The massive push towards electric vehicles poses both risks and opportunities for the American military. Because U.S. forces find it more difficult to reach and operate long distances, the energy provided by advanced batteries can help the Pentagon accomplish its diverse missions. This requires a secure innovation and production base for advanced battery technology, which the US does not currently have.
In 2008, Congress ordered the Pentagon to set up an “operational energy” office to manage energy use on the battlefield. The priority then was to cut the Department of Defense’s massive energy bills of around $ 20 billion a year. During a five-year period at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 3,000 American soldiers and contractors were killed in fuel supply convoys. As Marine General Jim Amos noted, the “Marine Corps’ thirst for liquid fuel” came at a high price.
In recent years, the Department of Defense has revived its focus on operational energy to study how new sources – batteries in particular – can improve the military’s ability to maintain their platforms, weapon systems, and soldiers on the ground. Air Force Lt. Gen. Clinton Hinote recently stated that energy is still a “major limiter to the types of operations we can conduct”.
Better batteries will help the Navy develop everything from small underwater drones to “robotic submarines” that can counter enemy efforts to keep US warships off their shores. These submarine unmanned systems, at a fraction of the cost of manned systems, can carry out more dangerous missions and operate closer to the coast.
Energy-dense lithium-ion batteries will enable the military to deploy new directed energy systems that convert electrical energy into high-energy laser beams. This is not Star Wars, but as one industry expert noted, “Five years from now, every major base that needs to defend its assets will have laser weapons, regardless of service.” Since laser weapons rely on power sources with a very high energy density, their future uses will depend on battery innovation and procurement.