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Universal Power on the Battlefield

You’ve probably heard the lament “water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink” paraphrased from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Power – electricity – is a lot like that: you can sometimes find it all around you, but you can’t always tap into it to recharge or power your devices. The concept of “Universal Power” (no, it has nothing to do with Dominium mundi) is providing a system which can access all sorts of power, and directly convert it into the right kind for your thirsty devices.

Military Electronics and the Infantry

This need is especially true for the modern warfighter. Systems like Nett Warrior have increased power requirements for individual soldiers by 500%, according to estimations by U.S. Army Colonel Brian Cummings, project manager of the U.S. Army’s Mobile Electric Power (MEP) of the PEO (Program Executive Officer), which manages acquisitions for the Army. As the technology of the individual soldier grows – from basics such as radios and GPS, to more complicated systems that integrate smartphones and tablets – so does the power demands, which leads two major problems:

The BB-2590: a 3-pound rechargeable lithium-ion battery, commonly found in radios

Problem One: Batteries

Every electronic system a soldier wears contains a power source: a battery. From large military batteries to power radios to more traditional AA and AAA batteries, each system needs one and they are rarely cross compatible. Not only do they need to carry the electronics’ batteries, but also backups for each device. “In the past, we have seen batteries thrown away with 90 percent of power left,” Said Corey Goetz, Product Director at PEM. “Individual soldier power problems are really about batteries and recharging batteries.”

Problem Two: Recharging

Fuel convoy in Afghanistan.

While the “liquid logistics” of modern warfare still top resupply convoys, batteries can be as precious as food. And while rechargeable batteries are a great way to keep devices powered, this is only true if there’s a compatible source to recharge the batteries. Don’t have the right adaptor or the right wattage, and it becomes a case of being surrounded by the energy your batteries need, but not a drop to drink.

Protonex’s Take: Universal Power

Having universal power, or more accurately “universalizing power”, is the ability to get power from any source – fuel, batteries, alternative energy, vehicles or scavenged energy from local grids – and putting it on one battery to charge other batteries. Over the years, we’ve put our Squad and Vest Power Managers in the hands of soldiers, marines, special operations, medic teams, and EOD to name a few. Our goals have been simple: make getting power to the needed devices simple. What comes out of it?

  • Infantry like it because it allows them to carry fewer batteries. With the use of one primary battery (including conformal batteries like in the MAPS program) and the power manager, you can power multiple devices as well as recharge the primary with solar power, scavenged power, etc.
  • Leaders and staff like it because it cuts costs: both in term of money and logistics. When their infantry are using this system, they have to carry fewer batteries and don’t have to discard batteries; this means more gear stays combat effective with less of a logistical tail.

It’s frustrating to be surrounded by power that can’t be accessed: from tapping into vehicle power for mechanized infantry, to solar power for long foot patrols, warfighters should always have access to power for their critical devices. To learn more about our portable power solutions, contact us.