There’s A Better Way to Get Batteries for the Navy

Photo by NSWC Carderock Division Imaging Branch

By Nicholas E. M. Pasquini

AS THE QUANTITY OF BATTERY-POWERED SYSTEMS IN THE NAVY AND MARINE CORPS INCREASES, THE CONCERN FOR BATTERY QUALITY HAS RISEN. A NEW ENTERPRISE HAS BEEN GIVEN THE JOB OF ENSURING THE DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY’S BATTERIES LAST LONGER—AND STAY SAFE.

The Naval Sea Systems Command’s Marine Engineering Division and warfare centers recently established the Navy Battery Development and Safety Enterprise to support and enhance the Department of the Navy’s compliance with lithium battery safety requirements, and to accelerate the fielding of advanced lithium-ion-enabled capabilities to the fleet.

“Most importantly, we need to get required energy storage to the warfighter, faster, more effectively, and in a format that is deployable,” said William Bray, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, test, and evaluation. “If we can get advanced batteries into the hands of the warfighter at a lower cost, while enhancing readiness and reducing sustainment and logistics requirement costs, then we are winning—delivering lethal capacity, while driving affordability in advanced energy storage.”

The enterprise, which officially began work in October 2018 at the Washington Navy Yard, is resourced initially with $1.5 million, with plans for the next two fiscal years of $3.3 million and $7.4 million, respectively.

Department of Defense applications require optimal energy management and storage for today’s Sailors and Marines, who carry devices such as computers, GPS, smart phones, optical sights, night vision, radios, and thermal imagers in austere and desolate environments. There have been many lithium battery systems fielded in the Navy and that advanced capability is steadily growing, including developments for unmanned systems in every domain, directed energy weapons, and dismounted warfighter applications for the Marine Corps.

“Through coordinated [systems command] effort and an eventual [Department of the Navy] battery policy, the Navy Battery Development and Safety Enterprise will also seek to develop family of systems and scalable technologies (commonality) to support future cost reductions of lithium batteries,” said Tamera Barr, battery development and safety lead.

“In recent years, systems commands and even individual program management offices in the systems commands have been acquiring lithium batteries and battery systems on a program by program need, resulting in many unique systems, from large-scale unmanned underwater vehicles to small-scale unmanned aerial vehicles being procured, and a stove piping of battery development efforts across the Navy,” said Barr.

The new enterprise will coordinate battery efforts across the Navy, Marine Corps, and the Naval Research and Development Establishment to procure and deploy batteries for combat systems more efficiently, safely, and cost effectively, she said.

“Unlike anything done in decades past, it’s the first time ‘Big Navy’ has recognized a need to stand up an enterprise specifically to improve the speed with which we certify lithium batteries, at lower cost, without compromising the growing concern of safety,” said Eric Shields, advanced power and energy branch manager at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Carderock Division. “This has, does, and will impact hundreds of millions of dollars in battery procurements over the coming decade and is a major positive breakthrough that will benefit greater than 40 . . . program offices.”

The Navy Battery Development and Safety Enterprise will support programs including the Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Orca, the Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Snakehead, the Mark 18 Mod 2 mine countermeasures system, the Energy Magazine Laser, and many more.

NSWC Carderock Division and NSWC Crane Division are the technical agents for the Navy’s lithium battery safety program and work closely with NSWC Philadelphia Division and Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport for surface ship and undersea systems integration. “The four labs operate very efficiently as a unit and this collaboration has positively impacted what we’ve been able to accomplish in the last four years,” Shields said.

As the warfare centers have placed increased emphasis on collaboration, a quarterly warfare center collaboration summit was created for various divisions to discuss power-related challenges and opportunities, as well as to tour each other’s facilities and capabilities.

“This has led to many instances of collaboration and efficiency with battery testing, battery certification, Naval Innovative Science and Engineering . . . program projects, operational energy projects, and battery commonality initiatives,” said Jason Leonard, energy systems specialized test and evaluation branch manager at Crane. “This collaboration also identified areas of duplication of technical capability, which resulted in a reduction of waste. Each of the warfare centers has particular areas of expertise and experience, and understanding those areas enables them to be combined efficiently to obtain a complete capability for the warfighter. An increased level of trust between warfare center leadership has been established and will continue to foster a cooperative culture where the capabilities of the joint team is larger than any of the single warfare centers by themselves.”

There are several Defense Department power-related communities of practice that meet periodically to collaborate and discuss power needs and issues. These are typically attended by Navy, Army, and Marine Corps representatives. In addition, large-scale conferences are held each year enabling further collaboration between the military, academia, and industry.

“Through these various meetings, a true community of practice has been established where power and energy subject matter experts and end users grow to know each other and can collaborate with each other, sharing knowledge and lessons learned across the power and energy community,” said Leonard.

Streamlining Processes

Lithium batteries offer many advantages to warfighters, including increased energy, lower weight, and longer cycle life. “As such, many programs are looking to integrate lithium batteries into platforms that have not traditionally used them,” Leonard said. “With that increased energy comes increased risk if a battery failure was to occur, especially in aircraft and undersea platforms where the operator is collocated with the battery and cannot easily escape.”

