Six companies have been officially selected by the United States Army to design and develop electric vehicle concepts as part of the Army’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle program.
Although the conceptual vehicle designs themselves are not expected to result in adoption by the Army, they will help explore and identify “technologies that will help power the Army’s move to electric vehicles (EVs) and allow the Army to use electric power in remote locations,” according to an Army Applications Laboratory statement.
The six companies — members of the NGCV Power Transfer Cohort — are unique in that they are not the defense industry companies that are typically awarded development contracts by the Army for big-ticket projects. Each company has been awarded $100,000, and the design process is expected to be very rapid: this current cohort kicked off at the end of March, and design concepts are expected by mid-May.
“Last year, we launched and validated this new Cohort Program approach. We know it works, and we’re already seeing the results for our Army mission partners,” Len Rosanoff, director of AAL, said in the statement. “The Power Transfer Cohort is a chance to show that this model can scale across the Army to solve other complex problems. This approach will make the Army a better business partner for industry. And we want others in the Army to know they can do this, too.”
Both the Army and the Marine Corps operate the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, a lightly armored vehicle that offers advantages in payload capabilities, transportability, and protection when compared to the legacy Humvee. Recently the Marines have so far as to modify some of their JLTVs to autonomously target and sink Chinese ships. And though the JLTV entered full-rate production in 2019, the Army thinks that its replacement could be not so far away, as well as electric.
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Electric vehicles could be a boon to logistics, as they wouldn’t be dependent on fossil fuels — a critical battlefield material that represents a particular supply chain vulnerability. Still, though electric vehicles would be freed from petroleum supply chains, they’re no silver bullet. Charging electric vehicles could prove to be particularly difficult, as topping off a dead battery could require more downtime than simply filling up an empty gas tank.
The Department of Defense is exploring alternative power sources, including one initiative that would like to see portable, miniaturized nuclear reactors rapidly generate massive amounts of electrical power and could be used to provide quick juice for fleets of electric vehicles.
All-electric Army vehicles would be an ambitious goal, but one that the Army sees as absolutely necessary. “Let’s be clear. We’re behind. We’re late to meet on this thing,” one Army Lt. General explained in an interview with Defense News. “If you look at all of the analysis, all of the various nations that we work with, they’re all going to electric power with their automotive fleet, and right now, although we do and we’ve got some research and development going on and we can build prototypes, in terms of a transition plan, we are not there.”
Though the Army’s electric vehicle initiative is perhaps not quite as far along as they’d like, the Cohort Program could quickly change where the Army program currently is — either way, the Army of the future will be electric.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.