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US Army eyes up electric power

General Motors and the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) on Monday (Oct. 3) revealed the Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 fuel cell electric vehicle, a concept that marries fuel cell technology and its advantages of on-board water production, exportable electric power and near silent operation with extreme off-road capability.

The United States Army is beginning to assess the advantages, feasibility and realities of introducing and employing electric and hybrid vehicles.

Lieutenant General Eric Wesley – the director of the Futures and Concepts centre at the US Army Futures Command – explained the Army’s new interest in the technology in an interview with specialist outlet Defense News.

“The benefit of electrification is that you’ve got an entire industry that’s doing all of the science and technology for you now”, said Wesley.

“There’s a real opportunity for synergy. Why now? As the industry goes, so does the Army.” 

The Army has experimented with electric power before and is familiar with the technologies involved, but integrating electric vehicles (EVs) into its forces is not a straightforward process. 

In particular, Wesley highlighted the challenge of transitioning from fossil-fuelled vehicles to electric, particularly as both will inevitably overlap for some time.

Currently, Wesley’s team is putting together a proposal that will demonstrate how this would be carried out.

In a video interview hosted by Jen Judson, land warfare reporter for Defense News, he also explained that EVs offer the advantages of easily distributed independent power; a vehicle could itself power different tools or weapons, increasing flexibility.

Charging EVs could prove less resource-intensive than providing fuel for conventional vehicles, reducing logistical challenges and improving mobility. 

The Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 fuel cell electric truck looks good in the mud or reflecting it during a workout on the Heavy Vehicle Test Area at General Motors’ Milford Proving Ground. The hydrogen-powered fuel cell in the ZH2 runs nearly silent, can export up to 25 kW of electric power and generate up to two gallons of useable water per hour from its only emission, which is water vapor.

Electrified vehicles, particularly pure electric ones, would have other advantages in military applications. They are less complicated and often modular, which benefits reliability and serviceability.

EVs also have a reduced thermal signature compared to conventional vehicles – as they have no hot engine, transmission or exhaust system – making it harder for infrared-seeking weapons or vision systems to acquire them. 

Reduced noise and dust signatures could further make electric military vehicles less obtrusive and harder for enemies to detect. 

Other forces are currently introducing electric vehicles into their automotive fleets, a move that is further driving the US Army to take a closer look at its potential.

Similarly, as manufacturers shift production to electric vehicles, parts and platform availability – and the phasing out of conventionally powered vehicles – may speed EV adoption in the future.

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