Army to Develop Electric Scout Vehicle in Pursuit Of Fuel Savings (UPDATED)
COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the Army Climate Strategy published in 2022, the service set a major long-term goal: field fully electric tactical vehicles by 2050.
Through an incremental strategy involving near-, mid- and long-term objectives, the Army is taking steps to reduce fuel demand, increase the capability and eventually electrify its tactical vehicle fleet.
That includes the development of an Electric Light Reconnaissance Vehicle that will get underway this fiscal year after receiving funding from the Operational Energy - Innovation Directorate, which is the Defense Department’s joint operational energy investment fund.
That money will “jumpstart the ELRV program this year,” John Hufstedler, lead for Ground Mobility Vehicles, said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Tactical Wheeled Vehicles Conference.
The Army plans to also include funding for the Electric Light Reconnaissance Vehicle in its fiscal year 2024 budget, with the first prototype expected in fiscal year 2025, said deputy assistant secretary of the Army for sustainment Timothy Goddette.
The recon vehicle will be the Army’s “step into” full electrification, said Brig. Gen. Samuel “Luke” Peterson, the program executive officer for combat support and combat service support.
The service is “going to learn a lot through that prototyping effort” for the vehicle, he added.
Peterson said: “The solution is not defined. It is wide open. There’s a lot of trade space in there. But as a former Cavalry scout sitting on the edge somewhere, I got to know the power is there when I need it.” While reducing emissions and fuel consumption is important, the “warfighter in me is more concerned about the operational capability” electric vehicles will provide, he added.
Electrification will give the Army’s tactical vehicles more capability, including silent watch and mobility and reduced thermal and acoustic signatures, said the product lead for integration in the program executive office for combat support and combat service support Steve Roberts.
And by taking an incremental approach, the Army is hoping that each phase in the process informs the next on the way to full electrification, Roberts said.
Tactical vehicle electrification is a “three-phase operation,” Peterson said. The first phase is continuing the development of “capabilities I’ve got on my truck today” such as anti-idle kits, he added.
Soldiers often leave vehicles idling while conducting operations to ensure batteries and other electric systems remain charged. However, this results in the vehicle burning significant amounts of fuel.
“When you rent a car in Europe — or even here in the United States — and you come to a stop sign and you hear the engine go off, that's saving fuel, right?” When you look at … most of the military vehicles, you start to find out very quickly that we burn the fuel in the idle phase,” Goddette said.
In March 2022, members of both the Army’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center and the Joint Program Office-Joint Light Tactical Vehicles demonstrated the operational benefits of the center’s anti-idle system, the Tactical Vehicle Electrification Kit, on a JLTV.
The kit automatically cuts engine power to a vehicle during periods of extended idling, reducing fuel consumption and extending silent watch, “a clear advantage for warfighters who don't want to give away their positions by turning on the vehicle engine unnecessarily,” an Army release said.
Powered by the kit’s battery, vehicle communications, electronics and HVAC systems remain operational during anti-idle, Josh Tylenda, Ground Vehicle Systems Center project manager for anti-idle systems, said in the release.
The kit also provides “fuel-fired heating to maintain cabin temperatures in cold operating environments, an anti-idle controller with interlocks to implement engine on and off in anti-idle mode along with battery charging management and a human machine interface screen to report system status,” the release said.
The Army plans to put out a request for information to industry for production of the Tactical Vehicle Electrification Kit this spring, with a draft request for proposal to follow in 2024, JLTV product manager Munira Tourner said.
The Army is also prototyping anti-idle kits on its family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, said Lt. Col. Ben Boring, the product manager for Multi-Mission Protected Vehicle Systems.
In August 2021, the Army and the Defense Innovation Unit awarded contracts to XL Fleet and Volta Power Systems to integrate idle-reduction solutions on medium tactical vehicles. The companies are “in the process right now of providing these kits, which we are retrofitting onto” a vehicle, Boring said.
The Army is “shooting for” fuel savings of around 20 percent with these kits, he said.
“Once we prove out the technology in more of a developmental environment, we want to buy some kits, take it out, get it in the hands of the soldiers and run some events … to see how it performs in more of an operational environment,” he said.
Roberts said: “Everything we learn [from the Tactical Vehicle Electrification Kit] informs hybrid electric, informs … electrification,” Roberts said. “And then the risk decreases as we move along that continuum as well.”
While an anti-idle kit isn’t necessarily a “home run, you're playing small ball,” Goddette said. “You're starting to figure out where can you make the changes, and make the changes quickly.”
“Playing small ball” has also led the Army to focus on the hybridization of its tactical fleet, Goddette said.
The Army is pursuing a hybrid electric JLTV. The Joint Program Office-Joint Light Tactical Vehicles has partnered with the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office — which led the effort on a hybrid electric Bradley Fighting Vehicle — to help “build some of the underpinning requirements” for the hybrid electric JLTV program, Tourner said.
“We’re still trying to understand what the requirements space is,” and they are determining what the best strategy will be to move forward when the program begins in fiscal year 2024, she said.
The Army plans to deliver hybrid electric demonstrators of the JLTV and the Humvee this fiscal year, according to Peterson and Goddette.
Rather than jumping straight into full electrification, the Army is currently focusing on hybridization with its tactical vehicles as it follows the investment of commercial industry into electric vehicle technology. The service is waiting “for the price margin to come down” and “for the technology to be proven out,” Goddette said.
“We should be fast followers,” he said. “We should be looking at the technologies and looking at the opportunity where we can bring it in — not just because the technology is ready — but because it's affordable, because it's reliable, and because we're taking advantage of the great industrial base that we have … that is very closely aligned with what we do with tactical wheeled vehicles.”
The Army must ensure the technology it is acquiring today is suitable for military operations and the environment the vehicles will be operating in, he added. As the fleet is hybridized — and eventually electrified — the service must consider how to maintain and charge its vehicles in the field.
“If your batteries are so heavy that you have a five-ton truck that has four-and-a-half tons of batteries on it, it doesn't leave a lot of room for cargo … and how am I going to recharge an electric vehicle in the places that we're going to be?” Goddette said.
“I grew up in Vermont, so I know you can tap into a tree and get maple syrup, right? But we haven't figured out, I think, how to tap into a tree and get electricity yet,” he said.
While it can’t tap into trees, the Army is exploring the possibility of utilizing existing power generation capabilities to charge forward-deployed electric vehicles in the future, said Lt. Col. Thomas Beyerl, product manager for mobile electric power systems.
The goal is to keep energy “liquid as long as we can as far forward as we can,” Beyerl said. “Purpose-built” power generators are the “most efficient way to [turn] that liquid stored energy into electrical energy,” he said, and the closer the Army can bring those power generation capabilities, “the less logistics trains we need to have in order to bring that energy forward.”
Integrating power generation systems with the future electrified fleet will ensure soldiers “have the energy where they need it, when they need it, when they want it,” and give them and their commanders “the power of flexibility” to use that energy in a variety of ways, such as charging the vehicle to extend its range or supplying power to onboard or offboard systems, he said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Steve Roberts' name as Steve Rogers.