As demand for unmanned military vehicles grows, smaller, lighter and more powerful batteries will be needed.

Batteries serve a number of crucial functions in unmanned military vehicles. In some cases, a battery is needed to start the vehicle motor and support large electrical loads. In other applications, batteries serve as the only energy storage on the platform.

“In these fully electric cases, the battery is the determining factor to the vehicle performance,” says Jim Hess, defense sales director for Saft America’s Space & Defense Division. “Range and capability are defined by the battery selection.”

According to Hess, the number of batteries needed is dependent on the functions needed in each vehicle. “[We have] supplied batteries for unmanned vehicles smaller than a cell phone to battery systems larger than a refrigerator,” he explains.

Many unmanned vehicles are designed to use standard-form U.S. Dept. of Defense batteries, such as Saft's BA5590 or BB2590. The batteries are used in a wide variety of unmanned air and ground vehicles, as well as ground support stations. Ground vehicles range is size from small robots to large devices like the Crusher, a 6.5-ton vehicle that uses six electric motors embedded in each wheel. Large primary lithium and lithium-ion batteries are also used in various types of underwater vehicles.

As demand for unmanned vehicles grows in the future, smaller, lighter and more powerful batteries will become more critical. “Batteries will continue and even increase their key role on unmanned vehicles,” claims Hess. “We see even more need for sophisticated battery systems that can report state-of-charge and other key parameters to the host vehicle.

“Our customers are developing even more powerful systems with larger energy needs,” Hess points out. “We are always pushing and developing smaller, lighter and more powerful electrochemistry.”