to hoe, but in terms of reducing fossil fuel consumption they are a much more low-hanging fruit than tanks and other heavy duty tactical vehicles.
The roots of the HMMWV go back to 1979, when the Army embarked on a program to develop a new light tactical vehicle and awarded a contract to AM General. Following a long series of iterations with that manufacturer, in 2015 the Army issued a new contract with Oshkosh to replace the HMMWV fleet with something called the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
As reported by Defense News, the JLTV will not eliminate HMMWVs from the Army’s vehicle fleet altogether, at least not any time soon. At present, the plan is for a fleet of almost 100,000 vehicles, with HMMWVs accounting for 50,000 and the new JLTV accounting for another 49,099 by fiscal year 2041.
Where Is The Wiggle Room For Electric Vehicles In The US Army?
If you’re wondering where the eLTV or any similar electric vehicle fits into this picture in any significant numbers, that’s a good question. If you have an answer, drop us a note in the comment thread.
In the meantime, Simerly’s comment about retrofitting the existing fleet could indicate the path of least resistance. Aside from the Army R&D programs he mentions in the article, the legacy truck maker Oshkosh Corporation (formerly Oshkosh Truck) could come to the rescue for JLTV electrification. Oshkosh recently garnered some not-so-flattering attention earlier this year when the much-maligned US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy tapped it to supply thousands of new gasmobiles to the Postal Service, but its Oshkosh Defense branch does manufacture electric trucks.
Don’t be surprised to see AM General at work, too. The 100-year-old defense contractor is also among the legacy vehicle manufacturers shifting into electric mobility. On November 23, AM General and the electric drive specialist QinetiQ formed a strategic to accelerate the electrification of military vehicles, beginning with a hybrid concept version of the HMMWV.
“By applying a hybrid electric drive system to defence’s most iconic HUMVEE family of vehicles, QinetiQ and AM General are laying the foundations for the future of electric-powered land combat vehicles which will enable the delivery of next generation technologies while driving down carbon emissions in the defence sector,” the two companies explain, noting that the hybrid approach will provide some tactical advantages over full electrification.
“The hybrid electric drive system will enable the vehicles to tackle more hostile terrains, while increasing lethality by giving it the ability to conduct extended periods of silent watch and silent running. This includes minimising the vehicle’s acoustic and thermal signatures,” they add.
Not for nothing, but AM General’s pivot into electric vehicles will go far beyond the thousands of HMMWVs in the Army fleet. The company also does business with more than 70 nations around the world.
Oshkosh is no slouch, either. The company currently supplies tactical vehicles to about 20 nations.
More Electric Vehicles For The US Army, Build Back Better Or Not
Aside from all the activity on the battery EV side, Simerly also advocates for a renewed focus on fuel cell technology, which from his point of view provides a more effective pathway for electrifying major weapons systems including self-propelled howitzers as well as tanks.
The other four items on Simerly’s list also support electric vehicles. After effectiveness and efficiency, he lists “improve situational awareness,” an area that includes energy storage, demand-response, and other energy conservation systems that would be enabled by electric vehicle-to-grid technology.
Number three on Simerly’s list is a more intensive concentration on robotics and autonomous systems, which is especially interesting in terms of electric vehicles. The US Air Force recently put out the call for cutting edge systems that would its enable expeditionary forces to electrify ground operations on the go, with the help of robotic solar array installers, wireless transmission systems, and microgrids.
The fourth item deals with meeting demand at the point of need. In terms of fuel that means reducing energy consumption related to transporting fuel along with other military commodities. Electric vehicles combined with on-site energy scavenging in the form of solar arrays or wind turbines would be a key element.
Simerly also mentions a grid-type approach called meshed power systems. Not making the list is space solar power, which refers to using satellites to harvest solar energy in space, then beaming it down to Earth on a 24/7, go-anywhere basis. That may seem rather spacey but the Air Force is on track to launch a demonstration satellite within the next couple of years.
Other areas under exploration in the point-of-demand area include expanding the use of 3-D printing and developing new waste-to-materials technology.
Warfighters To Meet The Climate Challenge
Rounding out the Top Five is culture change.
“Changing the culture of consumption within the Army will be the most important ingredient in meeting the demand reduction challenge,” Simerly concludes. “Our current formations benefit from very few limits on energy resources. Units frequently run their engines from dawn to dusk, while every generator inside the assembly area operates 24/7, regardless of load. As the gap between demand and supply increases, this luxury will disappear, and commanders will have no choice but to husband energy supplies in the same way they protect their time or ammunition.”
In support of Simerly’s advocacy for culture change, the 2021 sustainability plan issued by the DOD prioritizes “integrating climate change literacy into all its training and education efforts, from skill-specific military education to graduate training in the war colleges.”
Considering the impact of military culture on the civilian world, cultivating a generation of climate-literate Warfighters could be a game changer.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: The new JLTV is a gasmobile, but its manufacturer is pivoting to electric vehicles (photo courtesy of Oshkosh Defense).
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