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Hybrid reality check

Despite 15 years development that has produced more than 30 different demonstrators and despite a lot of hype lately, military diesel-electric hybrids are no closer to mass production than they were five years ago. "Right now we don't have a hybrid-electric vehicle targeting fielding," says Gus Khalil, director of the Army's hybrid research.ShadowRSTV_5.jpgThe reasons are many. Despite advantages including modest fuel savings, power export capability, design scalability and flexible internal layout, hybrids are simply too expensive, too heavy and too fragile for military service. Batteries -- or, alternately, capacitors -- are particularly problematic: they're unstable, finnicky in extreme weather and present enormous safety and logistical challenges.In recent weeks, I've talked to hybrid programs managers at all the major U.S. military vehicle manufacturers. They all maintain the same line: hybrids are very promising, they say, but more work is needed.Khalil says that the first mass-produced military hybrids will most likely be vehicles in the Future Combat Systems family, which should enter production around 2010. In the meantime, expect demonstrators like the HEMTT A3, RST-V (pictured) and hybrid Humvee to remain just that -- demonstrators.--David AxeP.S. Publishers Weekly just reviewed my graphic novel War Fix!UPDATE 8:58 AM: Noah here. I've been told by a high-level Army general who worked the hybrid problem for years that the problems which Axe details above can be overcome. But there's an even bigger barrier to the new vehicles: Detroit. American auto- and truck-makers still aren't committed to mass-producing hybrids on the level that the Army needs, the General said. (Look at their reluctance to make commercial hybrids.) Without their buy-in, the Army won't have hybrids for a long, long time.

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