Computer technology evolves so rapidly that we hardly notice the change as the latest models and software arrive in our online stores. We expect to see new models of cars unveiled on an annual basis and occasionally we even see new versions of armoured vehicles. But underlying these new vehicles, has much really changed? Yes, the braking systems are more efficient, the suspensions make the ride more comfortable, engines have greater power output and are more environmentally friendly, but the fundamental engineering and the mechanical concepts of suspensions, steering, and engines etc have not dramatically changed since Henry Ford began building motor cars at the start of the last century.
Ford’s endeavours marked the start of a love affair between the world’s automotive manufacturers and oil producers that is now into its 13th decade. An age when the world’s population grew from less than 2 billion to the point where it will soon exceed 8 billion. A population that is more mobile, needs to be fed and housed and has an ever-increasing thirst for consumer goods. All of which drives the huge world-wide demand for energy.
Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the world are however forcing transformation. The impact of climate change on defence and security with the potential of rising sea levels, extremes of weather, mass migration and civil unrest mean that change is no longer a choice but a necessity.
This change is very much underway and much has been written about the “4th Industrial Revolution” involving the fusion of technologies and the blurring of lines between the physical, digital, and biological. In the automotive sector, the change is already mainstream and make no mistake, it is coming to the defence vehicles sector. At Cytec IPS, the consequences are influencing our work daily.
Companies like Tesla continue to maintain a high profile in the civilian electric vehicle market, but they are far from alone with their focus on future technologies. GM invested $25M in their battery development facility back in 2009 which now seems loose change in comparison to their recent announcement of plans to invest $35B in EV’s by 2025. Other examples of huge investment can be found in relation to topics such as autonomous operation and artificial intelligence.
The UK has already legislated for environmental change leading to commitments from the MoD that UK Armed Forces will adopt an incremental approach to tackling the important issues and meeting targets. From 2026 to 2035 they will aim to significantly reduce emissions utilising existing and emerging technologies. From 2036 to 2050 they plan to use novel technologies to reduce them further with a target of zero carbon emissions. There is, however, a recognition that current “green” technologies have some way to go before they are mature enough for some defence applications.
UK MoD programmes to convert Jackal and Foxhound vehicles to demonstrate innovative hybrid technologies have been heavily publicised in recent weeks. These seem to be the first steps towards achieving environmental goals while demonstrating that acceptable operational capability can be maintained.
For military vehicles what are the issues?
Perhaps one of the most significant is logistics. How is the new source of energy going to be delivered to the vehicle? How will batteries be charged? How is it all packaged?
Developments in hydrogen technology continue to be a source of debate, whether it be in relation to production methods or the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier. It is predicted that the international market for hydrogen will be worth $700B by 2050 with Saudi Arabia making investments to position itself to be a global supply hub for green hydrogen. High profile projects such as the Neom Mega City are important features of their “green” plan under Saudi Vision 2030 and their efforts to diversify their economy and reduce dependence on oil.
Key technological pillars of the future defence vehicle will be electrification, autonomy, and cyber security. The latter being an area where an enemy has potential to wreak havoc in new and innovative ways and with previously inaccessible consequences.
The challenge now for the defence vehicle community is to determine the future equivalents of the automotive building blocks that served Henry Ford and his successors so well for so many decades. Understanding factors that will shape the future landscape is crucial – What are the key technologies? What are the political drivers? Who will invest? Who will adopt? Where can you find the skills and infrastructure to support a changed industry?
Cytec IPS is supporting technology partners, defence vehicle OEM’s, investors and future adopters in planning and implementing programmes to address future defence vehicle needs, to meet national strategic objectives and to achieve ambitious industrial plans.