General Motors [GM] is transitioning its year-old defense subsidiary to a more active role in terms of customer outreach and marketing now that the legal paperwork is out of the way and has named John Charlton, a retired Army two-star general, as president.
Charlton and General Motors Defense LLC will be based in Washington, D.C., where the business will have a large presence at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference this week, Charlton told Defense Daily in a telephone interview on Oct. 5. He said that GM Defense will use AUSA to announce the company, adding that a number of meetings are set with Army leadership to review the company’s capabilities and how they can bring to solutions to some of the Army’s needs.
GM Defense will also have its own website that goes live this week, said Charlton, who was appointed to the new executive position in August following his retirement from the Army in June. Charlton’s job is to manage the business day-to-day and grow it. He reports to Clark Freese, who is the executive director of GM’s Fuel Cell Business and is also CEO of the defense unit with responsibility for integrating the business within GM.
Charlton’s last assignment with the Army was as commander of the Test and Evaluation Command, and before that he was vice director of the Joint Force Development directorate of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was also commander of the Army’s Brigade Modernization Command, overseeing development of the service’s tactical network. He served three combat tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
At AUSA, GM Defense will exhibit its Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure (SURUS), a modular chassis that is powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology, one of the key offerings from the business unit. SURUS was also showcased at AUSA last year when the defense unit was created.
“Electrification” is one of the core focus areas of GM Defense, Charlton said, touting parent GM’s success in developing and manufacturing electric cars for the consumer market.
“We make an extremely well manufactured, reliable and high-performance battery,” he said. “So we want to tap in to that experience and develop solutions for the military. The requirements for lithium ion battery power across the [Defense] Department are huge.”
Hydrogen fuel cells are another key component of GM Defense’s electrification offerings, which are “one of the most optimal ways to produce electricity, particularly for mobile tactical applications like the Army would have a need for,” Charlton said.
GM has been working with the Army’s Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center on the hydrogen fuel cell technology for the past two years. At the 2016 and 2017 AUSA shows, GM also showcased the Chevrolet Colorado ZH2, a modified mid-size pickup truck powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Charlton said the Colorado ZH2 has been “well received” by Army soldiers in field testing, adding that the vehicle is nearly silent when operating, has a low thermal signature, and offers “great range.”
This year, GM will showcase the next-generation of the technology on a Chevy Silverado full-size pickup, Charlton said. The next-generation of fuel cell technology boils down to a smaller power plant that offers more power, he said.
In the next year or two, GM will work with the Army on developing the ecosystem for the fuel cell technology, with plans to first demonstrate the conversion of standard JP-8 military diesel fuel can be converted into hydrogen in an expeditionary environment, Charlton said.
In addition to powering a vehicle, the hydrogen fuel cells can provide external power for various systems on a vehicle, pointing out “electrification has to be a key factor in the development” of the Army’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle platform. High energy lasers, electro-magnetic rail guns and next-generation sensors will all require a lot of electrical power, he said.
The Navy is also interested in hydrogen fuel cells on its future unmanned underwater vehicles, Charlton said.
In addition to electrification, Charlton said that GM Defense will also tap into parent GM’s capabilities in autonomous vehicle technology and manufacturing to bring to its military customers. GM has a video of the Colorado ZH2 with a driver being followed by a self-driving Chevy Volt electric vehicle to demonstrate leader-follower capabilities for manned and unmanned vehicles, something the Army is interested in, he said.
The SURUS chassis also features autonomous driving capabilities.
GM Defense is also touting GM’s ability to provide cyber security to vehicles and related connected services and the ability to develop and produce special vehicles for Special Operations Forces, border security, and armored car requirements.