Offshore Battery Production Poses Problems for Military.

Author:Gietter, Marc D.

* Lithium batteries--both rechargeable and nonrechargeable--have become ubiquitous in almost every weapon system used by the Defense Department. Although it is a relatively small consumer of lithium battery technologies when compared to the commercial market, the importance of these technologies cannot be understated.

Just about every piece of man-portable electronic equipment crucial to the success of U.S. warfighters on the battlefield is powered by some form of lithium battery. The reliance on them is expected to grow exponentially as the next generation of weapons--such as new tactical ground vehicles, unmanned systems and directed energy weapons--are designed around the high energy density and low weight of a lithium battery technology.

Unfortunately, their production, especially rechargeable lithium batteries, is virtually entirely from offshore suppliers. Since the Defense Department is a miniscule portion of the overall market, the products that are delivered are built to commercial requirements, which for many performance parameters do not meet military requirements.

To complicate the problem, the knockoffs and counterfeits produced by unscrupulous companies have entered the defense supply stream, endangering the safety of troops. Even those companies that have managed to maintain a domestic production capacity are having difficulty maintaining this capability due to the emphasis on procuring the lowest-priced, technically acceptable product as well as unstable demands and procurements. Moreover, many battery components, ranging from the raw materials to the cell components are produced overseas.

The dependence on foreign sources for raw materials and the manufacturing of batteries poses several significant concerns related to defense applications.

First, these products do not meet all of the required military performance specifications, thereby resulting in less than ideal mission performance.

Also, the lack of configuration control leaves the real potential for unsafe products entering the inventory.

There is also an inability to surge production to meet wartime demands. Past history has shown that battery demands can increase by over 20 times that of peacetime levels. There is no guarantee that production for commercial products will be diverted to meet this demand.

Long lead-times for components and materials is also a concern. They are currently measured in months, further complicating any sudden increase in production if...

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