So recently I was alerted to this article published by the ABC, titled Foreign oil dependence a ‘massive vulnerability’ as defence experts call for EVs, green transport
Now this raises a very valid point, what are the potential military applications for Electric Vehicles? What about range anxiety? Can a modern force function with an Electric vehicle on the battlefield?
Well, in this authors opinion, yes, yes they can. Let me explain how!
Context from the Author
For some background, before getting into Electric Vehicles and starting Harden Electric, I served as a truck driver within the Royal Australian Corps of Transport for 12 years, serving as a Driver Specialist, and an Operator Heavy Vehicles under the 274 ECN.
During this time I was qualified on the 110 Landrover, Mercedes Gelandewagen, Mercedes Unimog, Mack RM6866RS, Haulmark 8 tonne and 20 tonne trailers, the RMMV 40M & HX77, and Heavy Plant Trailer.
I also served as a Transport Manager in various roles, so I have experience in the over-arching fleet operations as well. However purely from an Enlisted advisory role.
I would also like to state at this point, I am no longer a member of the Australian Defence Force, and these views are entirely my own and are not reflective of the views of the Australian Defence Force, nor reflective of any past, present, or future policy decisions.
So first and foremost, military operations are incredibly different to running a civilian transport fleet, for some context, anyone can go and read the governing documents or “Bible’s” that Defence runs off, these being the Defence Road Transport Manual (DRTM) and the Australian Defence Force Road Transport Exemption Framework (ADFRTEF), these documents govern how long you can drive, how far, what sort of things you can load, even down to axle masses and where you can take certain vehicles. They are public documents out there on the unclassified internet.
This also means in peacetime, outside an environment of threat, there are safety implications to operation of vehicles. Rest times that must be adhered to.
Now one of the biggest Challengers to a use in a modern fighting force of Electric Vehicles is the range constraints of electric vehicles, and their operations in the field, far from supply lines. For the purposes of Road Movements in a friendly nation, or in peacetime, this is fairly straightforward, you’ll have access to an electrical grid and infrastructure.
Although in a national like Australia, a lot of our activities revolve around aid to civil community, such as Bushfires and Floods, meaning an Electric Vehicle would be suitable for such activities where there is local support and infrastructure
Likewise, the infrastructure to support an Electric Vehicle in the field is not single purpose, infrastructure such as large generator based charging stations would be effective in restoring power to communities.
The issue becomes more complex in an environment of threat where they may not be adequate infrastructure to back up your fighting force, or your logistics elements. After all, supply lines may be compromised, and infrastructure in the area of operations may be entirely insufficient for vehicles such as EV’s to be supplied with electricity.
Commodities that run a modern military have supply chains that not only need to extend to the nearest safe base, but historically extend back as far as the combustion engine was invented, so tactics and procedures have been honed over the last 120 years.
What resources do you have to support the force ahead, and is your logistics Push? Pull? Self supportive?
Requirements of a Modern fighting force
So for this I am going to look at 2 examples, the Invasion of Iraq by the Coalition Forces in 2003, and the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation in 2022 (ongoing)
The Iraq war began on the 20MAR2003, and US led forces had managed to advance to Baghdad by 9APR2003, this was an incredibly swift advance, essentially an 11 day push to go 700km with ground forces from the coast of Iraq to Baghdad.
Now, this is 700km, by road, in 2022, realistically, this was fairly significant fighting to make this push, and 63km a day, although not sounding like much, was actually fairly impressive.
This is contrasted by the Invasion of Ukraine by forces of the Russian Federation, currently seeing movements of around 30-40km per day, and in some cases, units being pinned down with movements in the realm <10km per day, meaning that the rate of advance is incredibly slow.
Though in some areas, Russian Forces did see advances of over 100km in the first days, so defining an “Average rate of movement” is hard.
The grain of salt…
However you cannot use these raw numbers to compare driving your Tesla from Brisbane to Sydney, whilst military vehicles are stationary, they are still running radios, heaters/air conditioning, and other such powered devices. They are idling and using fuel to run this equipment, and as was seen in the news, there were reports of a stranded Russian Convoy, who had run out of fuel and couldn’t move.
However it must be remembered that Military Vehicles carry a lot of ancillary equipment that needs power to run, and regardless of the fuel source, this means that this fuel can be depleted even in stationary operations.
So lets keep some things simple
So, comparing Russian Federation Vehicles to the vehicles of the United States led Coalition in Iraq, to vehicles that the Ukrainian Forces are using, compared to what the Iraqi Defence Forces used, compared to what people in Australia would be familiar with, you end up with loads of “edge cases”
Now, lets keep things simple, no one at this stage is going to be Electrifying a Main Battle Tank, essentially what most people think of when they think of a tank, such as an M1 Abrahms, or a Russian T72. In the future, maybe, but not at this point in time.
