April 1, 2009  

Smart power

They say an Army runs on its stomach. The reality is it runs on oil. Lots of it.

But a soldier’s perspective on energy efficiency is through necessity different from that of the civilian consumer. Give a soldier a vehicle that can drive 300 miles on a tank of fuel and he’ll go 300 miles. Improve the vehicle’s fuel efficiency so it can go 350 miles and the soldier will drive 50 miles further.

At the unit level, energy efficiency doesn’t translate into energy savings. Given more resources, a soldier’s natural inclination is to do more by fully using the additional resources. He’s a more capable soldier, but not necessarily a ‘greener’ one. he need for greater power capability is therefore often what drives the military, especially the Army, to seek energy efficient systems.

That’s not to say that the Defense Department, which consumes more than 300 million barrels of oil a day and spends around $13 billion on jet fuel, diesel and other fuels each year, isn’t keenly focused on reducing its fuel costs. It has a number of active research and development programs aimed at exploring energy alternatives and fuel efficiency efforts. The goal is twofold; to cut fuel costs and to reduce dependency on oil.

Nevertheless, mission capability remains the top priority. That’s not necessarily a negative for greenness, but it translates into a thirst for innovative systems that do more with less, or so-called ‘smart power’ systems.

“The demand for smart power is very strong,” said Sean Bond, BAE Systems Electronics & Integrated Solutions president, platform solutions. “You can get caught into what’s trendy, and fuel savings are criteria, but what’s important is that you get there, however you get there.”

Two elements of military systems’ fuel efficiency are predominant: The need for greater mission capability that smart power provides and the need to reduce money spent on fuel, which makes up around 75 percent of DoD’s total energy costs.

“It’s definitely heating up. There have always been early adopters, but what has happened lately is that the early voices have been joined by many others throughout the DoD,” Bond said.

BAE Systems has been demonstrating its Common Modular Power System, or CMPS, on a number of Army vehicles, including the Stryker and Paladin. CMPS is a smart power generating system that both converts power into the “right flavor” for whatever is needed and also distributes it to where it is most needed. If, for example, a vehicle needs to switch on all of its jammers, but can turn off its radios, then power moves seamlessly from one use to another via the smart distribution system. There is a graceful trail off or ramp up as different missions are met, allowing the operator to focus on the mission rather than manually flipping levers or pushing buttons.

Because it negates the need for hydraulic systems, CMPS makes vehicles quicker, quieter, lighter and easier to maintain. And because it has a common architecture that works across many vehicle types, the number of support line items that must be carried into the field is drastically reduced — from perhaps hundreds to fewer than 10. That in itself represents a potentially huge saving in fuel costs; support vehicles account for around half of DoD’s transport fuel costs.

So while the soldier will exhaust every last drop of power available to him, there’s an energy payoff at the higher level.

“What you find out is that when you give them that greater capability, they will consume it because it improves their survivability on the battlefield. They will take advantage of that. So at the unit level it’s insignificant, but at a higher level, someone will say ‘we now don’t need as many vehicles.’ That’s where the opportunity lies,” said Marion H. Von Fosson, BAE Systems Electronics & Integrated Solutions director, land systems.

“At the brigade level, at best it’s mildly interesting. But at the strategic level it gets very interesting,” Bond said. AFJ