Military radios are packed with as many features as a smart phone, but without the ability to regularly charge a phone, the battery is a vital part in keeping the device functioning. Neil Oliverlooks reports
EU member states spent a total of €203 billion on defence in 2015. It’s a huge number that seems incomprehensible, but it shows the size and importance of the European defence market.
EU countries have 89 different weapons programmes, many more than the US, as each individual country has different budgets, priorities and regulations.
In 2015, five countries in the EU achieved the NATO target of spending at least 20 per cent of their defence budget on equipment. From uniforms and weapons to radios and imaging systems, all equipment plays a vital and occasionally life-saving role in the field.
There are a number of specific challenges that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) face when designing products for use in the defence industry.
Governments demand sophisticated, resilient communications and therefore need reliable batteries in order to successfully fulfil mission objectives on both tactical and strategic levels.
Never has there been such a reliance on reliable tactical communications. Unprecedented access to information, allows the fighting echelons the capability of dispersing rapidly to achieve the tactical advantage.
Both the equipment and networks are mission critical and have to be equally agile and robust to meet the requirements of asymmetric operations in complex terrain and adverse environments.
While a radio, for example, is a simple tool, it plays a mission-critical role in ensuring that a soldier operating in a hostile environment has a reliable form of communication with base camp. However, this is often easier said than done.
In the same way that our smartphones are now packed with new features, better connectivity, as well as bigger and brighter screens, military equipment now contains features such as GPS tracking, Bluetooth and touch screens, technologies that all place a burden on the battery.
In recent years, battery technology has been slow in keeping up with wider technological advancements.
At a time when the combined European research and development (R&D) spend on defence is six times lower than that of the USA, it is even more important that OEMs devote more time and effort in creating useful improvements in battery technology that will cater to the growing power demands in the sector.
As a battery specialist, Accutronics has invested heavily in tackling this solution. Through the work of our in house R&D department, we have created smart batteries to meet the specific needs of military applications. For example, because military equipment is often used intermittently, the batteries in these devices can self-discharge over time which can cause a small loss of charge when batteries are stored for long periods. To prevent this, we've developed a hibernation mode that sends the battery into a deep sleep, so that devices have full capacity when they come to be used.
Another key feature for smart batteries is accurate fuel gauging. As equipment often plays a mission-critical role, it is imperative that users know when the battery needs charging or replacing with another.
Accutronics’ batteries are accurate to within a one per cent level of charge. We all know how annoying it is when your smartphone tells you it has five per cent charge remaining but then turns off before you can make that all important phone call. This is of course much more serious if a soldier's SATCOM radio fails during a critical transmission.
The size and breadth of the European defence market continues to provide opportunities for OEMs to deliver reliable and robust devices. However, design engineers should consider the power source at the start of the design process to avoid any problems further down the development process.
Working with experienced battery manufacturers, capable of creating bespoke solutions will ensure that OEMs can deliver reliable and sustainable products and make that €203 billion go much further.
Neil Oliver is technical marketing manager of professional battery manufacturer Accutronics.