When it comes to military special operations, getting there can be more than half the battle. America's elite commandos insert deep into enemy territory often undermanned and outgunned, so getting in and out without getting caught is key. Enter DARPA's hybrid electric 2WD stealthy motorcycle.
Motorcycles have been a staple of military operations for about a century. By WWII the allies used motorcycles extensively for liaison, scouting and general logistics duties, as did the Nazis. Fast forward about 70 years and Motorcycles have come back into popularity with the warfighter, notably with US military's special operations outfits.
From US Navy SEALs to Air Force Combat Controllers, the dirt bike does the job of a mechanical horse in conditions that are so bad even ruggedized four wheel drives would be challenged to the point of failure. These bikes, ranging from 250cc Kawasakis to 450cc Christini all wheel drive models, are tricked out for clandestine operations with infrared headlights (great for driving with night vision goggles), infrared masking paint, weapons racks, auxiliary fuel tanks and silenced mufflers. Yet even with all these modifications these already fantastic and battle proven motorcycles are not good enough for the wars of future, at least according to DARPA, the Pentagon's "bleeding edge" research and development arm.
This is where cutting edge technology design tank Logos Technologies and electric motorbike leaders BRD are stepping in with the goal of developing a hybrid electric, long-range, and hardened dirt bike that can run on virtually any fuel, including diesel, gasoline and jet fuel. Most importantly, this new bike would be able to do so while emitting almost no engine sound. Logos plans on basing the new hybrid bike on BRD's sub-300lb electric RedshiftMX (the photo above is a mocked up version of that non-AWD bike).
This new hybrid super-bike of sorts is a step beyond Zero Motorcycle's attempt at fielding an all electric bike tailored to US Commandos, a project that did not have the cache or budgetary support of DARPA behind it.
Like other modern applications stealth technology, it is all about "signature control," whether it be infrared, visual, sound, or radar invisibility it is still a facet of an overall stealth concept. Any vehicle designed to play in the enemy's backyard, and survive to do so another day, has to be as undetectable as possible while also having a design that does not severely impinge on the success of the mission. By being able to run almost completely silent at high speeds, and for long distances, special forces operators can cover large amounts of terrain in the dead of night, without the fear that their mount's high-revving motors would give their presence away to the enemy.
When it comes to logistics, having a special forces motorbike that is able to drink virtually any popular fuel means that the logistical chain can be simplified and mission planning can be more flexible. For instance, an MH-47 special operations Chinook can land and act as a gas station for other helicopters while also refueling these flexible fuel capable bikes without having to haul a separate fuel bladder full of gasoline just for them. Currently the Marines field the Hayes M1030, which can guzzle multiple types of fuel, diesel being its favorite. A hybrid war-bike makes a lot of sense as operators could run them in hybrid mode while in lower threat areas far from their target, and then switch to ultra-silent battery mode as they make their terminal approach into a high threat target area.
Ok, so DARPA basically wants a silent, hardened, light-weight, hybrid powered, long range, multi-fuel compatible, all wheel drive ninja chariot of the future. Sure, that sounds like an excessive and expensive wish list, but considering how much stealth Blackhawk helicopters and highly modified CV-22 Ospreys cost, around eighty million bucks for the Ospreys, the stealthy Blackhawks are classified which means they cost an ungodly amount of money, a super-bike is really a comparatively cheap ticket into, around, and even out of enemy territory.
The stealth bike is just one more facet of the Department of Defense coming to terms with the fact that America is not always going to be able to dictate what wars we will fight in the future. What's worse is that tomorrow's conflicts are probably not going to be strictly against third world dictatorships with relatively antiquated military technology in their possession.
This means we are going to have to be able to fight capable peer-state competitors. In doing so we will have to survive and operate in "impermissible environments." In non-Pentagon nerd speak this means we are going to have to do battle where we do no have total ground, sea and air superiority over the enemy. In fact, they may deny our traditional "big footprint" forces from operating in their entire region of the world. Thus we will need to be able to sneak in and surgically hit them where it hurts the most. Whether this is done by unmanned stealth combat drones flying thousands of miles to and from their objective or by a squadron of Navy SEALs on hybrid motorcycles riding hundreds of miles too their objective on a moonless night is immaterial, we need options and things like stealthy hybrid motorcycles give us those options.
The other upside of such a DARPA led endeavor is that this technology, once proven, will almost certainly make its way quickly into the civilian world, which could mean better fuel economy, longer range and possibly more power for those who like to execute their own stealthy attacks on deserted canyon roads and America's gnarly back-country trails.
Pictures via BRD, Christini and DoD