The defense industry, long a hotbed of innovation, is looking to collaborate with the energy industry on new technology as energy efficiency becomes an increasingly high-profile effort at the Department of Defense.
New hybrid electric-drive technology in a vehicle developed by defense contractor BAE Systems is a major forerunner of that effort, and a demonstration of the way energy technology can be applied in unique ways to defense systems.
“It is an upscale Prius,” BAE VP and General Manager of Weapons Systems Mark Signorelli told Breaking Energy, before admitting he was exaggerating. The underlying technology in the new hybrid vehicle is mostly built on broadly understood advances since hybrid drive technology originated in the 1970s, but the way in which the technologies are pulled together and the scale of operation they are required to support is unique, Signorelli said.
For more on energy innovation in the US Army, read: Safe And Secure: US Army Takes A Stand On Energy Efficiency.
While the size of the military market for the vehicles, which starts at roughly 2000 units and peaks somewhere around 10,000, is comparatively small, the vehicles themselves are enormous. The BAE hybrid drive is obligated to support a 70 ton weight class vehicle, with a full megawatt of power generation onboard.
“We’re taking known, robust technologies and scaling that,” Signorelli said.
BAE started building electric drive vehicles for the US Army more than 30 years ago when the technology first emerged, but given a recent Defense Department push for energy efficiency the company has sought to boost efficiencies in their own vehicle fleet offerings. The more efficient drives, which allow the engines to operate at maximum efficiency and weigh substantially less, mean the vehicle cost roughly 5-10% more, but Signorelli says the fuel efficiencies mean it pays for itself in three to five years over an operational lifespan of 20 years.
BAE has yet to sell any of its new hybrid drives, but it expects to hear back on its proposal activity to the Department of Defense “very shortly,” Signorelli said.
The focus on reducing costs in both lives and money associated with energy inefficiencies means BAE is “anxious to find opportunities to collaborate with those in the commercial hybrid electric world,” Signorelli said. “This is an opportunity to show how technology can flow from the commercial world to the military sector.”