Mobile power isn't something to take lightly
With an increasing number of electronic devices used on the battlefield today, power sources and batteries have become both a necessity and a burden. More power sources to fuel these new devices means more weight, and not just an extra 12-pack of AA batteries. Reports indicate that the average warfighter humps between about 60 and 130 pounds of gear, 20 to 35 pounds of which consist of batteries – as many as 70 individual batteries of up to 10 different types – on the average three-day foot-patrol mission in Afghanistan.
One commonly carried military battery is the BA5590, which weighs about 2.2 pounds and is enclosed in a 2.45" x 4.40" x 5" case. The weight and size of a single one of these may not seem that much, but it quickly adds up when more than one battery’s worth of voltage is needed.
The U.S. Army has estimated that batteries make up 20 percent of the total weight soldiers carry and are the second highest expense for an infantry battalion at more than $150,000, second only to munitions. That’s a lot of weight and money for mobile power alone. The Army is concerned with the heavy weight of batteries, and U.S. Army Research Laboratory scientists are working on ways to decrease the weight of these vital power sources.
However, rechargeable batteries are not a solution widely accepted by the military, says Justin Dyster, Vice President of Engineering for Black Diamond Advanced Technology. Though they have become popular in consumer tech, one problem is managing recharging devices for multiple types of batteries at operating bases. Also, rechargeable batteries can be unreliable, which is not something the Army can risk on mission-critical applications. As rechargeable batteries age, they lose life and hold less of a charge. It can be hard to tell if the battery is new and still charging to its original maximum or if it’s an older, worn out battery with less charging capacity. This is far from ideal when an operator brings what he or she thinks is enough batteries for three days and runs out of power early, jeopardizing the mission and unit safety, Dyster says.
Even though single-use batteries are heavy, they do hold the advantage that a discharged battery can be tossed, which removes extra weight, Dyster says. Because rechargeable batteries can be reused and may take the place of additional single-use batteries of the same type, the weight stays on the soldier without giving any benefit of stored energy once the battery loses power.
There is room for improvement on the battery front and the Army is working on new technology that reduces weight. Earlier this year the Army held a Battery Technology Industry Day, attended by 40 companies that supply batteries and power components, to try to find industry partners to improve battery tech, the Army reported. From the insights gained at this event and other research, they hope to shed up to 20 pounds of battery weight to unburden soldiers.