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Car makers are dealing with Europe’s armies with hybrid and electric rides

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PARIS – In the past, military vehicles needed to roll; Now, they must be equipped with complex communications systems, radars, lasers, jammers and other electronic systems, turning battle tours into mobile power stations.

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European automakers were quick to jump into the electric propulsion feasibility study, delivering products that promise to satisfy the needs of militaries for more efficient energy storage, quieter engines and lower thermal signatures. Last week, they showcased their latest and greatest technology on the grounds of the biennial European Trade Conference, which takes place outside of Paris.

But while the world of civilian vehicles has successfully deployed hybrid and electric cars on city streets, the defense sector, now able to take advantage of those civilian technological advances, is just getting started.

Industry leaders who spoke to Defense News shared how the discourse around hybrid and all-electric vehicles, especially tactical vehicles, has shifted in the past few years, as nations increasingly balance rising energy needs against equally rising fuel prices, and address the effects of climate change within their services.

Nexter has been working on hybrid technologies for about 20 years now, according to Sebastien Roy, lead energy research and technology at Nexter. In an interview at the Nexter stand at the conference, Roy said that the French company developed an initial hybrid renderer from 2003 to 2004, not in response to specific requirements, but merely to start evaluating the technology.

Since then, the company has been able to take advantage of new hybrid propulsion technologies being developed in the civilian vehicle industry — some of which are more compact and capable, especially when it comes to batteries. “Those technological advances in the civilian world have allowed us to say, ‘Well, we’ll soon be able to integrate it into military vehicles,'” Roy said.

The discourse about electric and hybrid tactical vehicles at the Parc des Expositions here has been much louder than what was heard at the same show four years ago. Demonstrators spread across corners of the parade floor, from the Arquus’ Scarabee light armored vehicle equipped with an all-hybrid engine, to the FFG’s bright blue Genesis 8×8 armored personnel carrier.

Michael Muller, the company’s vice president for proprietary technology, said the German company — which represents Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft — developed the experimental Genesis instrument just to test the capabilities of the on-tank hybrid system.

The engineers “wanted to get the knowledge, to be … very early in the market to learn how to handle this technology, the high voltage systems, how to build them, and maintain them,” he told Defense News at the company’s booth at the show. He added that the Genesis was developed five years ago, and debuted at an FFG event in 2021.

French company Texelis displayed a complete model of its MR400 4×4 armored vehicle at its booth, which features a new electric motor on wheels, developed by Texelis and UK-based Qinetiq.

The MR400 was derived from the Texelis vehicle design for the French Army’s VBMR Serval multirole vehicle program, to which the company – which was part of the Volvo Group until 2008 – and Nexter were prime contractors.

Four years ago, when the Serval design was being developed, Texelis was already considering integrating the hybrid drivetrain, said Sebastien Guilon, the company’s director of export sales. While that requirement has not yet been made, talks are ongoing, and Texlis is “already thinking about what it will look like,” he told Defense News at the conference. “What we understood was that it had to be something very fast” to integrate and install on the Serval in the future, he added.

Meanwhile, General Dynamics European Land Systems (GDELS) presented an all-electric version of its DURO 4×4 Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle at the conference.

The DURO-e, as it’s been called, features a variable powertrain that includes a diesel engine and a pure electric powertrain that comes in either a battery-powered or fuel-cell version, along with capabilities that include a silent engine, boost, and an extended silent clock, per company. The DURO-e claims a signature of low heat and noise, along with high energy efficiency and a self-contained power supply.

In a press release, the company said General Dynamics has partnered with Switzerland-based Magna Powertrain Engineering Center-Steyr and Switzerland-based Phi Power AG to produce the DURO-e. The original DURO was designed for the Swiss Army.

Company officials at the show said Rheinmetall is also evaluating hybrid and electric technologies for its future cars. On the sidelines of its Eurosatory stand, Rheinmetall has set up a space dubbed Technology Cube, designed to be able to discuss future vehicle requirements with current and future customers. Delegates can be seen moving in and out of space, including senior leaders of the Hungarian Army, who have committed to purchasing the Lynx Rheinmetall Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

The hybrid future of the French army

The French Ministry of Defense has focused in particular on finding solutions for more efficient energy storage as military vehicles are increasingly used for more electronic capabilities, such as communications systems, lasers, radars and jamming devices.

