UK — Innovative battery system lightens the load for troops on ops

New bat­ter­ies which sig­nif­i­cant­ly light­en the load for dis­mount­ed sol­diers are on their way to the­atre. Report by Stephen Tyler.

Portable Charger
The Sol­dier Portable Charg­er will sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduce the num­ber of bat­ter­ies dis­mount­ed sol­diers will have to car­ry
Source: Sergeant Kei­th Cot­ton, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Com­man­ders in Afghanistan issued a plea for the weight of essen­tial pow­er sources for radios and oth­er com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment used on front line patrols to be reduced.

And, just months lat­er, a team of ener­gy experts at Defence Equip­ment and Sup­port (DE&S) and the Inte­grat­ed Sol­dier Sys­tems Exec­u­tive (ISSE) at Abbey Wood have come up with an inge­nious solu­tion tai­lor-made for oper­a­tions.

The Sol­dier Portable Charg­er (SPC) har­vests ener­gy from used bat­ter­ies, solar pan­els and even vehi­cles and trans­fers it into a soldier’s spares.

While the weight sav­ings may seem minor giv­en that each bat­tery weighs 3.75kg at most, the Urgent Oper­a­tional Requirement’s (UOR’s) val­ue is clear if you con­sid­er the bulk car­ried over lengthy mis­sions.

Rather than only hav­ing to car­ry one unit, an eight-man sec­tion tak­ing part in a 40-hour patrol cur­rent­ly has to con­tend with a hefty 60kg bur­den in bat­ter­ies alone:

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The Sol­dier Portable Charg­er unit gives troops on patrol a mobile source of pow­er gen­er­a­tion
Source: Mike West­on, Min­istry of Defence, UK

“A major fac­tor in devel­op­ing this UOR was the weight in bat­ter­ies required dur­ing that 40-hour mis­sion,” explained project man­ag­er Peter Flow­ers. “That’s a ridicu­lous amount to be added just for pow­er sup­plies, so we sat down last autumn and worked out how we could do some­thing about it.

“One of the things we dis­cov­ered was that [the bat­ter­ies] were say­ing they were emp­ty even though they may have had between ten and 20 per cent pow­er remain­ing.

“The SPC takes that ener­gy out and trans­fers it to anoth­er type of bat­tery. That means that if you take recharge­able bat­ter­ies, you only need one on the radio and one on charge and you can then take four of each type off the patrol.”

The abil­i­ty to charge bat­ter­ies on the hoof is made a sim­ple task thanks to the system’s ver­sa­til­i­ty.

Dur­ing day­light hours a solar mat — which is no larg­er than a piece of A4 paper when fold­ed and only one square metre when deployed — can be hooked up to the SPC unit along with the bat­tery that needs charg­ing and the pow­er begins to trans­fer.

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From top: LIPS 10 bat­tery — life: six hours, weight: 3.75kg; LIPS 11 bat­tery — life: two hours, weight: 1.5kg; LIPS 12 bat­tery — life: four hours, weight: 2.25kg
Source: Mike West­on, Min­istry of Defence, UK

Ener­gy can also be scav­enged from vehi­cles such as trac­tors using the same plug-and-play method.

In addi­tion, the ISSE team has cre­at­ed a portable charg­er that sits in the trunk of a quad bike to pro­vide anoth­er option for portable pow­er:

“We don’t know how much ener­gy it will save because it is mis­sion-depen­dent,” explained Mr Flow­ers. “But if you have an engine run­ning, why not do some­thing with it?”

As well as tack­ling the prob­lem of pro­vid­ing all-impor­tant ener­gy, the UOR has done bat­tle with the weight of the bat­ter­ies them­selves.

At present, the only unit used for larg­er equip­ment on patrol is the lithi­um ion pow­er source (LIPS) 10, which pro­vides six hours of juice in a 3.75kg block.

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A charg­ing unit fit­ted in the trunk of a quad bike pro­vides added ener­gy for a patrol’s bat­ter­ies
Source: Mike West­on, Min­istry of Defence, UK

Although the units are use­ful for longer mis­sions, their large capac­i­ty adds need­less weight to short­er patrols, so the DE&S experts have devel­oped LIPS 11 and LIPS 12 bat­ter­ies which weigh 1.5kg and 2.25kg and pro­vide enough pow­er for two and four hours respec­tive­ly:

“We have effec­tive­ly tak­en the LIPS 10 and chopped it into thirds,” explained Mr Flow­ers.

“You can now take the low­er-pow­er bat­tery if you need it. We’re not dic­tat­ing to com­man­ders on the ground what they should use, we’re just putting the right clubs in their bag.”

A total of 4,556 units are being deployed to Op HERRICK, with the first 1,000 arriv­ing in the­atre this month and the remain­der being deliv­ered in batch­es in August and Sep­tem­ber 2010.

Each kit comes with an instruc­tion sheet and the UOR has been hand­ed to the Oper­a­tional Train­ing and Advi­so­ry Group to allow sol­diers to prac­tise using it dur­ing pre-deploy­ment train­ing.

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK