Marine Corps Looking at Hybrid ATVs to Boost Battlefield Range (UPDATED)

By Allyson Versprille
The Marine Corps is looking to add hybrid all-terrain vehicles to its inventory to reduce energy dependence and increase the operational reach of its forces on the battlefield, said service officials.

The acquisition of hybrid technology is part of the service’s Expeditionary Force 21 strategy, a 10-year plan that began in 2014. It calls for a return to the service’s core mission of being “light enough to get to the crisis quickly, yet able to accomplish the mission or provide time and options prior to the arrival of additional forces,” the document said. The three main goals of the service are to be fast, austere and lethal, it said.

“The Marine Corps is pushing back to its expeditionary roots,” said Col. James Caley, director of the Marine Corps’ expeditionary energy office. “We’re trying to get back to the ability of supporting distributed operations from the sea base.”

This year at the expeditionary energy concept (E2C) technology demonstration scheduled for late June at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, the service is concentrating on enhancing its company landing team. Acquiring hybrid ATVs would be a step in that direction, Caley said. The service is also considering purely electric platforms.

Prototypes from three different industry participants — MTAG International, MILSPRAY Military Technologies and Bombardier Recreational Products — will be showcased and assessed by service engineers. The Army’s Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) will also demonstrate a vehicle it has developed.

Following the demonstration, promising technologies will be evaluated in a controlled lab environment and then placed in the hands of Marines for field-testing in combat conditions, according to the E2C request for information. Lab and field evaluations will inform requirement development, it said.

The objective is to build a landing team that the service can insert 100 miles deep behind enemy lines and make them more effective by reducing resupply requirements, Caley said in an interview with National Defense.

“When you insert them deep, you don’t insert them with a lot of gear,” he said. “If you have to carry everything that you have for a week or two weeks on your back, that’s a lot of weight. Whereas, if we can give them something like an ATV that uses as little fuel as possible then they can use that for their own internal logistics; they can use it to maneuver between two sites that are dispersed on the battlefield; [and] they can use it for casualty evacuation.” The vehicles could also be employed in reconnaissance missions, Caley said.

Additionally, the Marine Corps hopes that using hybrid technology on the ground will reduce the number of resupply missions to troops via helicopters and MV-22 Ospreys, he said. Limiting those missions lowers the risk of an aircraft crashing or coming under enemy fire. A fatal UH-1Y helicopter crash in Nepal during a humanitarian mission in May following a series of deadly earthquakes demonstrated why preventative measures to avoid accidents are so important, he said. 

Capt. Anthony Ripley, science and technology lead at the expeditionary energy office, said the focus on hybrid ATVs initially stemmed from a Marine Corps infantry battalion statement of need. It described the necessity for a reliable, easily maintained and inexpensive vehicle to support dispersed and disaggregated operations, he said.

In addition to those three requirements, the service has several technical specifications listed in its RFI. The request stipulates that gross vehicle weight is 7,800 pounds or less — including three crewmembers, mission payload and shoring. The platform must be transportable by an MV-22 and have a 300 plus miles range on unimproved road without fuel resupply. However, purely electric vehicles with less range will be considered.

Further, if not purely electric, the vehicles must be compatible with military fuels such as JP-8, JP-5, F-24 — which is a jet propellant with additives — and diesel.

While the main focus is on hybrid technology, gas and electric options will also be considered if they significantly expand the service’s operational reach, Ripley said. 

MTAG International, a North Carolina-based company participating in the E2C demonstration, is offering the only purely electric vehicle, said Chris Fallen, managing director for operations and armament systems at the company.

“Ours is 100 percent electric,” he said. “There’s no fuel consumption.”

The vehicle, unlike some hybrids that still require a combustion engine to run, is completely silent, he added. It is only “as loud as the tires rolling across the ground.”

It also has a streamlined maintenance process because of its lack of an internal combustion engine, he said. “It’s basically just going to be an electronic component swap once it breaks and there’s no tuning or timing associated with” other engines.

Prior to working on the military version of the vehicle, many of the ATVs were customized for law enforcement missions, Fallen said. For the E2C demonstration the company is developing a new package to meet the Marine Corps’ requirements. Currently, the platform uses four-cell lithium polymer batteries, which last up to 35 hours. The vehicle is estimated to reach a top speed of 40 mph on moderately rough terrain with a range of 100 miles, he said.

MILSPRAY Military Technologies, a military equipment manufacturer, is showcasing a hybrid-electric drive utility task vehicle, commonly referred to as a side by side, said Joseph Gerschutz, the company’s director of engineering.The platform, called eXV-1, has a highly mobile, off-road design that can be used for stealth operations, he said.

It incorporates, “an electric drivetrain with the onboard energy storage to power that drivetrain as well as an onboard range-extending generator,” that runs on diesel or JP-8 military fuels, Gerschutz said. A drivetrain is a system that connects the transmission in a motor vehicle to the drive axles.

The vehicle has a lithium-ion bank on board that provides the all-electric drive capability for up to 50 miles, at which point the generator can kick in and automatically recharge the batteries on-the-fly or provide power to the ATV to drive off road, he said. The generator extends the vehicle’s range 250 miles to a total of 300 miles. The ATV has a top speed of 60 mph, he noted.

The goal was to combine off-road mobility with stealth, Gerschutz said. The stealth aspect of the vehicle is primarily driven by the electric drivetrain. “You’re reducing your noise signature significantly versus the current status quo of a internal combustion engine … [and] you’re using a lot less heat, which is going to reduce your IR [infrared] signature,” making it harder to detect under visual and IR surveillance, he said.

TARDEC is demonstrating a fuel cell all-terrain transport (FCATT) vehicle, a modified electric utility vehicle “incorporating a low temperature proton exchange membrane fuel cell, ultra-capacitor energy storage and compressed gaseous hydrogen fuel storage to demonstrate silent mobility, silent watch and exportable power capabilities,” according to a fact sheet.

The FCATT is powered by pure hydrogen, which means that it exhausts only water and air when in use. Its proton exchange membrane fuel cell has a peak efficiency of 48 percent, nearly double that of a comparable combustion engine, and it operates much cooler and quieter than an engine running on gasoline or diesel, the fact sheet said. TARDEC targeted a range of 100 miles for the FCATT. The vehicle was funded and developed in-house, the fact sheet said.

Bombardier Recreational Products did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment on their prototype.

All Terrain Vehicle Corp., a division of Phoenix International Systems, was originally slated to participate in E2C, but withdrew its prototype because the technology will not be ready in time for the event. The company has been preparing a hybrid, multi-fuel version of its current turbo diesel Prowler, a multi-mission configurable ultralight tactical all-terrain vehicle, said Amos Deacon, Phoenix’s chief executive officer. The platform, referred to as the TurboDiesel CanAm Prowler C4TD, will be able to run on a variety of heavy fuels such as JP-5, JP-8 and diesel.

The Marine Corps decided to cast a wide net to invite businesses of all sizes to demonstrate their technologies instead of going straight to an industry leader, Caley said. The benefit is that a smaller, more specialized company might have a superior design to the products produced by a large manufacturer, he said.

“If you identify industry leaders and you go to them, then you’re going to get what they’re used to producing for the defense community,” he said. “Whereas if you cast a wide net, and you seek technologies that maybe some of those traditional defense contractors don’t necessarily specialize in, you may get … something interesting that frankly some of the defense contractors that we usually go to … may not have.”

Additionally, the service is not looking at hybrid ATVs strictly because they are energy efficient or have potential cost and fuel savings, the service officials said.

The push for these platforms derives more from the ability to save lives and expand the operational range of the troops, Caley said.

There is a cost payback to reducing the number of resupplies, he noted, but the larger payoff is limiting the exposure of Marines to enemy fire as they fly to and from the battlefield.

Possible fuel savings generated by hybrid technology can be quantified in terms of operating time, he added.

“If you are potentially buying a vehicle that burns 30 percent less fuel, that’s a big deal,” he said. “What you gave to that infantry company is a vehicle that goes 30 percent farther, which means you gave them 30 percent more operating time before they have to be resupplied.”

Ripley said fuel savings can be equated to saved lives. For every 50 convoys, the service is looking at potentially losing a Marine that is killed or wounded in action, he said. By having smaller, more fuel-efficient systems, those losses can be avoided or at least limited.

The Marine Corps is open to making the ATV program a joint venture with other branches of the military, Caley said.

“Currently no other service owns hybrid-electric or fuel cell-type ATVs,” he said. “We all use standard-type ATV systems.”

The Army has been invited to evaluate the prototypes, he noted. It is important for the services to work together because, in the end, they have to perform as a team on the battlefield, he added.

There is, however, a monetary gain in collaborating with another, larger branch of the military, Caley said. “The Marine Corps is small, and we don’t have the bandwidth to do research and development in places where people are also working at the same time.”

Considering economies of scale it makes sense to team up with service partners, he said. “You look at how many weapon systems the Army buys versus how many the Marine Corps buys — the Army buys orders of magnitude more equipment than we do,” he said. It’s a difference of 5,500 units versus 55,000, he noted. “So if the Army and the Marine Corps are buying the same gear, the advantage I get is it’s much less expensive.”

Update: A previous version of this story listed Phoenix International Systems as a participant in E2C, but they withdrew from the demonstration. Additionally, information on TARDEC's fuel cell all-terrain transport vehicle
has been added.

Topics: Energy, Alternative Energy, Land Forces, Test and Evaluation

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