The Senate Appropriations Committee said it was “concerned” that electric helicopter technology isn’t being tested and utilized by the Air Force, according to the committee’s report on the draft of the 2024 Department of Defense Appropriations bill issued Friday.
The Airforce has 90 days to release current research and development progress on electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOLs), as well as a timeline for when the service plans to utilize the technology operationally, according to the committee report. eVTOLs, which mimic the vertical take-off and landing ability of helicopters, are powered by electric energy and produce zero emissions – but also have a much lower payload capacity and travel range, according to a report from Amprius Technologies.
“The Committee believes that there is significant potential for the development of cost-effective [eVTOLs] that can serve the needs of the warfighter, particularly in the role of personnel recovery, medevac, and logistic resupply,” the committee report reads. “The Committee is concerned that the Air Force does not have a sufficient plan for the testing, acquisition, and fielding of this capability into the force in the near term.”
“Therefore, the Committee directs the Secretary of the Air Force to submit a report to the congressional defense committees no later than 90 days after enactment of this act on Air Force future plans for eVTOLs that include… a status of current and future eVTOL research and development programs… [and] issues and problems experienced or anticipated in the effort to acquire eVTOL aircraft for operational use in the Air Force,” the committee report reads.
Amprius Technologies, a U.S. Army-backed manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries for mobility applications, found that while eVTOL aircrafts are quieter and produce zero emissions compared to helicopters, they will not be “widely accessible or affordable” until the technology is more widespread, according to their report.
“eVTOLs, as they are right now, will likely not have the full range or payload capabilities of helicopters,” Amprius reported. “For example, the range of eVTOL aircraft is estimated at 50 miles initially, while the longest-range helicopters can fly as far as 500 miles in a trip… an eVTOL with little range and payload capability may have limited practical use.”
Amprius noted it will take significant time and investment before eVTOLs can rival the abilities and practicality of helicopters.
“Until technology improves, we may see eVTOLs replace or complement helicopters in some limited applications but not in all scenarios… being in the development stage, eVTOLs also require a significant investment in infrastructure, which will take time,” Amprius reported. “As discussed above, the cost of operating, building, maintaining and using an eVTOL will also be higher while they are in these initial stages. They will also require regulatory approval, adding more time to the process.”
Senate Democrats introduced a bill in 2022 that would require a minimum of 75% of non-tactical vehicles purchased by the military to be fully electric and made in America. The U.S. Army has committed to transitioning its light-duty non-tactical fleet to partially electric by 2027, and fully electric by 2035.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in April that she supports a full transition to electric for the Department of Defense’s non-tactical vehicle fleet by 2030.
“I think we can get there as well… and I do think that reducing our reliance on the volatility of globally traded fossil fuels, where we know that global events such as the war in Ukraine can jack up prices for people back home, it does not contribute to energy security,” Granholm said.
The Air Force and the Senate Appropriations Committee did not immediately respond to a Daily Caller News Foundation request for comment.
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