Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Assault and batteries

Third platoon of Battle Company, 2/503 spent all of the year 2007 living in mud huts in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan.  Second platoon got all the media, but 3rd platoon was there, too.  A few weeks into their deployment, in the middle of a firefight a local worker drove a back hoe into the tiny generator that was there to provide an hour or two worth of electricity each day, leaving the soldiers without any electricity except for batteries for months.  Eventually they received a new diesel generator, but this generator had to be refilled a couple of times a day, and fuel had to be transported in by truck in 5 gallon fuel cans down the narrow winding Korengal road that was subject to ambush and IEDs.  Electricity is necessary not only for the standard of living for soldiers, but more critically for computer systems, sentry systems, and various other high tech systems that increase survivability of small units in remote outposts. Keeping generators refueled and running in austere environments can be a challenge, though.  On April 30th, Elon Musk may have changed all that.

The Tesla Powerwall is a new battery designed to run homes by charging from renewable sources of energy, like solar power.  The Powerwall is capable of being linked to make mini-grids, meaning the amount of electricity stored is limited only by how many Powerwalls you have.  One Powerwall can hold either 10 kWh or 7 kWh, depending on the model.  An average American home uses about 30 kWh a day.  It would be easy to imagine a network of this battery that had been redesigned for the military being formed into mini-grids supplying power to small platoon sized outposts.  Gone is the risky slow moving disconnecting of a sling load carrying a fuel blivet in a combat zone.  No more driving trailers full of flammable fuel up narrow ambush lined and IED filled roads.  The improved environmental implications from spilled fuel alone are impressive. 

While the Powerwall will be a godsend for future deployed troops in austere environments, the overarching strategic implications actually occur from domestic usage.  One of the greatest threats the US homeland faces is cyber threats, as brought to light by the Aurora Project and mistakenly exposed by the Department of Homeland Security.  The Sony hack was just a minor inconvenience when viewed from a defensive strategy point of view, but the abilities to use cyberwarfare to damage infrastructure was proven by both Stuxnet and Flame.  The new Tesla battery can be used to create microgrids in important infrastructure, including hospitals, water plants, schools, police departments, and military bases, among others, thus building resiliency into a system that has shown weakness.  

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