Former Secretary of Defense Florence Parley oversaw the release of The Ministry’s first defense and energy strategy in 2020It was released a few months ago The first defense and climate change strategy. The recommendations in those documents include a demonstration of the hybrid vehicle based on the Griffon light armored vehicle, which is intended to complete testing by 2025 and inform requirements for future hybrid trucks.

Arquus, Nexter and Thales are jointly developing the hybrid demonstrator, and the team is undergoing testing, evaluation and integration efforts that will help the Department of Defense determine whether to launch large-scale production, according to an Arquus spokesperson.

The French Army’s future program to build a new armored engagement support vehicle – called the VBAE, for Véhicule Blindé d’Aide à l’Engagement – may include a requirement for hybrid propulsion. The spokesperson said that Arquus has installed a hybrid light armored vehicle, likely based on the Scarabee light reconnaissance vehicle, in anticipation of this requirement. The Scarabee vehicle debuted in 2018, and was developed to respond to what Arquus thought could be the requirements of VBAE, and to reflect the company’s vision of what a next-generation reconnaissance vehicle could look like.

Roy said Nexter, which has already used hybrid propulsion on its robotic systems, is also exploring the technology to introduce it to VBAE. It expects to have a demonstrator ready by 2025.

SOFRAME, a subsidiary of the French Lohr group, revealed last year its planned introduction of VBAE software, which will also be designed to integrate a fully electric or hybrid propulsion mode, According to French reports.

A future tank of the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) under development by France and Germany may feature some hybrid propulsion technologies. KNDS, the joint holding company that includes Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegman and France’s Nexter, is developing the next-generation car expected to be rolled out around 2035. Arquus is a subcontractor in this programme.

outstanding issues

Nexter Roy noted that one ongoing challenge concerns the hybrid vehicle’s cooling system, which makes it difficult to integrate hybrid propulsion into military applications. But as this technology matures in the civilian world, Nexter envisions the ability to overcome this problem in the near future.

Energy storage remains a challenge as well. “Batteries change very quickly,” said FFG’s Muller. He added that developing better-performing, lighter-weight batteries that can be easily replaced will be key moving forward.

Some stakeholders noted that the market for hybrid military vehicles remains limited. Industry leaders noted that the protesters on the Eurosatory show floor were highly tactical vehicles, and officials may not be willing to expand their interest in hybrid technologies beyond those capabilities.

Sweden’s Volvo has been developing hybrid and electric cars for nearly two decades, primarily to serve its customers in the civilian sector. Its defense company focuses on heavy vehicles such as long-haul logistics trucks.

So far, while officials express interest in alternative fuel solutions, there have been few demonstrable efforts to actually “hybridize” these types of vehicles for the military, Andreas Svenongsson, president of Volvo Defense, told Defense News at the company’s booth at Eurosatory.

He noted that currently, tactical vehicles appear to have the best use-case scenario for hybrid or electric vehicles, given the operational benefits of quieter engines and lower thermal signatures. But for cars produced by Volvo, “We haven’t seen it [hybrid or electric propulsion] In tenders or requirements so far, Svenongsson said. He noted that military programs have additional considerations of maintaining a secure supply chain and stable access to fuel, which remain challenges to hybridization of land vehicles.

But thanks to Volvo’s continued electric and hybrid propulsion efforts for civilian trucks and buses, “if they want to buy this for the defense sector, we’re ready,” he added.

It was clear to these companies that the drumbeat of hybrid military vehicles was only getting louder.

Years ago, officials were talking about the possibility of hybrid vehicles, but without any “real requirements,” as Texilis Guillon noted. “Now, I think they have a clear vision,” driven by environmental goals or the need for “silent mode” and energy storage capabilities. “It will help us, because the way we want to develop something, it has to be beneficial to the customer, not just mixed in name.”

Vivian Macci, a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributes to Defense News’ European coverage. Previously, she worked as a reporter for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy, and Dayton Daily News. She was named Best Young Defense Journalist at the Defense Media Awards in 2020.

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