What capability is able to be electrified?
Though you then have to assess what is practical to Electrify, and under what conditions you would use it, after all, there is a reason why the Military has so many vehicles, I mean, even just a cursory view of the Wikipedia List on Military Vehicles shows that there are literally hundreds of different vehicles for different roles, so in the scope of Electrifying a Military Force, you have to pick and chose what you would use Military Vehicles for.
What is your base?
So in this case, I am going to pick a platform that could easily be adapted to use by the Military, the ATLIS XP.
The reason I will pick this, is because Atlis Motor Vehicles & US Military Supplier Sign Agreement to Electrify Military Vehicles, so it has already been identified to be used in the electrification of Military Vehicles.
Therefore the ATLIS XP has already been shown to have the potential in it’s design for this kind of work, and given that the XP platform is sold as a standalone package to manufacturers, could easily become the basis for many future Electrified Military Vehicles.
Ok, so looking at the Atlis tech page on the XP:
- 3 Battery Sizes:
- Estimated Ranges
- Top Speed 193kmh
- Wheelbase: 365.76cm Minimum
- Wheel Track: 179cm
Now, the ATLIS wheelbase is adaptable, longer and shorter are possible, so 2 vehicles that would be comparable would be the Hawkei and the Bushmaster if we are looking from an Australian Perspective.
Now the Hawkei has a wheelbase of 3,650mm which if you’ll notice is right around where the ATLIS has it’s wheelbase situated, and the Wheel track of 2010mm isn’t that far off the ATLIS of 1790mm, so it stands to reason why the ATLIS is a perfect pick for a Military Vehicle.
However the ATLIS range is not limited to purely 4×4 vehicles, from their own website, they also have the capability to manufacture the XP Platform in 6×6 capabilities for larger vehicles.
So looking at the ATLIS range of 482-804km, and battery sizes of 150-250kWh, that means the ATLIS has an indicative consumption of ~310Wh/km, which is pretty good.
You then look at the added draw issues of Radios and Airconditioning and Heaters, you could probably add 50% to this without breaking a sweat, so 465Wh/km is in the realm of plausibility.
Now you look at something much larger, like the Tesla Semi, which has an estimated 600kWh battery pack and range of 800km, the indicative consumption for this is around 750Wh/km, I’d say it’s fairly safe to round up for a small, electric, armoured vehicle to 500Wh/km as a decent average.
Meaning the ATLIS platform should offer your Electric Protected Mobility Vehicle a range of ~300-500km which isn’t too bad.
But what are these used for?
Well realistically, you have to look at these vehicles for what they are, small trucks, and so the applications for them are rather constrained.
The Hawkei is designed to primarily get people around, same as the bushmaster, with Ambulance and Command variants also on the table.
The Bushmaster also provides limited troop movement for dismountable troops, so they are in essence, reconnaissance, taxi’s, and command vehicles, with casualty extraction also on the list.
Funnily enough, it’s a pretty perfect platform for this kind of work, for some pretty basic reasons:
- They are fast
The ATLIS platform goes 0-100kmh in ~5 seconds, lets assume the added bulk even gets this down to 10 seconds, that’s still a pretty fast vehicle for it’s size
- They are stable
Most armoured wheeled vehicles suffer from stability problems, as a lot of weight is up high, given the Tesla Batteries (The current “Gold standard) weight in at around 4.7kg/kWh at the Module weight level (5.3kWh @ 25kg), so your average Tesla 100kWh pack weighs around 470kg in modules, which is 625kg in a Tesla Model S once you add the BMS, the Cooling loops, the wiring to link your modules, and the case. 155kg of additional things is not really unrealistic.
So 100kWh @ 625kg = 6.25kg/kWh once packaged, meaning an estimate of the ATLIS pack is ~1.6 tonnes of weight, right down low in your centre of gravity.
- They are silent, this is perfect for inserting your troops, getting them out, or situating your command locations, especially because when they are stationary with the radios in position, you’re not idling a diesel motor to expose your position
- They are pretty cool, temperature wise.
The average battery Temp of a Tesla is ~50-60°C, which is better than most diesels, which run ~90-110°C, meaning that the thermal footprint is smaller, and when idle in location, they’ll drop back to ambient fairly quickly.
This means that your forces can have a very fast strike capability to deploy and either drop or collect troops from an environment of threat, as well as be useful for silent reconnaissance in a role where the enemy can’t see or hear you.
