February 14, 2006
Military Hybrid Vehicles Could Boost Safety, Mobility
By Steven Komarow, USA Today
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is developing hybrid electric engines for the replacement for the Humvee to extend the vehicle's range and increase its survival on the battlefield.
The Army and Marine Corps are testing research vehicles that combine internal-combustion engines with battery power, a concept becoming popular in civilian cars such as the Toyota Prius.
The interest in hybrid power is part of a broad effort to find new vehicles better suited to fight in wars similar to the conflict in Iraq. In past wars, the military could race ahead and then stop safely behind the front lines to refuel. In Iraq, the war is fought throughout the country, and supply convoys are always at risk. Hybrid vehicles could reduce the number of convoys.
The Army is testing a half-dozen hybrid-electric versions of the Humvee chassis at various testing grounds in the USA.
The Marines are testing a different vehicle called the RST-V (Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Targeting Vehicle), a light truck built by General Dynamics that has an electric motor at each wheel hub.
Though the hub drives have yet to prove they can be durable enough, their design could mean added safety for troops. A motor at each wheel could let the vehicle move even if one wheel is destroyed. Eliminating heavy driveshafts and other components can remove the hazard that occurs when they become projectiles after a vehicle hits a mine or bomb.
General Dynamics' spokesman Pete Keating said the company wants to test the RST-V in Iraq this year, although it hasn't worked out the details with the Marines.
Marine Col. Clarke Lethin, who oversees requirements for future vehicles at the Marine base in Quantico, Va., said hybrids could help the military achieve increased fuel economy. Other potential military advantages include:
Near-silent operation. The vehicles can operate on batteries alone, at least slowly, when troops don't want engine noise giving away their position.
A source of electricity. Instead of towing generators that provide electricity for field command posts, the rechargeable batteries in hybrid vehicles could generate that power. Hybrid batteries are recharged while the vehicle is running off its fuel source.
Acceleration. Army testing last year showed the hybrids were faster than standard Humvees for short bursts of speed.
There are downsides that could delay introduction of the new systems. An Army paper cites problems cooling the hybrid systems, which would be packed inside an armored vehicle in places such as Iraq.
The Pentagon says the production contract for the Humvee replacement will be awarded in 2009, and full production is expected to start in early 2011.
This month, the Army picked International Military and Government LLC and Lockheed Martin to build competing models of the new Humvee.
The Pentagon should have test results by early next year, said Lt. Col. Stuart Rogers, an Army program manager. The results will show military planners the most efficient engines to use in the next Humvee and also heavier trucks.
Rogers said it's too early to determine the cost of the new vehicle; a basic Humvee costs $75,000.
Despite hybrid technology's commercial use, the military still needs to determine how it will withstand battlefield conditions, Rogers said.
The Army and Marines are combining their separate research efforts this year, and the Defense Department will buy a common Humvee replacement for all services, Rogers said.
Hybrid power could eventually be replaced by even more advanced power systems, such as hydrogen fuel cells, according to research at the Army's tank and automotive design division.