The Electric M1

The M1 Abrams main battle tank is a great vehicle, but it has a serious drawback: It's a fuel hog. According to one report it takes 8 gallons of fuel to start the gas turbine engine. According to Wikipedia it carries 500 gallons of fuel, which gives it a range of 289 miles. This means that the tank gets (289/500=) 0.578 miles per gallon. This means that the fuel trucks have to constantly push to keep up with the tank, and logistically it's a huge pain in the neck.

Realizing that the logistics of refueling the M1 Abrams was an issue, there was a push to get hybrid drive trains into U.S. Army vehicles, including the Future Combat Systems manned ground vehicles. This drivetrain was prototyped for the FCS NLOS-C 155mm artillery cannon, and provided 20 minutes of silent power. Several of the HMMWV replacements under consideration by the Department of Defense also have hybrid or electric drive trains of one kind or another.

On a related note, the Crusher UGV uses six UQM wheel motors to provide 210 kW of motive power. These wheel motors are electrically-powered by a generator connected to a 60 kW turbo diesel engine in a series hybrid drivetrain configuration. Each of the wheel motors here provide 35 kW of power.

In the civilian world, there's a Mini Cooper with four wheel motors (reviewed by Popular Mechanics here), the Popular Mechanics EcoMuscle Dodge Challenger with its parallel drive trains, and of course, the ever-popular diesel-electric transmission used by ships and locomotives.

So what's your big idea, Mr. Non Sequitur?

The idea is to replace the current road wheels, idler wheel, and drive sprocket on the M1 Abrams with electric wheel motors. The Crusher's little 35 kW wheel motors won't do the job. The motors used by the Eliica 8 wheeler provide 60 kW (100 horsepower), which still isn't enough. The motors used by the Electric Mini and the Hi-Pa Ford F-150 (made by Hi-Pa Drive) provide 160 horsepower, which is a lot better. So this modification will use those as the wheel motors.

The Abrams has seven road wheels, an idler wheel, three return rollers, and a drive sprocket on each side of the hull. This means there are positions for twelve wheel motors, but we won't be using the return rollers for propulsion. This leaves us with nine positions per side. 160 horsepower times 9 positions means 1440 horsepower per track, or 2880 horsepower total for the tank. This is nearly double the horsepower provided by the current jet turbine engine used by the Abrams, so the performance of the tank should be similar to what it is today.

The big benefit to using the electric motors in a series hybrid drive train isn't in the performance though. It's in the logistical end of things. The since the wheel motors are electrically powered, they don't need a jet engine to power them. The tank can be equipped with a smaller, more fuel efficient diesel engine to run a generator to charge the batteries that power the wheel motors. This means that the tank's range is increased, and the logistical burden is reduced.

Signature Reduction

Another key benefit to using the electric motor is that the tank could move into a position without any engine noise. The Abrams' turbine is much quieter than diesel engines that provide similar power, but having no engine noise has got to be a good thing. The removal of the jet exhaust stream also reduces the tanks' infrared signature, so anti-tank missiles that home in on heat are going to be less effective. More importantly, in a city or other tight terrain it's critical that a tank have infantry support. The lack of jet exhaust means that infantrymen can now hide directly behind the tank without melting off their faces.

September 8, 2009 Update

I just found out that the Fisker Karma has two electric motors that provide the equivalent of 201 horsepower each. So we could have 9*201*2= 3618 horsepower for the tank. Also, since regenerative braking is probably out of the question for a tracked vehicle, it would have to use regenerative shock absorbers to get power back as it moved overland.

Soldier's Pal

A rugged (DoD MIL-STD-810/NATO AECTP-100 compliant) version of the Nokia N900 would be awesome for a soldier. Incorporate this as the command center of the Future Force Warrior/Land Warrior (and other Future Soldier programs) since it does most of what those programs are looking for anyway.

Benefits to Army (and U.S. Armed Forces as a whole)

  1. Standardized hardware platform
  2. Standardized software platform
    • Built on open source software which can be audited or modified as needed.
  3. Procurement is easier

Benefits to Nokia

Selling 3,000,000 units.

That bears repeating. Three Million Units.

Wikipedia says there are 1,473,900 active duty and 1,458,500 reservists across all American armed forces branches, totaling 2,932,400 people. And then there are the support agencies like the Defense Logistics Agency, Defense Finance and Accounting Service, and Defense Contract Management Agency, and all the other agencies which add maybe another 500,000 to 750,000 people.

Obviously they'd need spares for those times when a unit is damaged.

And then Nokia could integrate the N900 into National Guard units, which also work in states as disaster relief. That's a stepping stone into FEMA, which in turn gets Nokia a connection to the Department of Homeland Security. Maybe the FBI would be interested too.

From there, Nokia can sell to state- and city-level emergency services (like Ohio Emergency Management Agency, and local police, fire, EMS). After all, since 9/11 there's a big push to get every emergency response service talking to each other more effectively.

Update: August 28, 2009: I just sent this idea to both Nokia USA and the U.S. Army's Natick Soldier Center.

M1 Abrams Stirling Engine

The amount of electrical power required by the American soldier is increasing. Given that the current M1 Abrams is powered using a jet turbine engine, maybe the Army could install a small Stirling engine to convert the waste heat into electricity. This would function like the proposed Navy version. Basically the Stirling engine is in the waste stream of hot exhaust pumped out by the Abrams' jet engine, and due to the way the engine works, it causes the exhaust temperature to drop, reducing the tank's IR signature.

Simultaneously, the Stirling engine turns a small generator which charges batteries in the tank. The tank is also refitted with several "power taps" where soldiers accompanying the tank can "plug into" the tank's electrical system to top off their batteries.

If a Stirling Engine is too fragile (entirely possible on a ground pounding hellraiser like the M1), the tank could have several Seebeck effect thermopower devices installed in the exhaust path. These are solid state devices that have no moving parts and convert heat directly into electricity.