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US Army funds Prius-style hybrid battlewagon

'Aggressor' could ease US forces' thirst for fuel

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The US Army is funding the development of a prototype military hybrid vehicle operating on similar principles to the groundbreaking Toyota Prius.

Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Inc of California announced it had won the contract in a release on Monday. Under the $4.88m deal, Quantum will develop a diesel hybrid version of its previous "Aggressor" prototype, a "high performance light-duty off-road fuel cell hybrid vehicle."

Company execs describe their previous fuel-cell Aggressor as "successful", but it seems to be understood that the US forces don't think fuel-cell kit is ready for the battlefield in the near future. The new hybrid version, according to Quantum, will "provide a cost-effective, near-term solution as fuel cell technology matures".

The US military, with plenty of tech funding to spread about, has been trying to find innovative ways of cutting its fuel consumption for a long time. This isn't out of any concern regarding ecological issues, but due to hard operational necessities. The primary constraint on military operations is nearly always the availability of supplies - as the old gag has it, "amateurs talk tactics, dilettantes talk strategy; professionals talk logistics".

Bulk fuel can make up over a third of an army's needs, amounting to thousands of tonnes per day for a division-sized force. Cutting down on this requirement would allow the US forces to operate further, faster, and more easily, and reduce the amount of soft targets for insurgents in theatre.

Hybrid vehicles still get their power by burning fuel like a normal car; in this case diesel or JP-8. However, a hybrid's internal combustion engine generates electric power rather than just supplying torque via a gearbox. The juice is accumulated in a storage battery, which then drives the wheels electrically. The drive motors can be used to harvest kinetic energy during braking, too, rather than wasting it as a normal car does.

All this means that a hybrid can deliver solid performance using a smaller and more economical engine, and that it uses fuel more efficiently. All this could be good news for US forces supply bods of the future; and in the case of the Aggressor there could be tactical benefits too.

"The vehicle's silent watch capability, high performance acceleration, extended range, and exportable power provide significant advantages for the US Army in communications, surveillance, targeting, and reconnaissance missions," according to Alan Niedzwiecki, president and CEO of Quantum.

Mr Niedzwiecki evidently expects that the new Aggressor will be able to shut down its diesel and go silent much more often than normal military vehicles. Its large battery seemingly won't need charging up all the time, even under the demanding power requirements of modern battlefield kit such as thermal imagers, nightsights, digital comms, satnav, and targeting lasers. The "exportable power" could mean the Aggressor will also serve as a mobile charging point for the arrays of personal and weapon electronics modern troops are tending to carry.

Electric drive also offers high acceleration away from stationary (also seen in the neck-snapping Tesla Roadster battery sports car), which could be useful for US troops; especially ones using the Aggressor's fuel economy to mount long-range deep recce missions far from friendly supply dumps. ®

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