The Pentagon’s push for electric vehicles and weapons systems is facing a dilemma in which China controls the global lion’s share of lithium-ion battery production for these systems.
A panel of security experts speaking last week at an online forum raised this issue, saying that the expansion of US military forces around the world requires more electrical power to protect against “long-range” attacks, noting that the Pentagon needs to find alternative means of power distribution, as present methods are expensive.
This comes as the US military has begun a “massive push toward electric vehicles” and laser weapons systems that function on electricity.
Mobile Nuclear Reactor
Heather Penny, a senior fellow at the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute, gave an example of mobile truck-mounted nuclear reactors under Project Pele, which re-fuel batteries for remote operating bases.
The panelists concurred with her suggestion and added that the mobile reactors must be kept hidden and at a safer distance from the enemy’s reach.
Search for ‘Breakthrough’ in Battery Production
The former deputy commander of Army Futures Command Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley estimated that the military would take 30 years to transition to electric vehicles, during which, he reckoned, the availability of the conventional internal combustion engine would become problematic, as the supply chain would have to accommodate the demand of both types of engines.
The panelists also advised the Pentagon to look beyond current energy contractors in a push to find a “breakthrough” in battery technologies.
“How do you incentivize program offices … to pursue an electrified option,” Director of the Hudson Center for Defense Concepts and Technology Bryan Clark asked rhetorically. He suggested, along with Wesley, the creation of a pilot program at the DoD to search for alternative energy suppliers.
“Sometimes, we really have to be pushed,” Wesley said.
China’s Global Control of Battery Production
According to an analysis by BloombergNEF, China controlled 73 percent of global lithium cell manufacturing capacity in 2019, followed by the US at 12 percent.
By 2025, the research organization predicts that global capacity to produce lithium cells will expand nearly four-fold (from 316 gigawatt-hours (GWh) to 1,211 GWh), with a relative decline in the US share of total production.