The US warfighter of today is wired. And batteries have to be included.
The Soldier Wearable Integrated Power Equipment System, a vest equipped with advanced polymer conformal batteries and bristling with more USB connectors than a Radio Shack, is one solution the US Army is using, and its advancing battery technology has become a key strategic advantage.
Armies have always needed energy in the form of fuel, and the logistics of getting energy to soldiers and sailors has long been a vital piece of military planning. It has equally been a potential deadly vulnerability, as the high rate of casualties for petroleum fuel convoys in Afghanistan continues to illustrate.
For modern soldiers, energy isn’t just fuel for trucks and tanks, it’s battery power for the amazing array of gadgets that make up the soldier’s electronic arsenal.
“One of the most important tools today is being networked,” Army Lt. Col. Raymond Mason told a session at the Association of the United States Army annual October conference in Washington, DC. A soldier’s ability to communicate with his fellow combatants, both nearby and those operating surveillance and detection devices remotely, and with commanders as fighting is under way, has become critical in modern warfare, he said.
But batteries have tended to be bulky and heavy – neither a military advantage.
“We don’t want (networking) to become an Achilles Heel,” Mason said, and the military is making a long-term investment in battery technology to make sure that doesn’t happen.
SWIPES vests now house advanced polymer conformal batteries, rectangular and flexible, so they bend with the soldier’s body. According to Army officials, the first batteries didn’t bend and proved difficult for soldiers to wear, so researchers have developed a flexible version that is now being deployed.
One of the most important tools today is being networked,”
The vest is covered with device pockets, each with its own power connector for devices like radios, cell phones and GPS positioning. “Each pocket is a charging station,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army Katherine Hammack. “A soldier can trickle-charge all these devices” on the go, keeping them powered up for action, she said.
That means soldiers aren’t trying to swap out batteries in the middle of a firefight.
The new batteries halve both the size and the weight of the batteries they replace, without lowering performance, a significant advantage for soldiers on the battlefield.
For soldiers at more than 10,000 feet altitude, like much of Afghanistan, reducing weight makes a “significant” difference, said Army Command Sergeant Major John Troxell.
Military trucks are being equipped with rechargers, so soldiers can recharge or swap out their vest batteries on the go.
Read more Breaking Energy coverage of US military advanced energy technology initiatives here.
Troxell said he has seen the vests in action in Afghanistan’s Kumar River valley. Soldiers on the ground have to be able to see both where they are and where their enemies are, and be able to call in fire accurately, he said, and the advanced battery capability and vest ensure they are able to do all that.
The Army has ordered more SWIPES vests are made by Arotech’s Electric Fuel Battery division in Auburn, AL.