Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. --
As growing tensions abroad continue to threaten global energy security, the Marine Corps is putting the pedal to the metal when it comes to researching and fielding ways to improve fuel efficiency across its vehicular fleets.
In line with the Defense Department’s stated goal to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Marine Corps Systems Command is collaborating with the Defense Innovation Unit and Marine Corps Combat Development & Integration, Headquarters Marine Corps, to bring cutting-edge electrical vehicle technology to the Corps’ medium and heavy tactical vehicles.
But these changes won’t just help combat climate change; they’ll help make the Marine Corps even more effective on the field, both at home and abroad.
Currently, the innovative fuel savings and efficiency efforts fall under several endeavors.
These solutions include software modifications to the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement and retrofitting anti-idle rechargeable battery technology into the heavy Logistics Vehicle System Replacements. Additionally, Systems Command is looking into ways to incorporate hybrid technology into future tactical vehicles such as the planned Medium Tactical Truck—the future successor to the MTVR.
Combined, these efforts look for ways to extend the range of Marine Corps’ vehicles, reduce the services’ dependency on petroleum fuels, save money, trim logistics requirements for operational units, and help ultimately keep members of the Corps safe in combat situations.
“Tactical vehicle electrification, initially through hybrid electric technology, has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but it should also provide significant operational capability,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks stated during her Nov. 2021 remarks at Wayne State University.
Keep On Trucking
The innovations come at a time when environmental and international pressures have forced both politicians and industry leaders to push for the development of technologies that can replace or enhance traditional combustion engines.
Although some critics have expressed concerns over the efficacy of EV technologies, Marine Corps experts and engineers have signaled that planned modifications will not affect the fleets’ performance in any way, stating instead that the innovations could actually enhance combat readiness.
“Everything we’re doing or looking at either meets or exceeds current requirements now,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Curtis Belfield, the medium and heavy motor transport fleet capabilities integration officer with CD&I.
“It’s not just about going green, we’re looking at ways to enhance the operational forces and reduce their need to be resupplied as often,” said Nate Parady, team lead for the MTVR at Systems Command.
One issue that has already been addressed is vehicular efficiency while idling.
MTVRs and LVSRs are routinely used to carry heavy loads across vast distances. However, upon delivering their cargo, drivers often leave the engine idling in order to run air conditioning and other necessary electronic components such as radios.
To increase vehicular efficiency, Parady noted that Systems Command has already fielded software modifications to about 60% of Marine Corps MTVRs. These changes modify systems such as the timed shifting points in the transmission and revolutions per minute of rotation of the trucks’ crankshaft.
Together, these changes increase the vehicle’s fuel efficiency.
“Marines idle their vehicles a lot. With software modifications alone we’ve been able to increase fuel efficiency by 10%,” said Parady.
But there have been other victories, too.
So far, positive mission impacts include reducing the footprint of field refueling areas, freeing up logistics vehicles and aircraft for other missions, and reducing the amount of time convoys or flights will spend to delivering fuel to troops in danger zones. Fuel delivery is particularly significant as troops transporting fuel to the front lines are often prized targets for enemy combatants.
Silent but Still Deadly
Although software modifications provide an effective means to reduce fuel consumption, another avenue being explored in order to increase fuel economy is the addition of anti-idle battery technology to the existing fleet of LVSRs.
Although modifications to software can provide a finite amount of savings in fuel, another avenue of increasing fuel economy is to add anti-idle battery technology to the existing fleet of LVSRs. Like MTVRs, LVSRs are often left to idle in order to continue running its advanced electrical systems. Through the incorporation of the anti-idle system, however, Marine Corps truck operators are able to keep their electrical systems running with power provided by the engine to a set of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.
The ability to turn off the engine and run on battery power also gives the added bonus of reducing a vehicles’ noise signature on the battlefield.
Not only will a units’ noise signature be greatly reduced because of the elimination of engine idle, but communication amongst Marines on the ground will be enhanced, as they will gain greater situational awareness in their immediate area.
Lithium-ion batteries are currently an automotive industry favorite due to their ability to charge quickly when compared to other rechargeable batteries. For this reason, lithium-ion batteries are being used in many LVSRs across the Fleet Marine Force.
Unlike the large floor-sized batteries used in today’s electric vehicles on America’s highways, the batteries placed in LVSRs are about the same size as a normal car battery.
According to Belfield, the batteries are recharged by capturing the kinetic energy created by the spinning of the LVSR’s driveshaft, effectively eliminating the need for the Marine Corps to deploy electric charging stations as the batteries automatically charge while the vehicle is in motion.
Due to current regulations surrounding transport of lithium ion batteries, particularly aboard Naval vessels, the Department of the Navy’s Operational Energy Office is investigating potential paths forward for lithium ion battery certification, said Parady.
Electrification may be entering the realm of tactical vehicles, but it will be quite some time before Marine Corps vehicles ever become fully electric.
“At this point we’re not looking for a full EV,” said Austin Petway, Transportation Branch Head at CD&I. “We anticipate for the foreseeable future that there will be difficulties charging electric vehicles on the battlefield.”
Petway added that petroleum fuels will have to remain a part of tactical vehicles for some time because of their immediate benefits on the battlefield. Specifically, Petway cited the time to refuel when compared to electric.
“Generating electricity on the battlefield is still going to require fuel and time,” Petway said. “From our perspective, it’s all about improving the operational reach of the vehicle and the forces employed from the vehicle by reducing the demand for petroleum fuels.”
Lack of electrical infrastructure is not just a problem in operational austere environments, but also on U.S. military bases currently. To assess this, the Marine Corps will be conducting a battery of test at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, according to James Gough, commercial vehicle fleet director for Marine Corps Installations and Logistics.
But the lack of current technology or periods between tests is not slowing the Marine Corps down from researching and looking into expanding electrification onto the battlefield.
According to Parady, the MTT has several requirements outlining how the vehicle will be built. These forthcoming features include an on-board power generator, full power output across a range of engine speeds, capable of operating independent of combustion engine for a period of time and scalable export power systems.
Parady further explained that another factor prohibiting the total electrification of the Marine Corps’ vehicular fleet is the tactical need for Marines to ford in water.
Currently, the Marine Corps requires its tactical vehicles to be able to drive through a depth of 60 inches of water for short periods of time.
The Marine Corps will initiate MTT with a conceptual design phase in 2023.
Editor’s note: Portfolio Manager for Logistics Combat Element Systems Col. John Gutierrez recently appeared on Marine Corps Systems Command’s Equipping the Corps podcast to discuss tactical vehicle electrification and more. Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts.