Battery technology is improving rapidly and is focused on a range of rechargeable lithium ion chemistries as manufacturers boost energy densities while taming the risks associated with any technology that packs large amounts of energy into a small volume. This will benefit soldiers whose reliance on electronic devices to survive and complete their missions is growing constantly, and are burdened with an increasingly unmanageable number, variety and weight of batteries.
Mitigating technologies are centred on a single battery with power distribution and management systems ranging from simple power only hub and cable set ups to integrated power and data solutions with built-in intelligence. The latter promise to prioritise loads without adding to the soldier's already considerable cognitive burden at critical moments, more of which later.
POWER ONLY SIMPLICITY
Typical of the power-only type is EFB's Soldier Worn Integrated Power Equipment System (SWIPES), a United States (US) Army programme of record with several thousand in service. Weighing under 2lb (0.9kg), SWIPES consists of a hub, cables and a cable management system inside an armour rig or a rucksack. It distributes power from commonly used military batteries to trickle charge most individually worn equipment. This battery-agnostic system, says the company, allows the most efficient use of power while eliminating the need to carry spare batteries for individual devices. (SWIPES II builds on this by adding data transmission capability.)
Comparable products are available from Protonex in the form of its VPM-402 Vest Power Manager and from Tectonica with its Bantam system.
Black Diamond's field-proven family of hubs, which includes the Bare 1-port, Assaulter 2-port and Apex 4-port devices add data capability through USB 3.0 connections, relying on external cabling for connectivity and an Android or Windows tablet or smartphone End User Device (EUD) for control and display.
Power inputs include 12-35 VDC, AC and vehicle adapter cables, and it can accept power from a number of batteries including LI-80 and LI-145, Palladium Energy's conformal wearable battery, the standard BA-5590/2590 and the BB-2590 charger.
POWER AND DATA
Ramping up the capability a notch is Glenair's Star-Pan VI with Personal Area Network (PAN) ports for up to six devices for use in complex missions such as Digitally Assisted Close Air Support (DACAS) in addition to a designated host/EUD port.
Glenair's power port management system is used with a battery and auxiliary power source input, back-up power drawn from the radio and smart battery charging from an auxiliary source. It can provide power monitoring and management for each voltage rail and port, fault mode protection circuitry against surges, reverse voltages and over-currents, plus embedded level three charge control circuitry for a smart battery interface within a wide voltage range, says the company. The power port management system can draw on DC sources and provides a port through which an auxiliary source can run the whole system and charge a central battery for extended missions.
PORTABLE AUXILIARY POWER
The growing importance of auxiliary sources is pushing industry to offer a variety of kits centred on solar panels that also include other power management accessories for dismounted soldiers. The BTK-70689 Soldier Portable System from Bren-Tronics illustrates this point and includes a foldable 62W solar panel, a scavenger lead to charge batteries from others that are nearly discharged, a female cigarette lighter adapter solar adapters...