This also means that ambulance based variants are far more stable, meaning that treating Medics can perform their job in the rear more effectivley.
The speed associated with them, even if it is simple pick up speed, and not outright top end speed, means that injured combatants can be taken off the battlefield much faster than a conventional vehicle.
Now from reading a lot of posts online, mainly of military forums, I was able to deduce that the average Military Vehicle that does Patrols, does so within a 100km “bubble” of their base, for some sources, r/Military is a good place to read this kind of thing.
So that means round trip, you’re likely doing 200-250km, which although pushing it on smaller batteries, is easily achievable on the larger battery vehicles.
Now what I think is that most of these vehicles would be used as a supplemental support vehicle, or used in situations where the distinct advantages of an Electric Vehicle could be utilised. Mainly operating out of an FOB, or used as a scout/recon vehicle away from the main force, shoot up to a nearby hill, set up an Observation post, operating within the range of your (fairly visible) main columns, most of which would still need to run their extant Generators fuelled by Diesel, and if in a hard base, the location of which is already known, powered by Solar Panels.
You could also utilise shipping container based solutions, like those from Lightning Mobile, that would be portable on existing vehicles equipped to transport a standard ISO Shipping container
As for charging rates, given the above as we discussed about the ~250km range use on a daily basis, this means that your vehicles are running around 125kWh of energy from their use.
So what are the charge times
Now this is a “how long is a piece of string” argument, really, it’s that simple.
In the same way that you don’t always have a defined time period to fuel your truck (Are you filling through a funnel from a Jerry Can, or filling at a High Flow Diesel Bowser?), it’s the same with an Electric Vehicle.
The standard EV chargers on the market today, fill at a rate of 50-350kW, meaning that a 50kW charger, ideally, in an hour will give you 50kWh of charge.
Now the Lightning Mobile Charger above has a capacity of up to 350kWh and a speed of 80kW, meaning that it would replenish 2.8 Vehicles from it’s on board batteries, and would do so in 1 Hour and 33 Minutes.
Now, for anyone that has been in the Military, by the time you eat, get briefings, and check your vehicles, that can all take over an hour, especially if you have already spent your whole day working, chances are that you’ll want some rest.
However as technology such as the MCS comes online, we will see faster chargers.
What is MCS?
The system is designed to be able to reach speeds of up to 4,500kW at a voltage of 1,500vDC
The ATLIS XP is already rated for 1,500kW charging, meaning a suitable charger would be able to replenish your vehicle in, not kidding you, around 5 minutes.
Now personally, there are also risks that I can see, with my experience as someone who operated these vehicles, you cannot discount the issue of Lithium Battery Fires, they are hot (~2,000°C), and they are hard to extinguish. Meaning that if a vehicle is targeted, and the battery compromised, you now have a very hot fire, that’s almost impossible to put out.
Even in reasonably easily accessible peacetime circumstances, lithium fires at scale, are hard to put out.
Even in regular cars, the fact still remains that on occasions, electric vehicle fires have needed up to 40 times the amount of water to extinguished.
So this is not without risks, and without linking to videos, the threats on a battlefield mean that the risks of having your EV battery compromised are not small, your average HEAT round, or HEAT based IED, would make short work of a Lithium Battery, and be a significant risk to operators.
However simple systems, like having the Skateboard as a sacrificial element to the vehicle, where he cabin detaches from the skateboard in a blast would be more than suitable, giving the crew distance from the blast, as long as the hull of your armoured vehicle is deigned for this.
As discussed above, having extra armour on the battery would not really be a negative, as the battery is already very heavy, and adding armour to the casing of a battery would only increase the stability of your vehicle, adding more weight down low rather than up high, is good in terms of vehicle manoeuvrability.
Are they viable?
Well, that is entirely outside the remit of my experiences, as a former vehicle operator, I believe that absolutely, I would entrust my arse on a battlefield to an EV.
But the constraints are not insignificant, and any military vehicle cannot exist in a bubble, I am not a commander, and I was never a warfighter, but honestly, I believe in a modern military, EV’s have their place, and would add a different capability, a silent, and very capable capability to a modern military if employed correctly.
However, that is the crux of the issue, if employed correctly. The introduction of a new capability also adds new doctrine that is required, new challenges to implementation, and new ways of thinking.
The viability I’m afraid will be up to potential future commanders.
But more than happy to read comments below on what people think! If you are a veteran, what are your thoughts on a faster, more stable, silent vehicle on the battlefield?
Were you a maintainer? What are your thoughts on the potential for a vehicle that requires less maintenance over its lifecycle?
Were you an operator? Would you want to be driving such a vehicle?