The Navy lithium battery certification process evaluates lithium battery and power systems to identify worst-case failure modes and system level impacts so that mitigations can be implemented to enable safe use, storage, and transport of lithium technologies on Navy and other platforms.

“The newly established Battery Development & Safety Enterprise will centralize and streamline this process, providing appropriate resources and authority to enable this technology to be used by our warfighter in a safe manner,” said Leonard. “The end result will be increased capability delivered to the warfighter at a quicker pace, while ensuring high levels of safety.”

Philadelphia Division’s primary focus areas are on high-power shipboard batteries and lithium battery facilities. “Shipboard batteries range from small uninterruptible power supply batteries, through large, 1000 volts DC batteries that support major weapon developments like lasers and railgun,” said Dr. John Heinzel, systems integration manager for future power and energy storage architectures at Philadelphia. “Facilities are structures and related systems—sensing, venting, firefighting, etc.—that allow batteries to be safely stored and maintained aboard Navy ships. Both of these are critical, because they provide surety of power, high power capabilities that mission loads require, and allow the batteries, be they for aircraft, unmanned vehicles, or embedded in a space, to be safely accommodated.”

This necessitates partnering, and building of the appropriate competencies, said Heinzel. Philadelphia Division and other divisions support Office of Naval Research and Naval Sea Systems Command developments of energy storage technology, he said, and a wide variety of programs and opportunities are leveraged to build prototypes and maturate modeling and simulation capabilities.

“This includes thermal management modeling and simulation capability, development of non-propagating high power designs, and advanced sensors and controls,” said Heinzel. “The Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs are also employed heavily to develop advanced technology where gaps are observed. Additionally, NSWC Philadelphia Division executes coordinated projects with other Navy and service labs, including collaborative [Naval Innovative Science and Engineering] projects and [Office of the Secretary of Defense] efforts.”

NUWC Division Newport is focused on developing and delivering undersea warfare systems. “These systems are typically embarked on submarine platforms, which makes lithium-ion battery certification even more challenging,” said Dr. Joseph Fontaine, mechanical engineer at Newport. “We typically serve as the lead system integrator; as lead integrator we work closely across the technical warrant holder and ship design manager community to develop technologies that are capable of achieving certification. The new alignment will help us achieve certification more efficiently by standardizing the testing that both NSWC Crane and Carderock perform in support of certification.”

Division Newport also provides technical oversight and leadership in the execution of the unmanned systems integrated product team power and energy unmanned underwater vehicle family of systems effort. “This requires close coordination with all the warfare centers and SEA 05 community to achieve success,” said Fontaine. “Under this effort working closely with PMS 406 and 394, we developed the submarine lithium-ion battery embarkation strategy of prevention, detection, and mitigation.”

“A major goal of the stand-up of this enterprise will be to positively impact the Navy’s compliance with lithium battery safety requirements by improving the throughput of these safety reviews at [Naval Sea Systems Command] and standardize cost and schedule estimates so that program managers can plan for them,” said Julie Simmons, technical area lead for lithium battery safety at Carderock Division.

Looking to the Future

Philadelphia Division also works closely with Dahlgren Division to emphasize the holistic considerations of stored energy in electric weapons systems installed on Navy ships. According to Heinzel, there are not that many high-density, permanently embedded battery systems in use in the fleet, but as future platforms are developed and electric weapons and directed energy are rolled out these systems and capabilities will have to be considered for most every ship class.

The new enterprise will help to further coordinate and centralize certain processes that can offer efficiencies and reduce certain burdens of execution. “It is well known, for example, that the safety testing processes consume a number of battery assets, so are extremely expensive to execute and challenging for programs to navigate,” Heinzel said. “The battery enterprise will strive to reduce cumbersome practices, and ensure that the technical agents who help implement the processes and evaluations are appropriately resourced and able to broadly support Navy initiatives.”

The new Battery Development and Safety Enterprise also will help to establish a battery database, a Navy first. “While it’s not a guarantee that a specific battery can be selected from a list and placed from one application into another without test, it will help to ensure awareness and streamline the process as systems of similar scale and requirement get fielded across a variety of ship classes for a variety of reasons,” said Heinzel.

“The other key element of standing up a battery enterprise is the alignment with DASN RDT&E’s office, and especially the Operational Energy Office,” said Heinzel. “That really is important because from their level, all angles of the Navy’s energy storage world can be more readily engaged and involved. There’s no guarantee that a broad number of applications will be able to be fit with few solutions, but awareness and policy, coupled with the enterprise’s initiatives, will allow us to find efficiencies where we can, reuse test results and information where practical, and in time, strive to utilize a common set of components, systems and support equipment where it makes sense for the fleet.”

About the author: Nicholas Pasquini is a writer with the US Naval Research Laboratory’s public affairs.

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