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The EV Boom Goes to War: Electric Cars are Transforming Military Operations

The EV (electric vehicle) boom refers to the rapid increase in the manufacturing and use of electric cars, which use electric motors rather than internal combustion engines. Concerns about climate change, government incentives for electric car use, and social pressure are all driving the EV boom not just for personal transportation but now military application. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is stepping up efforts to have the United States military transition to an all-electric vehicle fleet by 2030. 


Electric vehicles have long piqued the military’s interest due to their quiet operation, extended torque capabilities, and more when compared to traditional vehicles. Furthermore, electric cars can be charged with renewable energy, which has an appeal to military organizations looking to reduce their carbon footprint. Perhaps in certain settings EVs could make sense however if we consider the battle fields when most countries are not equipped with the infrastructure to support EVs we are a long way away.  


The study, “Powering the U.S. Army of the Future,” noted that all-electric ground combat platforms and tactical supply vehicles are not practical now or in the foreseeable future. 


Many of the countries that supply the raw materials for battery production are not always dependable or stable partners. Political unrest or conflicts in countries on which we rely, such as Argentina, Australia, Chile, China, and others, could disrupt the supply of critical materials and jeopardize the growth of the US EV industry. For example, the ongoing political crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which produces around 70% of the world’s cobalt, has raised concerns about the critical material’s supply. Another example would be material control. Certain countries that rely on sourcing this material may face bidding wars or be deprioritized for a variety of reasons. As we recently witnessed with the chip shortage during the COVID pandemic. 


Military organizations have already been seen to use electric vehicles in some scenarios. For instance, the Army branch has invested in a GMC Hummer EV pickup with a 350-mile range for evaluation in 2021. The American Navy has also been testing electric boats and submarines. Trucks, helicopters, and even fighter jets could all be used by the military in the future in addition to electric vehicles. Since the military contributes significantly to pollution, such as air and water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, adopting EVs can seems like a great idea but is it practical? 


The study “Powering the U.S. Army of the Future” concluded that most battlefield vehicles, both now and in the near future, cannot be fully powered by batteries instead of liquid fuel, including all-electric ground combat vehicles and tactical supply vehicles. Practically speaking, recharging such vehicles quickly would necessitate enormous amounts of electricity, which are not available on the battlefield. 


National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Powering the U.S. Army of the Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 


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