The US Military Is Buying Ultium Battery Packs From GM Defense

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Recent news that the Tesla Semi is going into production shows us that big vehicles need big batteries to run. At 41 tons, an electric semi-truck needs 500 kWh of battery to go highway distances. But, the US military knows how to put the largest vehicles on the road to shame. For example, the M1 Abrams tank weighs in at 55 tons (110,000 pounds). Not all military vehicles are that big and heavy, of course, but few tactical vehicles are light.

Electrifying them is going to be a challenge. We didn’t get full details, but the upcoming AbramsX and StrykerX vehicles are going to be hybrid-electric with at least some ability to move on battery power. Even for short distances, moving either of those vehicles is going to require massive amounts of battery storage. For a hybrid, the battery pack could be as big as one you’d find on a civilian electric car, but with a diesel or turbine engine charging it to keep it from being depleted.

For full electrification, it’s going to take a lot more battery storage. The largest vehicles are probably going to require improved battery technology for that to practically happen, but few military vehicles are tanks. Many are heavier versions of pickup trucks, medium-duty trucks, and semi-trucks. Plus, militaries use many civilian vehicles for non-combat and support jobs. So, the amount of battery storage needed will vary greatly.

This is why the latest news from GM Defense makes a lot of sense. GM Defense, a General Motors subsidiary, was chosen by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to create a battery pack prototype for testing and evaluation on Department of Defense platforms. GM Defense will rely on GM’s most advanced battery technology, the Ultium Platform, as it strives to satisfy the needs of the DIU for a scalable design that can be used for tactical military vehicles.

GM Defense and the Defense Innovation Unit -DoD (DIU-DoD) are both government agencies with a similar goal: to accelerate commercial technology adoption across the military. This aligns well with GM’s mission of using its cutting-edge technologies for global defense and government clients.

“This award is a critical enabler for non-traditional defense businesses like GM Defense to deliver commercial technologies that support our customers’ transition to a more electric, autonomous and connected future,” said Steve duMont, president of GM Defense. “Commercial battery electric technologies continue to mature. GM Defense offers a unique advantage with our ability to leverage proven commercial capabilities and the billions in GM investments in electric vehicle and autonomous vehicle technologies in order to help provide our customers with the most advanced capabilities the commercial market can offer.”

The GM Ultium Platform is an EV battery architecture and propulsion system that delivers power, range, and scalability beyond any previous GM hybrid or extended-range EV technology. The Ultium Platform is modular and scalable, incorporating a variety of chemistries and cell form factors to meet changing demands as they arise.

In July, GM Defense was selected by the US Army to provide a GMC HUMMER EV Pickup for analysis and demonstration, winner of a similar announcement. The award helps meet the military’s requirement for a light-duty battery electric vehicle that can support reducing reliance on fossil fuels in both operational and garrison environments.

The GMC HUMMER EV Pickup is the world’s first all-electric supertruck that features a 24-module, double-stacked Ultium battery pack and zero-tailpipe emissions. The vehicle has 1,000 horsepower and 11,500 lb.-ft of wheel torque, and can be fully charged in 350 kilowatt/800 watts DC fast charging, enables up to nearly 100 miles in 12 minutes. For Edition 1 versions, it offers 329 miles of combined driving range with 060 mph acceleration times as quick as 3 seconds.

GM Defense is working to move global defense and government customers away from traditional petrol-based vehicles by taking advantage of GM’s $35 billion investment in electric and autonomous vehicle technology.

A Quick Reminder About EV Platforms

Before I discuss what the military might do with the Ultium battery system and Ultium platforms, we need to discuss what platforms are these days.

Not long ago, most vehicle platforms supported a limited range of physical packages a car could come with. For example, the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire were both built on the same platform, and weren’t that different from each other. So, when I first heard that Volkswagen was using its MEB platform in a boat, I was confused.

Electric vehicle platforms mean something very different than traditional automotive platforms in many cases. Instead of a common frame or unibody that can be adapted in small ways to look like a different car or even have varying wheelbases (for more interior room, etc), an EV platform is more about the electronics. Having a common battery pack system, motors, and power electronics allows automakers to put them in a broader variety of packages.

So, while something like a tank or a lighter tactical vehicle may be very, very different from a Hummer EV or an Equinox EV, the Ultium platform can act more like a toolbox from which GM Defense can get what it needs for its military customers.

Need a battery pack? Great. Here, we also have some motors that might work for you, too.

Need 3x the storage of a Hummer EV? Cool. Take three battery packs.

Because GM has already done the legwork of making Ultium battery packs and other power electronics systems work in a variety of cars, trucks, and SUVs, it’s not a huge stretch to make them work in just about anything. This means the military’s suppliers won’t have to build battery packs from scratch and have limited economies of scale to work with. By procuring common parts already being mass-produced in the civilian market, they’ll have complete supply chains and production ready to go instead of having to do that all themselves.

On the flipside, the civilian EV market will benefit, too. I know many readers have a distaste for warfare, militaries, and weapons, but expanding the supply chain to also cover military needs helps automakers offer cheaper EVs to civilians, making for an additional environmental benefit. Like most people, I’d like world peace, too, but while we’re stuck with warfare we might as well do it in the cleanest way we can.

Featured image: a screenshot from a GM video explaining the Silverado EV.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1954 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba