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5 Military Power Challenges in an Austere Environment

An austere environment is one devoid of infrastructure. No power grid, no hospital, bad terrain, bad road—if any. In these situations a soldier needs to carry in everything he needs to complete his mission. PEO Soldier of the US Army gave a presentation on the power needs of soldiers in the field, particularly in “Tier 1” of the Tiered Capabilities Strategy, where soldiers are dismounted in an austere environment. Do you have the needs—and problems—that these soldiers in the presentation faced?

1. Power Storage

A soldier carries most of his power the same way a civilian does: batteries. But instead of a single smart phone battery, the standard networked soldier carries far more. How many? In Operation Enduring Freedom, a networked rifleman carried 16 pounds of batteries during a typical 72 hour mission, a total of 70 batteries across 7 different varieties.

2. Power Distribution

Why does the soldier carry so many different types of battery, and in such great quantities? Just like the batteries in a phone and a watch, each one of these devices uses a different size and shape battery; some specialized like PRC radio batteries, some generic like AA and AAA batteries. Every device is an island, unable to draw power from any other source than the proscribed batteries.

3. Power Generation

Away from base and dismounted, the soldier doesn’t have many options for generating power. Generators are too heavy to carry on one’s back, and are noisy and smelly – not good when you’re trying to keep a low profile. Rigid solar panels or too heavy, fragile, and bulky to carry. Wind turbines are like a billboard saying “Here I am!”

4. Power Scavenging

If a soldier did come across an energy source in an austere environment, how would he get access to it? Assuming he had rechargeable batteries, how does he get the power from the source to a form he can use, and how does he know how much energy he is actually harvesting?

5. Power Visibility

A challenge that accentuates each of the issues above is the fact that energy is invisible: You can’t look at a battery and figure out if it’s full, empty, or somewhere in between. Similarly, if you have a vehicle with 1/8 tank of gas, will it power your radios and laptop for an hour, a day, or a week?

A highly austere environment is not a soldier’s friend: The excessive weight in batteries, water, and armor needed for an extended austere mission results in a less mobile, less effective force. Reducing weight and increasing the ease of power management isn’t just about improving the comfort and health of soldiers—it’s about saving lives through enhanced mobility and mission flexibility. If you’ve encountered these problems in the field and want to decrease weight and increase speed, contact Protonex today. From Squad Power Managers with solar and scavenge options, to fuel cell generators, we’ve got in the lightweight portable power products and the expertise to help you maximize mission success in a highly austere environment.