Military EVs are a necessary awakening — not ‘wokeness’
The United States Army has been forward-leaning and open about integrating climate change factors into future force design. Detractors have derided these initiatives and associated electric vehicle (EV) programs as “wokeness.” Pundits have accused the Department of Defense of being driven by a political agenda to fashion the military as a social experiment instead of as an effective fighting force.
But these efforts are part of the need to wake up and evolve for the future fight. Change is hard. Hardened biases and complacency make acknowledging the value of change nearly impossible for some. Electric vehicle adoption by the United States Armed Forces is about waking up and realizing the force multiplying power of the electric revolution. Such an awakening will benefit the future force by maximizing efficiency in warfighting logistics, budgetary appropriation and management of technicians.
Familiarity and the conflation of large-displacement vehicles with American exceptionalism causes people to turn a blind eye to the general inefficiency of internal combustion engines. Electric vehicles are up to three times more efficient than their gasoline counterparts in energy usage efficiency while offering instant torque and superior ratios for towing capacity.
These factors alone prove the value of adopting the technology. But what electric vehicles present in terms of buy back prove the necessity for adopting the technology sooner rather than later. Fewer moving parts reduce maintenance frequency and the rate of material failures. Components that fail are more modular when replaced, allowing shorter downtime to complete repairs. And fewer parts mean a smaller footprint in storerooms required onboard ships or at forward operating bases. That footprint is further reduced by the lack of need for lubricants and coolants required by gasoline-powered vehicles. Fewer material needs mean lower transportation costs related to moving logistics packages into operational theaters.
This is a critical buyback of space and maintenance dollars that can reduce in-service operating costs of vehicle platforms. These savings will either reduce budgetary requirements or allow for the redistribution of funding to other critical areas of need.
Less complicated maintenance and repair equates to short and more streamlined training for technicians to speed up reporting of new personnel to address force-wide manning shortfalls. Anything that reduces the time frame to receive newly trained personnel and then reduces the required man-hours for necessary maintenance is a force multiplier. Operational, administrative and maintenance requirements on a day-to-day basis often lead to the problem of not having enough hours in the day to accomplish everything while still supporting proper rest and downtime. Buyback of man-hours will help reduce operational stress and the overloading of technicians during the workday while also easing the burden of management.
Naysayers will quickly hurl outdated talking points, including severe range limitation and overheating related battery fire risk. Current technology has significantly improved performance in these areas and the next leaps appear to be just over the horizon. Charging infrastructure and mobile charging challenges posed by a military application are significant barriers. Still, they are conquerable when the best and brightest of America’s industry pair with the operational experience of its service members. Military EV experimentation to overcome the unique engineering challenges presented by the operational environment could be the key to accelerating solutions to existing shortfalls while unlocking additional and unforeseen potential of electric vehicles. Replacing current non-tactical support vehicles such as aviation support tractors, fleet vehicles, service support trucks on a department-wide scale would result in significant reduction of fuel usage and carbon emissions. And those fuel savings don’t just mean an environmental plus, they also free up existing fuel on ships and at forward operating bases to be used elsewhere. This mean more fuel for aircraft, tanks and other combat platforms.
It would be easy to quickly dismiss electric vehicles as an example of prioritizing agenda over strategy. That would be a mistake not rooted in thoughtful analysis — but rather in biases more scared of change itself than what the change is. Legacy vehicles with combustion engines have many shortcomings that are accepted due to our familiarity and comfort with them. And beyond that, cars and military vehicles are intertwined with the culture and spirit of America. Yet, blind allegiance to nostalgia and refusal to evolve leaves America’s security at risk. Manpower and money are not in limitless supply. Electric vehicles buy back time, money and manpower. Awakening to the electric evolution now is critical. Current and future electric platforms are a necessary investment in the continued warfighting effectiveness of the United States Armed Forces.
Commander Michael Knickerbocker is a United States Navy surface warfare officer and federal executive fellow at the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin. The opinions reflected here are his own, and they do not represent the official policy of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, Clements Center or the University of Texas.
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