SHARING KNOWLEDGE    CREATING NETWORKS

Articles

Electric Battlespace:

Sub Title : Redefining modern warfare: the electrification of military capabilities

Issues Details : Vol 18 Issue 2 May – Jun 2024

Author : Ashwani Sharma Editor-in-Chief

Page No. : 45

Category : Military Technology

: June 5, 2024

In an era marked by rapid technological evolution and shifting global threats, the demand for innovative military solutions has led to significant advancements in defence technologies. As countries grapple with complex security challenges, the transition from traditional mechanical systems to sophisticated electrical platforms represents a critical shift in military strategy.

The demand for innovation has sparked a new wave of technological advancement. As threats and tactics evolve, so too do countermeasures, platforms, and tools for enhanced situational awareness, developing rapidly to meet these changes. Directed energy weapons, poised to disrupt enemy communications or neutralise multiple low-cost targets affordably, represent just one facet of this evolution. Similarly, unmanned systems are set to deliver supplies and aid to troops, reducing human risk. Networks filled with intelligent sensors will manage vast amounts of data to maintain a comprehensive situational awareness without overwhelming users. However, the effectiveness of these advanced technologies is inherently tied to the availability and reliability of their power sources.

Moreover, integrating these electric technologies into an infrastructure primarily designed for mechanical systems presents its challenges. The transition of military capabilities from mechanical to electrical systems promises immense potential, but realising this potential hinges on the parallel development of the necessary power infrastructure to support them.

Factors

High Cost and Fossil fuel Supply Chain. Fuel consumption in the US Army increased from an average of one gallon per soldier per day during World

War II, to 20 gallons during Operation Enduring Freedom.  Supplying fossil fuels around conflict zones presents huge logistical challenges. Fuel supply convoys are also slow-moving and conspicuous, making them easy, high-value targets for the enemy.  Transporting FOL is highly uneconomical. As per field data, for every gallon of generator fuel used during the Afghanistan conflict, seven gallons were used in transporting it there!

Lastly, competition for oil is itself a source of conflict!

Rapidly Evolving Technologies and Tactics. The ability to operate at stand-off distances will be critical in overcoming a number of obstacles. There’s a spurt in reliance on long-range intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability to counter the threat from disruptive technologies. New high-precision aerial and ground-to-ground weapons will necessitate ‘Active Protection Systems’ to protect platforms and bases all of which will generate a huge demand for electric power.

Sustainability and Environment. The defence sector is likely to be among the first to see the impact of climate as troops are deployed to manage conflict and deliver humanitarian aid. And here lies a dilemma: militaries are highly reliant on fossil fuel, and as a nation’s military spending increases, so does its carbon output. Therefore, as long as the defence sector remains a major source of CO2 emissions, it contributes to the very problem it may be charged with solving.

Securing Advantage through Technological Superiority.  Gen Bipin Rawat, India’s CDS, often termed technology as the next pillar of national power. Having a large army and powerful weapons cannot guarantee victory. Future advantage will belong to the side that is proficient at exploiting technology to develop novel capabilities.  Faced with multiple, complex, ever-changing threats – from hypersonic missiles to quadcopters loaded with explosives, militaries will need to respond by becoming smarter, more agile, harder to detect, harder to hit, and more effective over greater distances.  All of this will rely on high-fidelity intelligence, low signatures (visual, acoustic, thermal), and high technology, all of it powered by electricity.

Deploying Electrical Technology in Battlefield

In the mechanised battlespace which has been the norm for the last century, the introduction of a new piece of mechanical equipment has always been supported by well-established procedures and infrastructure. Supply chains have evolved in tandem with the development of equipment to cater for the delivery of fuel and ammunition.

The challenge in deploying electrified technologies in battle is that a comparable infrastructure does not yet exist. A new piece of electrical equipment, such as a directed energy system or electrically-driven autonomous platform, may not be able to simply plug into an existing grid.

Next, systems such as computers, radios and sensors are supplied with their own individual power sources. The outcome of this is a rampant multiplication of batteries and generators, each devoted to powering a single piece of equipment. Such unconstrained proliferation of diverse and incompatible power sources is costly and creates significant logistical challenges.

Platforms: Land, Maritime and Air

From the smallest drone to the largest aircraft carrier, the space available for power sources on board platforms is generally very limited. Introducing more batteries or generators to a platform adds weight, reducing mobility and range. The challenge, therefore, is to increase energy provision while maintaining or reducing the volume and mass of the power sources.

Land

The numerous electrified technologies available to land platforms create a power requirement that far exceeds what can be resourced. Platform designers face a choice: continue to use existing power sources and employ new technologies selectively; or upgrade the power source for the introduction of multiple electrical systems.

A hybrid electric powertrain on a heavy armoured vehicle can make the difference between a few kilowatts of available power to hundreds of KW. This will be the key to accommodating a wide range of capability-enhancing, power-hungry systems, such as Active Protection, Directed Energy Weapons and sensor suites.

Platform integrators must consider the introduction of hybrid electric propulsion for future fighting vehicles. Currently the market is investing massive sums in the development of parallel technologies for electric and autonomous vehicles. Therefore, DPSUs and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) should be drawing on civil investment and looking to militarise it, rather than developing it in isolation.

Maritime

Using electric drive systems in ships offers the same design flexibility that it does in land vehicles and can also make the ship far more manoeuvrable. Electric propulsion is fast becoming a common feature of modern naval vessels. The Royal Navy uses it for its Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier and Type 45 frigates.

The performance of a large naval platform is less affected by small weight increases than an aircraft or armoured land vehicle. However, space is limited and the types of equipment a large ship may be required to support, such as a directed energy weapon or EMALS (electromagnetic aircraft launch system), have high power demands.

The US Navy’s Gerald R Ford-class aircraft carrier has produced huge leaps forward in power provision for large ships. Its reactors generate 25% more power than those on the Nimitz-class carrier, while reliance on steam and associated infrastructure is significantly reduced to save space and weight. Its EMALS is claimed to save 30% of the interior hull volume, while its power storage and delivery system is capable of supporting DE weapons and even electromagnetic rail guns. Overall power availability on the carrier is twice that which is required by existing systems, leaving plenty of headroom for future technologies.

Air

The electrical energy requirement on manned aircraft is steadily growing with the addition of advanced situational awareness technologies, flight control systems and the necessary increase in computing power. The addition or redistribution of weight on board a fighter aircraft can have a significant effect on handing and performance, so opportunities to introduce extra power sources are limited.

The gyroscopic forces produced by flywheel systems make them impractical for aviation. Non-mechanical systems such as supercapacitors are air-transportable and exhibit higher power density than batteries and may be valuable for short bursts of power, but may not contain as much energy. To increase the energy available to aerial platforms, specialised solutions may be required, such as load-bearing or flexible batteries that form part of the structure of the aircraft.

It is not yet clear whether electric propulsion could provide significant benefits for manned military aircraft. Hypothetical advantages are lower-emissions and reduced heat and acoustic signatures. But electric propulsion comes into its own with unmanned aircraft.

Smaller, lighter batteries with higher energy density will be vital in increasing flight times and supporting additional sensing capability. Deployable remote charging points away from operating bases that will allow unmanned air systems (UAS) to ‘leapfrog’ between them and travel over greater distances.

As wireless power transfer technology improves, it will be possible to beam power from a directed energy system on the ground or water, enabling UAS to be charged in the air and avoiding the risks and disruption to operations caused by landing.

Electrified Armoured Fighting Vehicles

The power resource on board an armoured fighting vehicle is already under enormous pressure from its command and control systems, situational awareness equipment and the data connections required to support them. The demand for electricity is now pushing the limit of what is available on a conventional platform, and this trend will continue upward as new innovations are added incrementally.

Forced to hedge against multiple unpredictable threats, Active protection systems (APS), which sense and defeat incoming threats, are currently being explored as a way of reducing reliance on armour, but

the ISTAR capability needed to locate, prioritise and defeat threats produces an additional power demand. If an extra auxiliary power source is used, it creates a physical burden on the platform.

The mechanical vehicles that have served armies for the last century were simply not conceived with today’s electrically powered technologies in mind. If our AFVs are to continue exercising their operational advantage by retaining their mobility, survivability and lethality, it is time to rethink their fundamental design principles.

Advances in hybrid electric drive systems specifically for military vehicles mean there is now a credible alternative to conventional mechanical designs, enabling technological advantage through increased design freedom and on- board power.

Advantages of Hybrid Electric Drive Systems

Opportunities to introduce more power to conventional vehicles are limited by the configuration of the internal combustion engine and driveline components. The driveshaft must run unimpeded along the length of the vehicle’s underside, constraining the hull geometry and underbelly protection. A detonation beneath a vehicle can turn its transmission components into projectiles, blasting them through the floor and making them lethal to the occupants.

  • In a hybrid electric vehicle, electric motors contained within the wheels – or transmission in the case of a tracked vehicle – draw power via cables from a battery or generator, which can be placed almost anywhere in the platform. This design freedom, along with the weight reduction, enables hull geometry to be improved to increase blast resistance, make more effective use of passive armour, and locate personnel in safer parts of the vehicle, improving survivability.
  • Electric drive systems offer enhanced mobility by producing greater torque and faster acceleration. In-wheel motors can be controlled individually, increasing traction and agility, and can be mounted to long-arm independent suspension systems, giving them the ability to operate across challenging terrain.
  • Finally, an electric drive system increases the vehicle’s lethality by giving it the ability to conduct extended

periods of silent watch and silent running. It minimises the vehicle’s acoustic and thermal signatures without switching on the loud, hot diesel engine.

*Reference: Qinetiq’s paper on electrical battlefields

 

Electric Battlespace for the Infantry Soldier

Militaries worldwide recognise the need for infantry soldiers to ‘fight light’ if they are to maintain peak physical and mental performance and avoid injury. Project Hercules – a series of studies conducted by the UK’s DSTL into the effect of load carriage on agility, lethality, survivability and cognitive ability determined that equipment should not exceed 45% of bodyweight in marching order and 30% in combat. The same study noted that in Afghanistan, it was not uncommon for a US/NATO soldier to carry equipment totalling 55kg, which is closer to 70% of typical bodyweight!!

