May 8, 2012

Improved batteries, SWIPES to lighten Soldiers’ load

by Dan Lafontaine
Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
Christopher Hurley, an electronics engineer with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, holds a Polymer Conformal Battery while wearing a Soldier Wearable Integrated Power System within a combat vest.

A soldier treks through treacherous terrain in a dangerous combat zone with a rucksack filled with meals ready-to-eat, first-aid gear, weapons, ammunition, radios and batteries.

The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command is lightening the Soldier’s load by developing smaller and lighter batteries. Scientists and engineers are unburdening the Soldier, increasing maneuverability, reducing fatigue, and cutting time needed for battery re-charging.

Christopher Hurley, an electronics engineer with RDECOM’s Communications -Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center for six years, leads the battery development projects team.

“One of the major projects on the battery team is trying to reduce the logistics burden,” Hurley said. “We investigate state-of-the-art battery chemistries that will help us to decrease the soldier load.”

Hurley and his colleagues have reduced the size and weight of the standard BA-5590 battery by half, but the performance and run time has remained the same. The Half-Size BA-5590 plugs into the same equipment, about 80 types of radios and robots, as the full-size version.

“The soldier can still perform the same [mission] with half the weight and volume in batteries,” Hurley said. “It will lighten their load and increase their maneuverability so they have more freedom to get around on the battlefield.”

The research team accomplished the size and weight savings through improvements in the battery’s materials, he said. One of the battery chemistries under development is lithium-carbon monoflouride.

“A lot of the research is done on the materials. Once we identified a chemistry that has potential to lighten the soldier load, a lot goes into it in terms of the raw materials – the cathode, anode, and energy-storage components that afford us a high-energy density battery,” Hurley said.

Christopher Hurley, an electronics engineer with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, holds a Half-Size BA-5590 Battery, left, compared with the standard version.

The Army has been working on the battery for five years, and it should be fielded to Soldiers in about a year, Hurley said.

As the Army transforms to meet changing battlefield threats, soldiers need to be agile without carrying boxed-sized batteries around their bodies. CERDEC is partnering with RDECOM’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center to develop a 0.8 inch-thick battery that can be placed into a soldier’s vest.

“We’re putting those same battery chemistries into a wearable battery configuration known as the Polymer Conformal Battery,” Hurley said. “The idea is to keep it close to the body so there are not a lot of projections from the body. When the soldier is in a prone position or tight spaces, you don’t have huge batteries sticking out.

“The next step is to get it into an integrated, wearable vest system so that soldiers can wear this battery to have it run to all of their equipment.”

The Soldier Wearable Integrated Power System, known as SWIPES, supplies a main battery from a central location to power all end-items.

SWIPES places pouch-mounted chargers and power cables for batteries, GPS units, shot-detection systems and handheld communications into the vest. It allows for extended mission times without the need to of swap batteries or power sources by keeping devices charged at all times.

SWIPES won one of the top 10 U.S. Army Greatest Inventions in 2010.

“All of the cabling is routed through the different pockets for radios and equipment. The idea is to have this battery power all of the equipment,” Hurley said.

The Army Rapid Equipping Force and Project Manager Soldier Warrior have started field testing several hundred SWIPES units.

“The major benefit is the weight savings. For a typical 72-hour mission, a soldier will save up to 12 pounds of batteries they don’t have to carry,” Hurley said.


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