The main option for powering soldier equipment is to use rechargeable (secondary) cells on each of the high power consumption modules. Secondary cells may not be suitable for all equipment, for example low power equipment may not justify their use so some mix of primary and secondary cells may be required. However, the main burden of batteries is driven by high power modules and significant savings can be made here.
The use of secondary batteries entails a need for battery chargers, spare batteries and processes to manage the re-charge cycle. These have been very successfully dealt with on existing in-service modules. The deployment of common (multi-battery) chargers, power scavenging from numerous sources, improvements in the number of charge cycles and regular increases in secondary battery power densities have made a compelling case for the use of rechargeable batteries on all major soldier equipment.
The use of an optimised, low profile re-chargeable power source meets the immediate and enduring need for a local power solution with significant weight and through- life cost benefits over primary batteries
The use of a rechargeable battery that is small and light, whilst still being rugged, is an ideal starting point. The addition of a useful life in excess of 24 hours and the option to scavenge power from almost any USB-equipped power source creates a compelling alternative to carrying pockets full of AA batteries. Potential power sources for replenishment of batteries include laptops, solar panels, or vehicle cigarette-lighter sockets.
The adoption of a centralised rechargeable system offers further benefits where a soldier has multiple electronic devices to power. Many developed nations are experimenting with centralised units that supply power to each of the dismounted soldier’s individual electronic devices. By centralising power in this way, it can be easier to achieve a higher overall power density for a given weight, thus reducing the overall soldier power burden further.
Moreover, such centralised power units open up the future possibility of using innovative technologies, such as fuel cells, to power equipment and/ or re-charge distributed batteries where they are retained on critical modules such as radios. The biggest challenge faced by those developing centralised power solutions comes in the need to package the power connectivity around the user in an acceptable manner. This currently entails the use of an array of cables and diverse connectors. However, evolving standards and technology solutions are addressing these issues in a manner which will allow connection to both new and legacy modules from a central power source.
The transition to central power sources, with suitable back-up batteries located on critical equipment, does offer major advantages. In particular the simplification of battery logistic demand.
Centralised power offers the best approach to minimising total weight burden through use of high power-density main batteries. It provides an approach well suited to “topping up” from external sources (fuel cells, vehicles, solar arrays, etc.). It offers major Whole Life Cost (WLC) savings to the user community including reducing the number of bespoke battery charging solutions required. It will provide the path to a suite of equipment with common connectors which can be readily swapped between locations and users.
However, these systems are still evolving and are not yet in use. Moreover, it can be anticipated that future armies will deploy mixed fleets of central and ‘local’ power systems across their user communities to suit specific user needs. There is therefore a need for an immediate and enduring ‘local’ solution which also supports the transition to central power systems as these emerge.