A new report from QinetiQ argues that we need to look beyond batteries in preparing for the future battlefield.
“Historically, electrical technologies have been little more than useful additions to military capability, designed to augment the primarily mechanical equipment and human fighters at the heart of warfare,” author Colin Cockcroft of QinetiQ Australia argues. “That is now changing.”
The electrification of warfare, according to the report, is driven by geopolitical factors. First, fuel consumption is reaching unsustainable levels. Fuel consumption in the US Army has increased from 3.7 litres per soldier in WW2 to 75 in Iraq, a conflict that saw one American fatality per 24 fuel convoys. Put simply, transporting diesel fuel is dangerous.
Second, Russia and China are developing weapons that necessitate increasing Western investment in power-hungry long-range intelligence, surveillance and targeting capabilities. Third, the threat climate change poses to the Defence sector requires a greener approach, and fourth, the need for ‘high-fidelity intelligence’ to stay ahead of developments in the operating environment will also require electrical power.
Cockcroft highlights the fact that all the new technologies emerging today – countermeasures, situational awareness tools, smart sensors, and more – are dependent on electrical energy, but electrical technologies are being ‘shoehorned’ into pre-existing infrastructure.
“We must stop weighing down people and platforms with more and more batteries,” Cockcroft argues. “And we must stop focusing on the power demands of individual capabilities, instead taking a macro ‘system-of-systems’ view to tackle the issue at an infrastructure level.”
Cockcroft puts forward a number of ideas to get our electrical infrastructure up to speed with forthcoming technologies. First, we need to match power generation to demand by forecasting electrical energy requirements on operations. We also need to get better at moving electrical power to where it needs to be using multi-stage power systems.
These ideas also address cultural issues. Cockcroft argues the need to standardise system power requirements, adopt a more flexible approach to procurement, adopt a culture of energy saving, and continuously search for areas to improve.
“The success or failure of electrical technologies in defence will depend on the quality of the infrastructure behind them,” Cockcroft concludes. “While power provision may not grab headlines like laser weapons or robotic systems, governments and industry must commit adequate money, time and resources to research and development projects that support the creation of that infrastructure.
“If they do not, the battle-winning potential of their headline-grabbing technologies will never be fully realised.”