New power sources needed for soldier of the future

Sep 11, 2004

The U.S. Army should investigate alternative power sources, such as fuel cells and small engines, to create longer-lasting, lighter, cheaper, and more reliable sources of energy for the equipment soldiers will use in the future, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. In addition, the Army should step up its efforts to develop and acquire technologies that are more energy-efficient, said the committee that wrote the report.

"The Army should immediately conduct a comprehensive analysis of power sources for future dismounted soldiers, looking beyond today's standard military batteries," said Patrick Flynn, committee chair and retired vice president for research, Cummins Engine Company Inc., Columbus, Ind. "Many commercial energy sources exist, but they are developed for a consumer market, not the military. The Army must determine and select the energy sources that are most relevant to its needs."

The Army will equip its future warriors through a program called "Land Warrior," which, in addition to weaponry, includes high-tech electronics that significantly increase soldiers' awareness of the combat environment, such as helmets with visual displays, chemical and biological sensors, radios, and portable computers. But these devices are not energy-efficient and will need new power sources to operate efficiently. The development, testing, and evaluation of these new energy sources will be carried out under a program known as Future Force Warrior.

The committee evaluated and prioritized options for supplying energy to various low- and high-power applications on the battlefield. In addition to disposable and rechargeable batteries, the committee considered fuel cells, small engines, and hybrid energy systems such as those combining a battery with a fuel cell, or a small engine with a battery. Existing military batteries can provide enough power for computer displays, radios, sensors, and electronics for a 12-hour mission, but longer missions will require other technologies to efficiently power operations lasting up to 72 hours. These include improved low-power electronics, sophisticated power-management software, and "smart" hybrid energy systems that automatically adjust to the soldier's operating environment on the battlefield.

Some of the applications requiring a higher level of power -- an average of 100 watts -- include portable battery rechargers; laser target designator devices used to guide a rocket, missile, or bomb to its target; and individual cooling systems for protective garments. For these applications, the committee concluded that hybrid systems operating on common military fuels would be needed.

Other devices designed to enhance soldiers' performance on the battlefield use even more power, requiring between 1 and 5 kilowatts. For example, the "exoskeleton," which consists of a pair of mechanical metal leg braces and a backpack-like frame, literally takes the load off a soldier's back, allowing him or her to carry large or heavy packs without losing agility. To power such energy-intensive equipment, the Army should consider use of lightweight engine generators, the report says.

Among all possible energy sources, hybrid systems provide the most versatile solutions for meeting the diverse needs of the Future Force Warrior, the committee said. The key advantage of hybrid systems is their ability to provide power over varying levels of energy use, by combining two power sources.

"Products historically have evolved to become more portable, mobile, and wearable," Flynn said. "By integrating components and minimizing the energy they consume, tomorrow's military equipment will help soldiers operate in various conditions, extend the range and duration of their operations, and minimize their vulnerability."

Explore further: Google searches hold key to future market crashes

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Creating optical cables out of thin air

18 hours ago

Imagine being able to instantaneously run an optical cable or fiber to any point on earth, or even into space. That's what Howard Milchberg, professor of physics and electrical and computer engineering at ...

Fermi finds a 'transformer' pulsar

11 hours ago

(Phys.org) —In late June 2013, an exceptional binary containing a rapidly spinning neutron star underwent a dramatic change in behavior never before observed. The pulsar's radio beacon vanished, while at ...

Who gains most from axing the carbon tax – and at what cost?

Jul 18, 2014

When the carbon tax was introduced, there was a lot of discussion about winners and losers. The Labor government limited the number of businesses that had to pay the tax, while it also gave carbon tax relief to large carbon emitters and large energy users. There were tax ...

Recommended for you

Google searches hold key to future market crashes

4 hours ago

A team of researchers from Warwick Business School and Boston University have developed a method to automatically identify topics that people search for on Google before subsequent stock market falls.

Lenovo's smart glasses prototype has battery at neck

6 hours ago

China's PC giant Lenovo last week offered a peek at its Google Glass-competing smart glass prototype, further details of which are to be announced in October. Lenovo's glasses prototype is not an extreme ...

Amazon launches 3D printing store

9 hours ago

Amazon announced Monday the launch of an online store for 3D printed items to allow consumers to customize and personalize items like earrings, pendants, dolls and other objects.

User comments : 0