The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle at the U.S. Marine Corps Transportation Demonstration Support Area in Quantico, Virginia. These vehicles can be retrofitted with hybrid-electric technology. (U.S. Army)
During years of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, enemy asymmetric tactics drove the Marine Corps to develop tactical vehicles with greater armor plating. While this undoubtedly saved lives, it also drove the Corps into a deep state of fuel addiction. In turn, a 30 percent reduction in fuel efficiency in heavier ground tactical vehicles endangered the lives of other Marines who had to support more refueling operations.1
Today, the demand for electric power continues to rise and the ground tactical fleet continues to age, a trend that will exacerbate the addiction. If left unchecked, fuel dependence will become a significant vulnerability in the future operating environment (FOE)—one that will demand the Marine Corps cover longer distances with less ability to build up equipment and supplies ashore.2 However, hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) technology can temper the force’s increasing fuel appetite. Because HEV technology reduces consumption and produces exportable electric power, tactical flexibility is increased. This is why the Marine Corps should implement HEV technology into the ground tactical vehicle fleet in preparation for the FOE.
Better Fuel Economy
Ground force fuel consumption is a significant factor in operations: “In June 2010, the daily consumption of fuel to support operations in Afghanistan totaled approximately 200,000 gallons. Of this, 75 [percent] was consumed by ‘ground forces,’ which included use by vehicles, generators, and other sustainment equipment.”3 Earlier, after his march to Baghdad in 2003, then-Lieutenant General James Mattis challenged the Department of Defense (DoD) to “unleash us from the tether of fuel.”4 This resulted in a 2006 Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC) determination that HEV technology offered “the most effective and efficient way to meet [this] challenge,” enabling the force to “reduce its expeditionary footprint.” NRAC published this assessment 12 years ago, when the U.S. military was deeply involved in two campaigns against less-capable adversaries. A more challenging FOE awaits, and Marine Corps equipment must become more efficient.
HEV technology combines traditional internal combustion engines with electric motors, power storage devices, and regenerative brake technology.5 This results in increased fuel economy and operating range and reduced emissions, while also lowering operating cost and boosting the lifecycle of the vehicle.6 NRAC’s 2006 "Future Fuels" report estimated an average of 20 percent savings if HEV technology had been incorporated at that time throughout the tactical fleet—including up to 56,000 gallons per day across the high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) and medium lift fleets.7
Twelve years later, HEV technology is considerably better, thus this figure has likely increased. For example, Oshkosh Defense’s ProPulse HEV technology applied to the Army’s heavy expanded mobility tactical truck (HEMTT) A3 results in more than a 35 percent improvement in fuel economy at 20 mph, more than a 20 percent improvement at 60 mph, and more than a 30 percent improvement when starting and stopping.8 More efficient consumption translates to not only lower expenses, but ultimately an overall reduced logistics burden, as noted in the 2008 Defense Science Board report "More Fight, Less Fuel":
An important implication is that increased energy efficiency of deployed equipment and systems will have a large multiplier effect. Not only will there be direct savings in fuel cost, but combat effectiveness will be increased and resources otherwise needed for resupply and protection redirected. Truck drivers and convoy protectors can become combat soldiers, increasing combat capability while reducing vulnerabilities caused by extensive convoys. In short, more efficient platforms increase warfighting capability.9
In an FOE that demands flexibility, HEV technology will provide Marines extended operational reach and a smaller logistical footprint.
A Mobile Power Source
In addition to increased fuel economy, HEV technology enables tactical vehicles to serve as mobile power generators. Regenerative braking recovers and converts into electrical energy the heat generated from braking friction. The electrical energy is then stored for later use in devices such as batteries or ultracapacitors.10 Through this process, HEV technology provides vehicles with additional power resources that can be used to enhance warfighting capabilities.
Oshkosh Defense’s medium tactical vehicle replacement (MTVR) retrofitted with elements of ProPulse technology can output 120 kilowatts, “enough exportable electrical energy to power a small airport or city block.”11 The same is true for the Army’s fully retrofitted HEMTT A3.12 This capability reduces the need for additional standalone mobile power generators and better meets the Marine Corps’ ever-growing power requirements. Such capability also could power future energy-based weapons, unmanned vehicle technology, and electromagnetic sensors vital to success on the future battlefield.
HEV technology extends the range of combat forces while supporting smaller teams conducting distributed operations. It will allow the Corps to reduce its tactical footprint in the FOE, and at the same time support emerging energy-based weapons and protective measures.
