In just a few years, the United States Army is expected to retire their iconic Bradley troop carrier. The Bradley’s replacement, the proposed GCV Infantry Fighting Vehicle, is a massive, highly modifiable ground combat vehicle that grew out of years of military and defense contractor studies. There’s also a very good chance it could be a gas-electric hybrid.
The Pentagon has a keen interest in hybrid gas-electric vehicles, solar power, and other clean energy sources. For the Defense Department, building the Army’s next-generation fighting vehicle with a hybrid gas and electric system isn’t a matter of saving the world; it’s a matter of saving valuable budget dollars during an era of fiscal belt-tightening.
When the next generation of GCVs begin construction—the exact date depends on an elaborate political horse-trading process between Congress, the Pentagon, and defense contractors—they will include parts from a variety of vendors. One of the proposals the Pentagon is considering uses a hybrid propulsion system. BAE Systems, which is partnering with several other firms to create the proposed hybrid system, is adapting civilian hybrid power systems from buses and automobiles to the tank. BAE has worked on various other hybrid systems in the past.
"The change from switching over to hybrid GCVs is like when the Air Force purchased their first jet fighters," BAE Systems’ Mark Signorelli told Co.Exist. If BAE’s proposal is adopted by the military, the Defense Department will save approximately 20% in fuel costs compared to an alternate GCV vehicle with traditional propulsion. The electric motor will also provide faster acceleration than Bradleys, and the tanks can switch to pure electric mode for short periods of time. This would eliminate significant heat traces from the battlefield and lets the tank operate much more quietly at night.
"There are several advantages in using a hybrid propulsion system for a military vehicle over a conventional engine," Signorelli said. "A hybrid electric drive system would use up to 20% less fuel, significantly reducing fuel costs and the number of vulnerable convoys for resupply. […] There are also 40% fewer moving parts with higher reliability, requiring less maintenance and decreasing vehicle lifetime cost. Vehicle acceleration, handling and dash speed are improved even over fuel hungry turbine systems. Finally, the system’s ability to provide large amounts of electrical power accommodates the integration of future communications and weapons technology for the next 30 to 40 years."
According to BAE, the team behind the vehicle will include several other defense contractors. Northrop Grumman, Qinetiq, MTU, Saft, L3, and Tognum are all contributing parts to the proposed project. If the military adopts the proposed hybrid vehicle—there is a competing proposal with non-hybrid propulsion, they could roll onto the battlefield in the next decade. BAE representatives claim that the first vehicle could be delivered in 2020 and fielded in 2022 if the Defense Department chooses their proposal.
BAE claims the GCVs will have a 40-year lifespan and can effectively transport troops to the battlefield while providing support fire. Once in action, the GCVs will be powered by a hybrid electric drive that generates almost 1,100 kilowatts of electricity. The hybrid electric drive also means the tank burns half as much energy while idling; this is a significant cost savings for the Pentagon, and can also let troops charge their electronics off the vehicle’s batteries.
Signorelli also stressed the GCV’s "growth and modularity"—the vehicle works as a tank once a few basic accessories are added; the vehicle can also be augmented with accessories including electric armor, jammers, and experimental energy weapons thanks to the in-vehicle electric power source. Some of these experimental energy weapons are being researched by the military for use in the medium future.
However, there has been criticism of BAE’s proposal for a hybrid fighting vehicle. All of BAE’s innovation comes at a price—the hybrid vehicle is significantly heavier than one with a conventional power system. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a critical report in March, which claims both BAE’s proposal and rival General Dynamics proposal would waste government funds. Instead, the CBO recommended purchasing a German troop carrier called the Puma or a similar Israeli product.
The CBO was especially worried about the size of BAE’s hybrid GCV. With armor, the finished vehicle will weigh 70 to 84 tons, AOL Defense’s Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. reports. There is speculation that the vehicle’s large size would put it at a disadvantage when used in dense urban environments abroad.
Signorelli says that there is a need for increased capacity in the next generation of military vehicles. In the meantime, despite the military’s ambivalence about moving on from the Bradley, they will face an unavoidable choice in the future. As it stands right now, there are good odds that choice might just be a hybrid—and Prius owners will get new bragging rights.