This recognition of the urgent need to reduce the physical burden comes at a time of unprecedented innovation, when there are more tools available to the soldier than ever before – many of them electrically powered. Enthusiasm for adopting these emerging technologies, however advantageous each one may be in isolation, must be tempered with pragmatism about what the soldier can reasonably be expected to carry. This will come from taking a ‘whole-system’ view of equipment, taking into account the tactical advantage conferred by each technology, but balancing that against the tactical disadvantage created by the additional power requirement and the weight of the batteries needed to service it.

Power-consuming Technologies

Technologies that contribute to the soldier’s situational awareness will be among the most vital. Dispersal of enemy targets across the battlefield, particularly in CI grid calls for real-time provision of high-fidelity data to enable soldiers to distinguish between priority targets, and terrorists and civilians.

This data will be drawn from a number of diverse sources, including robotic and autonomous systems fitted with advanced sensors and communications equipment. The collected data will be prioritised, integrated and presented as live mission intelligence on head-up displays in visors or goggles or on a pad. To achieve this, sensors, transmitters and receivers must be wirelessly networked to support co-ordinated engagements across disparate locations.

Soldiers must be able to retain situational awareness when satellite data is unavailable, either due to a denial attack or when operating underground or in buildings. Given the available technologies today,  it is possible to devise a system of body-worn inertial and visual navigation sensors that can track personnel in environments where GPS is unavailable, improving navigation, detecting threats, and sharing information with other (fellow) soldiers and commanders.  Body-worn or weapon-mounted direction finder systems enable combatants to protect themselves from snipers and other gunfire threats by arming them with the situational awareness needed to pinpoint the source of gunfire and react immediately by taking cover or launching a counterattack.

All of these are crucial, lifesaving technologies – but they also come with their own power requirements, which, alongside those of other vital equipment like radios, tactical hearing protection, data terminals and night vision goggles, can quickly add up. Power demands thus, must be met in a smarter way.

Distributed, Standardised Body-worn Power

Much of the added burden is due to each piece of kit having its own dedicated power source. This is compounded by the fact that not all are interchangeable, requiring infantry to carry spares of several different types of battery. It may not be practical to consolidate these batteries into a single centralised power source, as damage to the central source could cause all electrified equipment carried by the soldier to fail. It would also require helmet and weapon-mounted systems to be tethered to the body, restricting movement and making broken kit harder to discard quickly. The solution lies in multiple, mutually compatible batteries and fuel cells, integrated into clothing and distributed across the body.

Further to introducing a common power source for each soldier, all power sources should also be made compatible with one another. Fully open architecture would enable individuals to ‘donate’ power to each other in the field, and recharge by plugging universal cables into power banks on platforms, equipment and in operating bases. Energy can also be redirected to where it is needed, reducing wastage and removing the physical burden of excess spares.

Supportive Procurement Procedures

MoDs across the globe are beginning to acknowledge the importance of open architecture in BMS or soldier management systems being innovated in their respective armies. For example, the Australian Department of Defence, through its Diggerworks initiative, and the UK Ministry of Defence, via its Morpheus programme, have both made strides toward what they term ‘generic soldier architecture’ – the latter having introduced a formal defence standard (DEF STAN 23-012) to this effect.

Defence OEMs too are starting to think about how to tackle these problems. BAE Systems’ Broadsword Spine wearable technology uses conductive fabrics instead of wires and cables to move power and data around the body. Electronic devices can be plugged into the body-worn power source, resulting in a 40% weight saving. However, for this type of technology to become accepted requires the defence sector OEMs to be supportive towards each other.  Procurement of a system usually includes through life support when it comes to battery packs of power sources. Invariably it will not cater for innovations and technology advancements in future. A long term contract therefore can jeopardise innovations, as once the prime is under contract it has little incentive to upgrade the power supply, and the buyer is not permitted to procure newer, better solutions from other manufacturers. Therefore, Open architecture can only be fully exploited if it is supported by open, competitive procurement frameworks that prioritise operational performance over long-term supply.

Enabling Technologies and Innovations

►           Advanced situational awareness tools, such

as head-up displays, gunshot localisation, and navigation that works in GPS-denied environments,

► Batteries or fuel cells with greater power density, to provide more power without increasing the physical burden on the individual,

►           Portable power systems to fuel equipment and recharge on-person power in remote locations,

►           Integrated and ergonomic body-worn power systems that can draw power from multiple sources and supply it to any piece of equipment necessary, based on modular architecture so kit can be removed easily in an emergency,

►           Situational awareness provided by remote smart sensors, such as those mounted on unmanned platforms, which process data at the delivery end to reduce the computing power needed at the receiving end,

►           Where practical, resupply using unmanned or autonomous systems to further reduce the burden on the soldier.