Return on Investment
Implementing HEV technology in the ground tactical vehicle fleet will require a significant initial investment, which is the primary reason the Marine Corps has yet to do it. The service is not convinced this technology will generate a significant return on investment. According to the former program manager for the light tactical vehicle fleet, the Corps already has committed too much funding to the HMMWV fleet over its lifespan, and with the $2.4 billion investment in the joint light tactical vehicle (JLTV), there is not enough money for an additional program in the light fleet: “The [ROI] for such an investment has not been quantified, nor has a potential system been identified that would be conducive to [the range of military operations].”13
However, up-front cost should not be the only metric, as emphasized by the Defense Science Board’s finding that “the payoff to DoD from reduced fuel demand in terms of mission effectiveness and human lives is probably greater than for any other energy user in the world.”14 Increased operational reach, reduced risk to force, and ample preparation for future operations against capable adversaries requires investment. HEV technology will continue to advance, resulting in even better efficiency and increased power output at a steadily better price. Finally, the entire tactical vehicle fleet need not be converted to hybrid technology at the same time. Implementation cost can be minimized with a smart phasing strategy.
To its credit and despite budget pressures, the Marine Corps has acknowledged the potential benefits of HEV technology and continues to test its viability through small capabilities demonstrations and research by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab and Expeditionary Energy Office. Yet to harness the potential HEV technology can provide, the Corps must do more than just explore this technology: it must implement it in its operating forces.
The Navy is leading the way, having launched its first hybrid-electric amphibious assault ship, the USS Makin Island (LHD-8), in 2009. On its maiden voyage, the Makin Island reportedly saved $2.2 million in fuel costs, and it is estimated it will save American taxpayers $250 million over its lifetime.15 Nine years after the Makin Island was commissioned, the Marine Corps still has no coherent plan to implement HEV technology in the ground tactical vehicle fleet. It recently spent $2.4 billion on the diesel-only-powered JLTV, despite the fact that this vehicle originally was designed with a hybrid-electric powertrain.16
Marine Corps Commandant General Robert B. Neller has initiated programs such as the innovation challenge and experimental battalions in an attempt to break through the slow, bureaucratic procurement processes that hamper the force’s ability to modernize. Employing experimental battalions is an ideal way to begin implementing HEV technology. To offset the upfront cost, the Corps should phase HEV technology into the tactical vehicle fleet over time, first targeting platforms and units with the best potential for immediate payoff.
Fortunately, Oshkosh can retrofit the MTVR with elements of ProPulse technology. This concept needs to be expanded and applied to the Marine Corps’ light and heavy fleets, improving existing design without replacing an entire platform. This is feasible now that Oshkosh will manufacture a significant portion of the Corps’ tactical vehicle fleet, which includes the JLTV, MTVR, and logistic vehicle system replacement (LVSR) platforms. The Marine Corps should start with the purchase of two or three HEVs each for the light, medium, and heavy fleets, then push them down to an experimental logistics battalion. By starting small and handing the technology to the operating forces, the Corps can become familiar with the technology, confirm its worth, and limit upfront cost.
More than any other military service, the Marine Corps must be efficient to remain true to its expeditionary nature. HEV technology is consistent with a Corps tradition of doing more with less. Energy efficiency can be applied to reduce fuel consumption or provide electricity to power external assets such as radios, electromagnetic sensors, and weapons. Overcoming cost to achieve ample ROI is always a concern with innovative technology, but ultimately the Marine Corps must usher in HEV technology to prepare itself for formidable FOE challenges.
Captain Reid serves as a Marine officer instructor at Texas A&M University. A logistics officer, he has served with 2d Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.
1. The Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office, "Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Strategy and Implementation Plan" (Washington, DC: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 2011), 7–9.
2. "Marine Corps Operating Concept: How an Expeditionary Force Operates in the 21st Century" (Washington, DC: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 2016), 9.
4. Naval Research Advisory Committee, "Future Fuels" (Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Research, Development, and Acquisition, 2006), 3.
5. Amir Khajepour, M. Saber Fallah, and Avesta Goodarzi, Electric and Hybrid Vehicles: Technologies, Modeling and Control—A Mechatronic Approach (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2014), ProQuest Ebook Central, 72.
7. Naval Research Advisory Committee, "Future Fuels," 41.
8. Oshkosh Defense, "Hybrid Diesel-Electric System, ProPulse" (Oshkosh, WI: Oshkosh Corporation, 2010), 2.
9. "Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on DoD Energy Strategy 'More Fight— Less Fuel'” (Washington, DC: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, 2008), 18.
10. Khajepour et al., Electric and Hybrid Vehicles, 64.
11. Oshkosh Defense, “Oshkosh Truck Unveils First Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR) with Onboard Vehicle Power for U.S. Marine Corps at Marine South Military Expo,” Oshkosh Defense News, 4 April 2007.
12. Oshkosh Defense, "Hybrid Diesel-Electric System," ProPulse, 2.
13. Andrew Rodgers (Program manager, Light Tactical Vehicles, PEO Land Systems, U.S. Marine Corps), email exchange with author, 4 December 2017.
15. U.S. Navy, U.S. Navy Fact Sheet USS Makin Island (LHD-8), (Washington, D.C.: Chief of Naval Operations Energy and Environmental Readiness Division [CNO N45]), 2010.
16. Christian Seabaugh, “Oshkosh JLTV First Drive Review, behind the Wheel of America’s New Baja-Tuned, Duramax-Powered Humvee Replacement,” Motortrend.com, 17 May 2017.