WASHINGTON -- Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks has made clear a healthy battery supply chain is essential for military capabilities and national security — and when it comes to batteries, "America needs to lead the world." Batteries are a vital and dynamic sector at the center of national efforts to deliver effective battlefield operations, secure critical defense supply chains and ensure America's clean energy future. The Defense Department depends on batteries to communicate, operate autonomous vehicles, power directed energy weapons and electrify warfighting platforms.
"Advanced batteries are the single-greatest cost and a bottleneck for electric platforms due to supply chain and integration issues," said Andrew Higier, director of the energy portfolio at the Defense Innovation Unit. "From raw materials to assembly, the commercial supply chain is heavily reliant on adversarial nations – and defense integration of new batteries is slow, cumbersome and costly."
Each year the Defense Department makes substantial procurements of specialized, bespoke battery designs to power critical weapons systems, creating challenges in affordability and pacing market capability. By better leveraging the commercial market, DOD has the opportunity to optimize its buying power across the $515 billion in active global auto industry investments, according to the 2022 Securing Defense-Critical Supply Chains report.
The supply chain report, published by the Defense Department's Office of Industrial Base Policy, was a response to Executive Order 14017, which directed assessment of potential supply chain risks and strategies to mitigate or overcome them.
As part of that effort, DOD is working to align industry and military battery standards wherever practicable – from tactical vehicles and unmanned systems to military installations – in order to ensure future defense requirements can be produced affordably, while meeting warfighter needs.
The report recognizes that despite a reliance on batteries in nearly all systems, the Defense Department can be a challenging industry partner. Currently, the battery acquisition process is often limited to low-volume purchases of bespoke batteries over short-term contracts with limited considerations for the security of the supporting supply chain. This process has resulted in high non-recurring engineering costs for vendors who preferentially select low-cost components from less-than-secure sources.
"By improving our understanding of the where, when, why and how we buy batteries, and by standardizing where it makes sense, we will increase our buying power and our ability to better inform industry of our needs in the future," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Resilience, Halimah Najieb-Locke.
Currently , the IBP office is partnering with DIU to tap into U.S. and allied partner based industry innovation and the growing commercial battery market. As the commercial solution gateway, DIU leverages significant private sector investments in battery development in order to learn from the most knowledgeable players in the field, then uses that expertise to make scalable products with traditional and non-traditional industry partners. These technology partnerships in advanced batteries ensure the Defense Department evolves with industry in order to move beyond program-by-program procurement.
"This is important work," said Najieb-Locke. "We must send a consistent and coherent demand signal to industry – and by coordinating our efforts, we are ensuring that the batteries our forces use are available, ready and free of adversarial influence."
Action plan to standardize and aggregate battery demand will…
- Bring In Commercial Best of Breed: Source rechargeable battery cells from domestic and allied battery manufacturers to serve DOD storage capacity and performance requirements
- Perfect the Standard Form Factors: Demonstrate these cells in high-capacity rechargeable battery packs across a range of standard use case categories: single cell batteries, hand-held, soldier-worn, ruck-able, equipment, and vehicle battery packs
- Integrate into Critical Platforms: Optionally, integrate newly standardized rechargeable batteries into respective devices for performance characterization and testing
The first step toward bringing the commercial market into defense batteries is currently underway with DIU's Jumpstart for Advanced Battery Standardization program that prototypes commercial batteries to electrify current and next-gen military platforms. The program focuses exclusively on leveraging commercial EV batteries at the module and pack level to inform both the process of integration into military vehicles and the military specifications for electrification of future platforms.
Additionally, DIU's Family of Advanced Standard Batteries, or FASTBat, project is focused on adopting a streamlined battery procurement and integration process, driving down supply chain and design challenges. Work under FASTBat aims to aggregate the DOD's purchasing power, increase the demand signal to commercial battery manufacturers, and provide an approved battery pack form-fit-function to power military systems. This work will include designing, prototyping, testing, and evaluating battery cells and/or packs, as well as integrating the batteries into devices as applicable.
In 2021, the Department of the Navy and IBP secured $12 million to begin investment in the JABS program, which was followed by an FY 2023 investment of $44 million in battery standardization, analytics, and infrastructure. These investments align to initiatives laid out in the DOD's Lithium Battery Strategy 2023-2030, recently released for distribution to U.S. Government personnel and contractors.
In accordance with the Department of Energy's National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries 2021-2030 ("National Blueprint"), both programs demonstrate the Department's ability to turn strategy into action.
"We are leveraging our partners in the interagency, particularly in the Department of Energy, to develop a whole of government approach to build up a domestic lithium battery industrial base that is supported by secure and resilient supply chains," said Najieb-Locke.
Budget and strategy are also aligned in this critical mission. The President's recently released FY 2024 defense budget request makes critical investments into revitalizing the defense industrial base, driving innovation, and building enduring advantages. The budget request invests approximately $6 billion in fostering industrial base resilience, including long-term investments in five defense-critical sectors in alignment with E.O.14017, including $125 million in battery and energy storage.
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"This is a very exciting time to be working on industrial base and supply chain issues because the issues that we work on are central concerns of leaders across government and industry. I look forward to working with our key Departmental, interagency, and international partners when it comes to scaling up new, advanced manufacturing tech in our ‘critical sectors,' which includes batteries, microelectronics, and renewable energy." said Dr. Laura Taylor-Kale, the recently sworn in Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Policy.
The Defense Department is now putting those tools to work to ensure access to critical battery technologies that will power the future force.