Jonathan DiGiacomandrea of military battery specialist Ultralife, explains how technical advances are reshaping future defence technology.
In Ultralife’s years of serving the government and defence industry, it has seen the technology change considerably. In the past ten years alone, many military devices have become smaller and more portable for soldiers in the field, while there has also been a significant shift in the battery chemistry powering this equipment.
Around the turn of the century, nickel metal hydride and lead acid chemistries were the industry standard for portable batteries. In the past decade, this has shifted to lithium chemistries becoming the new norm across military devices — specifically Ultralife’s lithium manganese dioxide (LiMnO2) chemistry, which is currently proving popular for handheld military electronics.
With shrinking devices and changing power supplies having already reshaped the sector over the past ten years and spending steadily increasing, what could a soldier look like in a decade’s time?
To determine this, there is no need to look further than the technology being developed for the special forces, a group that typically leads the sector in terms of technological advancement. Of this technology, some of the more interesting developments have been in the field of flexible solar and portable wind generation.
Currently, the numerous portable communications devices soldiers use during operations require them to carry an abundance of primary batteries. As devices have become smaller, the aim of many soldier modernisation programmes has been to minimise the overall weight of items carried by them.
While military battery manufacturers have responded to this by developing high-density, lightweight batteries, it will always be the case that two lightweight secondary batteries weigh less than six lightweight primaries. As such, flexible solar power generation provides an on-the-go charging method for soldiers, allowing them to carry fewer batteries but recharge them easily.
This will mark a shift for the industry. Whilst Ultralife currently supplies both primary, non-rechargeable and secondary, rechargeable batteries to government and defence applications, the development of flexible solar technology would see much of the industry move to secondary batteries.
By 2028, it’s likely that portable solar generation technology will have become cost-effective for device manufacturers and, subsequently, become a staple of military technology. This will allow soldiers to reliably power equipment in the field during long operations, which will become critical as more equipment becomes portable or wearable.
Ultralife is already developing technology to help this become a reality. For example, the UBBL35 lightweight conformal military battery is designed to fit closely to the body, and the company has developed a solar military battery charger for it. This allows soldiers to charge their battery using a deployable 57-watt solar panel while in the field.