Currently, the technology does not exist to generate, store, and distribute electric power in a tactically relevant amount of time for frontline troops to be equipped with all-electric weapons and support vehicles, as President Biden has promised. To charge a 50-ton combat vehicle within 15 minutes–the Army’s preferred time–would require a 17-megawatt charging station that is more than 20 times bigger than the largest mobile generator the Army currently has. The hourly fuel consumption of a 17-megawatt generator would require in excess of 1200 gallons of diesel per hour. That compares to around 60 gallons per hour over cross country terrain for a 60-ton diesel-powered tank, with a 10-minute refueling time. As such, electrification may only be possible for military support vehicles. For large, heavy vehicles, the amount of batteries required to go large distances and the ability to charge quickly are major challenges. Currently, not a single all-electric fighting vehicle is deployed in the field.
At this time, the Army is focused on developing hybrid combat vehicles, though no hybrids are as yet deployed in the field. The Army has electric non-tactical Army vehicles at camps and stations to perform tasks such as moving supplies. According to the army’s 2022 climate plan, it wants to field a fully electric tactical vehicle and to develop the charging capability to meet those vehicles’ needs by 2050. By 2035, it plans to field a hybrid tactical vehicle and run a fully electric non-tactical fleet. To do so, the Army spent $47.8 million on electric vehicles in fiscal 2022 and its fiscal 2023 spending is almost double at $78.4 million. Its EV request for fiscal 2024 is $270.6 million.
The Army claims that it will reduce wartime casualties with an all-electric wartime fleet because personnel would not have to go on dangerous refueling missions that draw combat forces away from fighting the enemy. Also, they claim electric vehicles are much quieter and harder to spot on enemy surveillance systems because they generate little heat. On the other hand, they generate considerable electromagnetic fields to which an enemy could adapt sensory equipment.
In recent decades, the military has preferred to partner with technology firms wherever it can rather than create brand-new technology on its own because it is getting harder to find the commercial investment needed. The Defense Department can be a major source of technological research because it requires rigorous tests. The military, for example, is interested in ZapBatt, which uses lithium-titanate batteries for consumer products, such as e-bikes, because ZapBatt batteries can fully charge in under 20 minutes, last more than 20 years, and do not catch on fire. The military will test the batteries 24/7 in worst-case scenarios, while batteries for non-defense uses are usually lab-tested in controlled environments. GM Defense, the military subsidiary of General Motors, is investing $35 billion over five years in electric vehicles and battery technologies due to its ability to use its experience from the consumer side.
The Defense Department is also doing its own research on advanced batteries, focusing on areas where civilian automakers are not. For example, there is no industry return on investment for making a 60-ton tank fully electric.
Not all politicians are believers that the military should electrify its Army tanks due to supply chain issues and logistics needed to support military vehicles, particularly as the United States relies heavily on China and other countries for many of the minerals required to build batteries. Further, charging stations do not exist in the middle of foreign deserts or mountain ranges. Unless our allies also build electric military vehicles, there is also the issue of interoperability. As lethal fighting vehicles will be the focus of our adversaries, the United States needs to also focus on them and not the most eco-friendly vehicles. Politicians, and particularly, the Defense Department, have the responsibility to equip our sons and daughters with reliable and useful equipment when they send them onto the battlefield, rather than using them as guinea pigs for the latest fad in vogue in Washington.
The military’s vision of an all-electric fleet of tanks is challenged by a battery sector that does not have the technology to deliver the power the Army needs. Nonetheless, Biden’s Defense Department is spending big taxpayers’ bucks on pouring money into an all-electric military with claims of greater safety despite the severe challenges that exist to its development. An all-electric military will be dependent on China for the critical minerals needed for batteries—clearly, an adversary that will be spending its military funds on lethal weaponry, not eco-friendly equipment. China dominates over 80 percent of the battery supply chain, making an all-electric U.S. military 4 times as dependent on China—one authoritative power—than the United States was ever dependent on the countries in the Middle East for oil. Taxpayers need to be aware of the reckless and potentially dangerous spending on reaching a total non-carbon economy that the Biden administration is undertaking.