Military Batteries Provided Power
for Operation Iraqi Freedom

by Donald Georgi
Batteries/Business/Iraqi 030804
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From BD’s visit to the 3rd Tri Services Power Expo & Conference in July, many accounts of the role batteries played and stil play in Operation Iraqi Freedom were heard. Some of the flavor of this meeting, plus three specific battery related accounts, are presented here. In the cover photo, the central section, provided by UltralifeBatteries, shows an  AN/PRC-119 Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (CINGARS) radio in front view; and side view shows both the placment and size of the battery. Ultralife is a major supplier of batteries for this radio which provided critical communications links. The upper left photo is the charger/analyzer for rechargable aircraft batteries built by Eagle Picher. With this single device, up to 80 different battery  types can be accurately analyzed under conputer control, improving accuracy, limiting hardware, and simplifying maintenance. The lower right battery is a pure lead electrode Lead-acid battery, built by  EnerSys,  which has become popular with all branches of the military.
To reduce the threat of terrorism, Coalition forces have carried out a successful elimination of the regime in Iraq which both presented a danger to the U.S. and oppressed the people of that country. As this story is written, the terrorist dangers to troops in Iraq continues to extract its toll. This successful conflict uses smarter weapons to minimize both soldier and civilian casualties. These weapons and their support hardware require power, often from batteries. This story looks at a few of the battery ‘war stories’ gleaned from information presented at the 3rd Tri-Services Power Expo & Conference. In no way does it cover all military battery related operations. The information presented here has been obtained from people familiar with and/or responsible for the situations reported. It could be interpreted in ways which could be open to different viewpoints or more accurate information. Any alternate or supporting related information, which can be validated, would be welcome additions.

The beginning of this odyssey is found in the Tri-Service meeting at Norfolk, Virginia, this past July. With the venerable Power Sources Conference taking its semiannual rest, the Tri-Services meeting offers an opportunity for military oriented information to be disseminated this year. While Power Sources is more technically detailed and broader in scope, the Tri-Services meeting offered an opportunity for update and carried a definite  flavor of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Case studies were presented by U.S. military people who have been there. Power storing and generating equipment for coalition troops was often air shipped directly into the Middle East by manufacturers. In addition to IC powered generators, batteries were a big part of the meeting, both in presentations and supplier exhibitions. It was not difficult to find battery suppliers who were pleased with their part in support of the troops. Surprisingly, there were also a number of exhibitors with photovoltaics, suggesting in-the-field electrical energy for operations and recharging of batteries.

It is BD’s editorial view that the military position of fuel cells in the military is only in an experimental mode.  In presentations by government and military speakers, generalities were alluded to the fuel cell as being revolutionizing power sources of the future. But, the specifics of  fuel cell applications which would further the technology of the Warfighter were not yet in focus. Even companies who last year were displaying the military field portable fuel cell sources to be delivered in 2003 at the Power Sources Conference were not present at the Expo.  One could imagine  that the reference to a hydrogen and fuel cell economy mentioned by the President in his State of the Union message had been written in by a staffer who was looking for trendy subjects without sufficient justification or to throw tree-hugger voters a bone. Once the President used the key words “hydrogen” and “fuel cells,” the implication is clear that all the Generals to suddenly include them in their speeches and budgets, again without specific vision. Based on the recent flap over the State of the Union comment regarding Iraq seeking nuclear materials from Africa, it is easy to see that subjects in this or any Presidential speech often is offered with limited substance. Not since President Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of that decade has a dramatic presidential challenge been achieved. But then, not since President Kennedy’s challenge has there been a Werner Von Braun with his space people waiting for such a go-ahead from the President.

The Congress has tried to vie for ecological votes too, but the stonewalling of efforts to increase CAFE requirements of auto companies to favor increasing SUV and giant truck production is the handwriting on  the wall, indicating that big Washington votes will come from the UAW..

At the Tri-Service meeting we found that this fuel cell ‘mandate’ had trickled all the way down to budgets including that of the civilian in charge of Navy aviation battery R & D. He could offer no greater insight than to replace aircraft auxiliary power units with fuel cells. A major problem is the inability to determine how to accommodate separate fuels for the propulsion jet engines and yet store alternate fuel for the fuel cell. The hope seems to be  that fuel cell R & D without real goals, will miraculously find the killer-ap even in military systems of the future. A parallel can be extracted from history in the early 1960s. Scientists had succeeded in constructing a coherent light source called the laser. Despite its unique properties there were no applications waiting for it. What applications were there? Finally someone invented the hologram, which took the pressure off the laser’s applicability; but then the question was asked, “what can the hologram be used for?”

In another technology challenge, the Navy is targeting the future of the ‘all-electric ship.’ A well known fact is that fly-by-wire has been a great success in aircraft for improved controllability with weight savings and reliability improvements, and many have heralded the drive-by-wire auto with rudimentary beginnings in electronically controlled engine and suspension functions. Each of these applications involves Watts of power, but ships use kiloWatts and megaWatts. The challenge of providing the electric ship with new technology for information, control and power are awesome. Backup or augmenting battery power for the all electric ship provides opportunities which could involve large numbers of dollars for the battery industry. Coating aircraft carrier decks with photovoltaics could provide some nice business too.

