The Case for Hybrid-Powered Military Vehicles

Second in a two-part series on how the military can meet targets for lowering greenhouse gas emission.

As laudable a goal as zero emissions may be, any reduction plan for the U.S. military must be pragmatic and incremental if it has any chance of being implemented. The fact is, although the military’s current vehicles may burn fossil fuel and create emissions, they are still fully functional, reliable machines with substantial life left. There is far too much invested to discard.

And, as mentioned in Part One of this series, current electric vehicle (EV) technologies are insufficient for military application. Even the best lithium-ion (li-ion) technology is a fraction of the energy density of gasoline or diesel. The number of batteries necessary to drive equivalent distances to an internal combustion engine vehicle would use up much more space and add thousands of pounds of weight. In addition, the cost to replace a fleet of hundreds of thousands of military vehicles with full-EVs would be astronomical, even if done over time.

A far better approach is to modify existing military vehicles, taking into account how they are actually used. Specifically, analysis shows that many military vehicles spend approximately 80% of their runtime idling, making this a significant source of emissions. A solution that adds an auxiliary hybrid system to idling vehicles would be a feasible change that will allow the military to maximize the cost efficiency of emission reduction while rapidly upgrading their entire fleet of vehicles.

Case in point: FMTVs

 Consider, for example, the 60,000-plus Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTVs), a class of vehicle the Department of Defense has singled out as needing idle reduction. Incorporating hybrid systems to this fleet will make fiscal sense as well as reduce emissions.

Take fuel costs. Conservatively, if these FMTVs spend around 4.5 hours idling within an eight-hour, five-day shift for 50 weeks a year, FMTV idling costs the military approximately $6,340 per vehicle every year in fuel and maintenance. That’s determined using a conservative $5/gal cost; specialty fuels for other military vehicles can be $15+/gal. By simply reducing idling for a fleet of 60,000 FMTVs, estimates show a conservative annual savings of almost $380 million. Plus, by reducing idling wear on the engine, there would be a chance to extend vehicle life.

When it comes to emissions, the reduction in vehicle idling would lower the FMTV fleet’s emissions by about 1.3 billion pounds annually. In one decade of use, auxiliary hybridization could reduce the military’s environmental impact by over 13 billion pounds of CO2 without replacing a single vehicle with an EV.

A road map to innovation

Unfortunately, the current military budgeting structure doesn’t support this type of innovation or continuous improvement. In particular, under the current budgeting, any savings made by eliminating FMTV idling won’t flow back to the military division responsible for those savings.

This failure to reward anti-idling solutions will limit buy-in. The best way to incentivize meeting military sustainability goals, and therefore increase involvement, would be to institute budget credits for cost-saving and carbon-reduction. It’s important to reward good stewardship, not punish budgets for implementing positive changes.

Guarantee rapid implementation

Complex systems can be difficult to service out in the field, which decreases real-world applicability. Military operations are often time-sensitive, so expediency is key to success. If a system has all the bells and whistles but is so complex it takes 12 weeks to install in each vehicle, it won’t be a good fit. The hybrid system technology should be standardized so that it is easy to train technicians to simply and quickly install components that are already tailored to the vehicle’s chassis. If it isn’t easy to install or use, troops out in the field are much less incentivized to employ it.

Ensure chassis compatibility and power

The military’s fleet is as diverse as it is enormous. Each vehicle serves a unique purpose to meet a specific need, and finding a way to reduce idling across the fleet is no easy task. In addition to FMTVs, there are other vehicle types such as Family of Light Tactical Vehicles (FLTVs) and Small Unit Support Vehicles (SUSV), all of which could also benefit from idle-reduction technology.

Ideally, an auxiliary hybrid power solution would be flexible enough for compatibility with all of these military vehicle types. This will mean each system design must be built and standardized to integrate with the standard vehicle chassis. So, whether the vehicle is being used to transport people or sensitive military supplies, the nuts, bolts, wires and other system components will already fit. Also, with vehicles that last 10-20 years—and sometimes longer—in service life, any solution to cut emissions is going to require the ability to solve for existing assets.

For military uses, an auxiliary system must also have enough energy stored to power more than one thing. For example, powering comms, navigation, weapons systems, cabin A/C or heat, and exportable power for whatever applications may arise. A substantial hybrid power system could accomplish this.

Meet scale with commercial supply chains

Even if the technology is easy to install, simple to use, quick to fix and offers enough power, procuring enough hybrid systems will be a challenge. With so many vehicles to upfit, the military should quickly and affordably scale up by using commercially available technology such as that which is available in the automotive industry.

A product with scaled manufacturing has adequate supply chain, quality control, performance and lower cost to support rapid integration. Sourcing from commercially available technologies will ensure the cost and responsibility of the innovation itself doesn’t fall onto the military, saving both time and money.

Fiscal and environmental benefits 

Regardless of political alignment or opinion on policy, outfitting vehicles with hybrid auxiliary systems is a wise choice that will help the U.S. military reach sustainability goals quickly and efficiently. In addition to being more affordable and reliable than a full-EV solution, this type of hybrid technology is already available, and the military can implement it right now.

By substantially cutting fuel costs and vehicle emissions simultaneously, the U.S. military has the potential to lead the charge for other governmental agencies with fleets to follow suit.






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