Panel: Army needs more electricity to counter long-range missile threats

Chinese Houbei-class type 022 missiles launch rapid attack missiles. People’s Liberation Army Navy photo

The Pentagon is in the “shocking and telling” position of needing more electrical power to protect distributed naval and ground forces from long-range attacks at a time when China dominates global production of needed advanced batteries to fulfill this mission, a panel of security experts said Thursday.

Heather Penny, senior member of the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute, said that as a pilot, “electricity was just as important as jet fuel” in preparing for and reviewing missions. Still, she pointed out that China’s dominance over production is offset by its control over mining companies extracting the cobalt, lithium and manganese essential for making advanced batteries with long lifetimes for electric power in the world. fight.

Speaking at the Hudson Institute Online Forum, Bryan Clark, director of Hudson’s Center for Defense Concepts and Technology, said “that the distribution [to spread out forces] has a lot of costs ”to keep them going during and after an attack. The advantage comes from complicating an opponent’s attack plans.

Clark added that the Defense Department “hasn’t really thought about the different ways of distributing energy” under the changed conditions of long-range missile threats to positioning forces.

The pressing issue for future logisticians involves the Pentagon figuring out how to distribute this energy when threatened with attack, he said.

As retired Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley has stated, the “range, lethality and targeting” the Russians implemented to attack Ukrainian forces in 2014 and eliminate three massed defender battalions quickly provide a lesson. that the Pentagon must learn to operate. in Eastern Europe and the Indo-Pacific.

For distributed operations, “batteries are independent energy sources”. They can also be put on hold and used when needed, Wesley said.

While fossil fuels will still be needed to fly manned airplanes and for hypersonic use, Penny said. truck-mounted mobile nuclear reactors in the Pele project, now funded at $ 61 million for research and development, could be key to refueling the batteries of distributed units. Batteries and nuclear power could be used to power swarms of unmanned aerial systems.

Panelists agreed that modular transportable nuclear power is a realistic and safe option for theater commanders to use. But they added that the reactors should be kept at a distance and hidden from the most contested areas.

Clark pointed out that as inefficient as the military logistics supply chain may be, it is already moving products for land vehicles, planes and ships as needed, so this is a challenge that can be met. ‘he is identified.

Noting the success of Elon Musk’s Tesla electric vehicles in the U.S. market, Wesley said his business would have failed if he hadn’t considered the need for charging stations to keep vehicles moving.

Wesley, the former deputy commander of Army Futures Command, said that meant Musk took into account the full range of what was needed before starting production to increase his chances of success.

The shift from the auto industry to electric vehicles poses many challenges for the Pentagon, as the department will continue to use internal combustion engine vehicles.

Wesley estimated that it would take 30 years for the Pentagon to switch to electric vehicles. During this long transition, parts for internal combustion engines would become more difficult to obtain and the supply chain would have to meet the demands of both types of engines in terms of energy and components, he added.

As for the future of applying advanced batteries to national security needs, Clark said the Pentagon must look beyond its usual contractual basis for possible breakthroughs in these technologies outside of its usual suppliers.

“How do you get program offices … to pursue an electrified option,” Clark asked rhetorically. There are also questions on how to standardize the requirements without losing sight of what is needed to deal with specific threats. He and Wesley suggested creating a pilot program or program manager or program executive office in the department to do this and add these questions to the war games.

“Sometimes we really have to be pushed,” Wesley said.

He used the example of the military interviewing cavalry officers in the 20th century about the best use of trucks for service. The riders said they should be used to transport horses.

Hudson has embarked on a nearly one-year study on securing the US National Security Innovation Base. Hudson advanced batteries report and modular truck-mounted nuclear reactors, the Pele project, is part of this continuing study.


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