The Plight of the BA 5590/U

The difference between training exercises or simulations, and real battle conditions became apparent in Operation Iraqi Freedom where an everyday military battery was used in everyday military devices. While not the ubiquitous D size Alkaline cell, the BA 5590/U is a commonly used Lithium-sulfur dioxide primary battery made up of 10 D size cells packaged in a hermetic can with a plastic rectangular housing. It is used in a variety of  devices including the AN/PRC-119 Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (CINGARS) and the Javelin man transportable ordinance launcher. The Javelin has a sophisticated night vision system which makes it equally popular for observation in addition to ordinance delivery.

Adobe Photoshop ImageCaptain Clark Driscoll of the Defense Contract Management Agency Liason to the Joint Staff (Right) and Lt. Col. La Tulip of the US Central Command enlightened attendees with the firsthand story of the BA-5590/U battery shortage experienced during the first phase of Iraqi Freedom. Capain Clark working from the Pentagon and Lt. Col LaTulip, responsible for batteries, working in Kuait had to requisition supplies globally and contract with suppliers to work 24/7 shifts to help fill the battery needs. From a supply standpoint it  was recommended that batteries be upgraded to priorities equal to that of guided munitions, but BD thinks the underlying cause is another case of limited importance placed on the battery system design and/or budget. +

In the session “...Power Lessons Learned,” Lt. Col. LaTulip of the  US Central Command described the plight of the BA5590 battery. His report was based on first hand  experience of a stressful challenge to provide  these batteries to the troops.

As the war opened,  there became an acute shortage of the BA5590s in Iraq. Marines used 757 packs a day at the height of the war, which was 50% of the projected total war requirements. Combatants in the North couldn’t get needed batteries. Inventories in other areas dropped to a seven day supply, and the projections were that by late May supplies would go to zero. The problem with these batteries began to appear as a log item in General Frank’s briefing to the President. On two occasions,  President Bush mentioned it to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. (Ed. note: Adding ‘Batteries not included’ stickers was not a viable solution.)

Depot supplies of the batteries were airlifted to Iraq, and supplies in military organizations throughout the world were scavenged. Still the supply drain was beyond the inventories, and orders were placed with the BA5590’s six manufacturers to build them round the clock, seven days a week. Whether the battlefield combatant ever felt compromised because of the shortage, the audience was not told. What would have happened had the battlefield conditions extended beyond three weeks was a topic not discussed.

Whatever the short term solution, the  problem has its origin in the power system design. Neither the battery or its host  has a state of charge (SOC) indicator. At the time the battery powered products were designed, the technology of SOC was not well developed. We do not know what role cost limitations had on the program development.

In the package size with 10 D cells, the Lithium-sulfur dioxide primary battery is rated at 7.2 Ah at 70 0F and 5.6 Ah at -20 0F. With a nominal 200 mA drain in operation, the battery could provide 28 hours of operation at the minimum temperature. In ordinary combat usage, the soldiers are told to change them before 24 hours of operation are experienced.

In actual conditions of war, the first anomaly entered the picture. It is not difficult to see how this problem developed No soldier in combat wants his/her communications or weapon to  die from a dead battery. So, soldiers were instructed to change the 5590s  at four hour intervals. Immediately, the supply requirements from the battery standpoint have more than quadrupled.   A less life threatening, but similar situation it would be to have all autos operated without fuel gauges. After being stranded a few times, drivers would be refuelling every two driving hours, and gas stations would experience wait lines similar to those of  the oil embargoed ‘70s.

Adding another dimension to the problem is the training implementation of the battery. Because training should not be a life-and-death situation, the combat troops in training replace the 5590s with BB2590 Lithium-ion batteries. Although these batteries are rated at 5.6Ah, the perception is that the soldier must carry four or five Lithium-ion  batteries to have the equivalent of  one primary 5590. The Lithium-ion cells also carry capacity gauges. Apparently it was more comforting to hope that you had four virtual hours of primary battery power than to know whatever the rechargeable indicator reported.

The cure is complicated. On the positive side, Ultralife Batteries Inc. is offering a UB15390 Lithium-manganese dioxide primary battery as a direct replacement with  a nominal 9.8 Ah capacity, which has over 50% more energy than the 5590. Even though there is greater capacity the soldier has no idea of the battery state of charge, and under combat conditions, he/she would probably change them out as often as possible. Carrying spares is not an option as the  extra weight of spare batteries is not welcomed in an already overweight field pack.

With this combination of information, it is confusing to access the real deficiency of the rechargeables. For now, one must conclude that changing from lower capacity rechargeable cells in training to high capacity primaries in combat, opens a serious logistics problem. Would it be better to know the capacity of a rechargeable than to err on the side of early replacement of greater Amp hour primaries? Information about SOC is at the top of the list for correction.

Then too, the mission requirements come into play. If the soldier is capable of gaining access to replacement primaries every four hours that is a different situation from a soldier who must be inserted in remote country for days without access to resupply.

