WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 24, 2014) – Something as seemingly insignificant as a battery could change a battlefield outcome. Staff Sgt. José R. Salcedo III learned this one night in Afghanistan.
It was 2012, and Salcedo was on a mounted patrol deep inside Ghazni Province. Suddenly, one of the vehicles hit an IED.
While others came to the assistance of the Soldiers in the vehicle, Salcedo grabbed his weapon and peered through his thermal weapon sight, scanning for the trigger man, who may have activated the IED with a wire or a remote device. After just a few seconds, his sight went black, he said.
Alkaline batteries were to blame for his sight shutting down during a critical moment.
Just 10 minutes before the IED exploded, Salcedo had checked his battery indicator and it showed a 50 percent charge remaining, he said. This meant the thermal sight should be operable for at least a couple of hours more.
Salcedo then had to change out his battery pack as precious seconds ticked away. Those few seconds could have been long enough for the trigger man to escape, he said. “I’ll never know.”
Deconstructing what went wrong, Salcedo said he’d been using alkaline batteries. Unfortunately, the battery indicator in devices like the thermal weapon sight are calibrated for lithium batteries, so while he thought he had a couple of hours of charge left he only had a couple of minutes.
“I’ve noticed that with alkaline batteries, the battery indicator isn’t as reliable,” he said.
With lithium batteries, he noticed a difference. Salcedo said he could get away with the indicator reading 25 percent charge remaining and “feel comfortable letting it get that low before I have to change the battery pack out.”
Salcedo is currently the S-3 training non-commissioned officer with 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
Besides the charge indicator, there are several other good reasons to choose lithium batteries over alkaline.
In good weather conditions, lithium batteries last about three times longer than alkaline, Salcedo said. In extremely hot or cold environments, lithium batteries could last up to 10 times as long.
That means Soldiers don’t have to change battery packs as often. It also means that’s less weight — more than one-third less — to carry around, he said.
He also explained how important it is to reduce the Soldier’s load during dismounted movement. It’s not just one-third fewer batteries, he added. Each lithium battery weighs just two-thirds that of an alkaline.
Cost savings is another factor favoring lithium. Alkaline batteries are typically twice as inexpensive as lithium, he said. But when compared to the much longer lifespan, lithium batteries are the better choice in the long run.
Joe Pearson, Logistics Management director for Project Manager Soldier Sensors and Lasers at Program Executive Office Soldier, known as PEO Soldier, added lithium batteries have been tested and shown to work in extremes from -40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. And the more extreme the temperature, the longer the lithium batteries will work compared to the alkaline.
Pearson added that besides thermal weapon sights, there are many other devices where Soldiers should use lithium including sensors, lasers, and precision targeting devices. His office equips Soldiers with those items so they can “dominate the battlefield in all weather and visibility conditions.”
Why not just require Soldiers to use lithium?
Master Sgt. Reiko Carter, PM SSL NCOIC/Fielding Operations NCO, said the Army is reminding Soldiers to review their technical manuals. If the TM recommends using lithium, make the switch. He added that PEO Soldier is seeking to educate the force on optimal battery solutions, not make it a requirement.
There could come a time, he said, when nothing else is available, but that should be the exception and not the rule. And, devices do work with alkaline, albeit with the disadvantages already cited.
What to use is at the “commander’s discretion,” he added.
Incidentally, Carter said batteries used in operating environments are non-rechargeable, as recharging stations would add to the requirements. Rechargeable batteries should only be used at home stations and during training.
Carter, Pearson and Salcedo encouraged Soldiers to spread the word that lithium can make a difference on the battlefield.
Something as simple as a battery making the difference harks back hundreds of years to the bard who penned the poem, “For Want of a Nail.”
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.