Hybrid vehicles are still a very small share of the U.S. consumer car market—they comprised only 5% of the cars Americans purchased last year, according to industry data—but some defense contractors are banking on a bigger demand for hybrids in the U.S. military. They’re designing new hybrid jeeps, trucks, and armored vehicles and marketing them to the Army and Marine Corps as more fuel-efficient than conventional gas-powered military vehicles and more practical than all-electric ones.

OshKosh Defense, which manufactures a diesel-powered Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) for the Army, rolled out a hybrid version in January. It gets 20% better gas mileage than the diesel-powered JLTV and can run on batteries-only for 30 minutes at a time. And even better, it can run in quietly in “silent mode” while on batteries-only power–a definite plus for recon missions or any missions where it helps to be stealthy.

This hybrid’s battery fully recharges in just 30 minutes. But the battery also recharges while the vehicle is moving in gas-power mode (like in a regular car or truck).

“We developed the eJLTV to offer our military customers an affordable way to electrify the light tactical wheeled vehicle fleet without compromising performance or protection,” said John Bryant, president of Oshkosh Defense and executive vice-president of Oshkosh Corp., during a virtual press conference.

There’s no word yet on whether the Army wants more hybrid JLTVs. But the company said that it is ready to “mass produce” them if it gets the order.

An All-Electric Fleet? Not Yet

The White House set a goal last year for 50% or more of all civilian U.S. vehicles to be electric or hybrid by 2035, and it’s vowed to transition the U.S. Government’s vehicle fleet to electric. The U.S. military has looked into adopting electric vehicles (EVs), and in November 2020 sent a request for private-sector partners who could build an electric “light reconnaissance vehicle.”

General Motors (GM) Defense, which provides a diesel-powered Infantry Squad Vehicle (ISV) to the Army, took up the challenge and debuted an all-electric version last spring. The electric ISV runs at 200 horsepower—equal to the diesel-powered original—and has a range between 70 and 150 miles. Jeff Ryder, GM Defense’s vice president for growth and strategy, said in an Inside Defense interview in December 2020 that “the technology is here and is coming. We’re at an inflection point with electrification.”

But researchers have their doubts. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) dismissed EVs as “impractical” for military use in a study last year, for a couple of reasons.

First, EVs need charging stations, which will be scarce or nonexistent in most combat zones. The Army has some mobile electric-generator units on trucks (gas-powered ones, mind you), but nowhere near enough to charge up whole vehicle fleets day after day. And military units on the move can’t be expected to lug portable generators around with them while fighting the enemy.

Second, military vehicles use much more energy than civilian ones do–about twice as much, according to Army estimates. This is partly because they’re much bulkier and heavier (all that armor, weaponry, and ammunition add up). And partly because they do a lot of off-road driving or silent-mode driving, which are both more energy-intensive than the plain old highway cruising civilians do.

The end result: Their batteries would need to be much bigger and longer-lasting. And they would need some heavy-duty chargers available at all times to power them up. That’s doable if there is a solid electric grid, but a battlefield will probably not have one.

“Even accounting for reasonable advances in battery energy density by the year 2035, it would not be enough to offset their weight and size disadvantages,” reads the report, with an overarching conclusion that “all the logistics of moving those generators around and fielding them would be very complex.”

Hybrid Is Better

But the NASEM report has a much brighter outlook on hybrids. They’re an “encouraging option,” it states, as they don’t need charging stations everywhere, they can use conventional fuel when needed, and they can recharge their batteries while on the move just like conventional vehicles do.

“Charging times are not a concern as refueling remains the same as with today’s vehicles,” the report reads, adding that hybrids are “an encouraging option.”

Reducing fuel use is important to the military, as it should be. Not only from a social or environmental standpoint, but a practical warfighting one, too: Less gas consumption makes fuel supplies last longer, and it leaves more energy available for the vehicle’s other on-board systems. EVs right now may be an overly complicated way to meet these objectives. But hybrids could be just the middle path that the U.S. military needs.


Related News

Rick Docksai is a Department of Defense writer-editor who covers defense, public policy, and science and technology news. He earned a Master's Degree in Journalism from the University of Maryland in 2007.