More help may be on the way because Ultralife is proposing both an on-board SOC indicator for primaries and  separate ‘probes’ which can identify SOC. Whatever the outcome, a combat device requires SOC information for primaries and additional state of health for rechargeables.

Combat and Tactical Vehicle Battery...Better than Food?

In the late 1970’s Gates pure-lead cylindrical starved electrolyte battery was introduced. Twenty-five years later during Operation Iraqi Freedom the cell, with rectangular plates, packed into a  rectangular case, is still finding application, as both a starting and deep cycle battery for Coalition combat and tactical vehicles. This battery, designed by Gates, first became part of Hawker and now EnerSys, and is still is preferred for military vehicles because of its field performance.

Adobe Photoshop ImageDon Nissanka (above),  the Director of Sales and Marketing at Enersys’ Defense/Aviation group, is exuberant about the reception the pure lead Armasafe battery has received with the military. Its high current, deep discharge charactersitics along with long life have made it the battery of choice for military vehicles in NATO armies. Power features allow it to compete with Nickle-cadmium for aircraft applications, also. +

According to Don Nissanka of Enersys, the story of the “Armasafe Plus” military vehicle battery starts with Hawker’s offering to the Norwegian military over 7 years ago because of its combined  high current and deep cycle capability which can extend to intermittent operation at -40 0C. In  field operation, the battery lived up to expectations in combined exercises with other NATO countries. Thereafter, it was introduced to the U.K military with a 6 month test program. At the end of this time, the battery became part of the British inventory. The Joint Forces before operating together in Iraqi Freedom, introduced  the Armasafe to U.S. forces,. Don Missanka commented: “ You know how bad the British food is?”  Continuing, Don explained, “The Americans (U.S.) were swapping food with the Brits to get the Armasafe batteries.” Now the reader can understand why this story carries the ‘...better than food?’ question in the header. The  batteries were first introduced to the Marine Corps, the Army  followed, and the Air Force and Navy now use the battery. In adjusted forms, it provides power to the F-15, F-117, F-118 and   B-1 Bomber.

The demand in Iraq was so great, that Enersys had to charter special planes to transport the batteries to meet the combat requirements. The Armasafe battery  is D.O.T. certified and fully air transportable.

The battery fits all popular military vehicles including tanks, humvees, and bulldozers. Replacing the standard battery which gives 30 minutes of run time operation,  the Armasafe gives 11 hours of run time. It is equally capable of providing high starting current within its lifetime while providing deep discharge current.

The original equipment flooded Lead-acid battery is shipped dry, requiring electrolyte addition and charging. The Armasafe, is sealed and delivered fully charged. While original equipment last from eight to thirteen months,  the proven field life of the Armasafe is three to five years and has a  rated shelf life of two years. Self discharge at +20 0C is less than 30% (74% retention) in 1,000 days.  Because of its high power capability, the Armasafe is being used or considered in applications previously reserved for Nickel-cadmium chemistry.

The stellar performance is attributed to the pure lead grid materials which, unlike plates with calcium or antimony, do not adversely  produce performance decay. With calcium additives, the battery is limited to 30% depth of discharge for starting. The Armasafe can provide starting current to 70% depth of discharge. Unlike the Cyclon rolled construction, the Armasafe uses prismatic thin film flat plate construction, but the pure lead, starved electrolyte and absorptive glass mat separator are retained. In military aircraft applications, this grid thickness can be as low as 0.5 mm.

Battery support gets upgrades, also

Aircraft rechargeable batteries evolve both with new airframes and upgrades within existing airframes. As battery types have changed, different charger support hardware has been needed, often making the number of test units too great. In a session given by James Fountain of the Naval Aviation Engineering Service Unit Detachment, Jacksonville, the history of this evolution since 1972 was described. Mr. Fountain, first  retired from the Navy,  is presently working  in civil service, specializing in battery maintenance. He is especially experienced in explaining how the modern charger/analyzer, which replaces multiple old style units, can more effectively perform complete testing on units requiring from 50 mA to 70 A.

Adobe Photoshop ImageTim Pennock, of Eagle Picher’s engineering department showed two of the Charger/Analyzers which have digitally programmable protocols to fit up to 80 different battery types. Programming of the battery information is downloaded from a PC via a serial interface.The unit on the left has 20 Amp maximum capability while the one on the  right has 70 Amp capability. Programs can either be bar code or keyboard selected. These units carry a National Stock Number for universal application within the government. Eagle Picher is a high qulality/reliability battery manufacturer for military, space and medical applications. +

By illustration, the Eagle Picher charger/analyzer system, is programmed to charge and test up to 80 different batteries. Using digital techniques, the ‘recipe’ is simply identified by one of 80 stored  battery codes, and the unit is allowed to perform the proper adaptive charge, then discharge to established capacity, and finally recharge to ready status. Such programmability insures that as battery characteristics change, the test unit will be able to provide the new analysis with only a change in the program profile.

Iraqi Freedom has demonstrated the use of high technology weapons systems in the hands of skilled and dedicated military people. Batteries have played their role in this success. It is not a time to rest on the laurels of this success, but rather to press forward to improve the technology from power system design to electrochemistry understanding.