Delivering Operational Energy to Enhance Warfighter Capability

Delivering Operational Energy to Enhance Warfighter Capability

As geopolitical threats intensify around the globe, there are several defense-related modernization efforts underway that address the need for improved mission effectiveness while also increasing energy resilience and reducing fossil fuel dependency. At the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks has been championing energy innovation. She has publicly stated “it has to do with national security and what it takes to have the capabilities we need for the warfighter today and going forward. That alignment with climate goals is excellent for us.”

Commercial industry is already answering the call for energy resilience by investing billions of dollars in alternative propulsion technologies that can also increase tactical capabilities and provide a more efficient use of energy in many operating environments, ultimately reducing fuel logistics. GM Defense, for example, is leveraging the $35 billion investments in electric vehicle and autonomous vehicle technology by its parent company, General Motors (GM), to help transition global defense and government customers to a more electric, autonomous and connected future. In recent months, GM Defense has announced projects that help advance that transition and deliver enhanced capabilities to DoD.

A computer-generated rendering of the energy storage unit being developed by GM Defense.

In October 2022, GM Defense announced a contract award supporting the Defense Innovation Unit’s (DIU) Jumpstart for Advanced Battery Standardization (JABS). The JABS program is a multi-phased project that is helping to shape the DoD’s understanding of high voltage lithium-ion systems. Phase one included an analysis to better understand the difference between commercial testing standards and DoD testing standards for lithium ion. Phase two includes safety critical testing to NAVSEA S9310 standards of a proposed solution for key learnings. Phase three looks at the integration of a commercial off the shelf 12-module battery pack onto a military platform. Key learnings from each phase of JABS will help inform the integration requirements to support future defense battery electric solutions.

The requirements for JABS include a high-voltage battery system that optimizes commercial electric vehicle cells, modules and components scalable from 50 volts to 1,000+ volts. GM Defense provided a scalable solution leveraging the Ultium Platform, General Motors’ advanced battery electric vehicle propulsion architecture that will power more than 1 million units of commercial electric vehicles by 2025. The Ultium Platform uses different chemistries and cell form factors, making it adaptable to changing needs and new technology insertions as they become available. Ultium’s adaptability enables GM Defense to ensure its global defense and government customers have the latest technology available on the commercial market. GM Defense’s battery electric prototype solution can scale beyond JABS requirements to support a range of military stationary and mobile platforms that provide flexible energy distribution for mission requirements.

Since winning the JABS award, GM Defense has expanded its work under the contract to include phase four – the integration of the high-voltage battery pack into the company’s four passenger multi mission and logistics vehicle. The battery pack is intended to provide mission power in austere environments for equipment and systems, ranging from soldiers’ conformable wearable batteries for their warrior mission systems to counter unmanned aerial systems. The system also enables Silent Watch operations, enhancing warfighter capabilities with low acoustic and thermal signatures. Ultimately, JABS is the initial step to getting high voltage lithium-ion battery certifications to support a variety of usage across DoD platforms while helping to streamline testing and validation of future electrified solutions.

The Jumpstart for Advanced Battery Standardization (JABS) prototype being developed by GM Defense includes an Ultium battery module.

The advanced technology and testing leveraged for JABS supports another DIU program called the Stable Tactical Expeditionary Electric Power (STEEP) project, awarded to GM Defense in June 2023. STEEP seeks to support tactical microgrid and energy management capabilities in austere locations, reducing logistical requirements and the reliance on fossil fuels as the primary energy source across the DoD. DIU requirements for STEEP include a commercially proven energy storage system capable of 60 kW output with the ability to work with existing fuel-powered generators. The system is also required to include an intelligent power management system that can control a microgrid to manage power output when needed.

GM Defense is leveraging GM’s commercial efforts as the basis of its energy storage system solution. Previous related commercial projects include developing electric ground power units to power aircrafts for the U.S. Air Force and developing hydrogen fuel cell power generation to support the U.S. Army Ground Vehicle System Center. GM Defense’s energy storage solution, like JABS, also leverages GM’s Ultium Platform, and is designed to provide uninterruptable and sustainable power for mission critical equipment in remote areas or where a stable power grid is absent. Deployable as a fixed or mobile unit, the system provides stored energy wherever dropped and can provide backup power in natural disasters or supplement battery electric vehicle charging stations during high demand. The system will be developed to not only increase tactical generator fuel-efficiency, but also to decrease exposure to fuel supply threats, reduce fuel usage and costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions while reducing noise and heat signatures.

GM Defense’s multi-mission and logistics vehicle will include a newly developed prototype battery pack to deliver mission power.

Both of GM Defense’s solutions – JABS and its energy storage solution – are critical enablers that deliver advanced commercial technologies to support global defense and government customers’ transition to a more electric, autonomous and connected future. Backed by GM’s continued investments in commercial battery electric technology, GM Defense can leverage insights and improvements as battery electric and fuel cell technology matures, helping to answer military and government requirements around the globe with the most advanced commercial capabilities. As part of the energy innovation chain taking place in various parts of the U.S., the new technologies will enhance warfighter capabilities while also increasing energy resilience and reducing the dependence on fossil fuels at the tactical edge.

This article was written by Rick Kewley, Vice President, Product Development & Advanced Engineering, GM Defense. For more information, visit here .