Australian military tests stealth electric bikes
In the thickets of Queensland, the cavalry march silently through the woods. Wearing combat fatigues, motocross helmets and goggles, two Light Horse Regiment scouts with Queensland Mounted Infantry roll through light brush and narrow trails, under the canopy of trees. But they don’t ride horses, they are on electric bikes. The scouts (seen in video, bottom) demonstrate a new answer to an old military question: How can soldiers move around undetected?
For centuries, seeing the enemy’s whereabouts without getting caught has been the primary form of military intelligence. Human scouts, on foot or on horseback, advanced past the main formations of a marching army, in search of telltale signs of a mass of armed people. In modern times, this task has broadened to include work performed from land, sea, air and satellite vehicles in space, but human scouts have not been forgotten. With the scouts seeing just ahead, a moving column of troops can avoid danger or prepare for an ambush.
For a unit moving by armored transport, spotting can be tricky. Armored vehicles are large and noisy, revealing their position as much by noise as by size. Motorcycles, which have a long history in warfare, are nimble and fast, but their engines roar and the exhaust can reveal position as well. During the test, the bikes also ply the paths for armored vehicles, such as checking if a stream could be cleared by larger troop transports.
“The imprint [with e-bikes] is minimized due to less power, less noise, and you don’t raise a lot of dust that could be seen by enemy forces, ”Queensland Mounted Infantry Corporal Thomas Ovey said in a statement. “It’s much more efficient than a standard motorcycle.”
[Related: The best electric bikes for an easier ride]
The electric bikes used have a top speed of 55 mph and a range of 62 miles. For a spot run, that means the bikes can go 30 miles in just over half an hour and then come back to the unit before the bikes run out of charge. Even then, the fact that it was a bicycle meant that soldiers could still pedal it to its destination.
With this range and the quieter profile provided by electric motors, bikes could also function as couriers on the battlefield.
“This allows us to secure information, whether it is information that people have found on the battlefield, or even if one of the troops takes pictures on their phones and wants to send them back to headquarters. “said Ovey. “They’ll call us, we’ll take out the stealth bikes, go over there and get the information.” It is much faster. We’re covering more ground a lot faster, and that saves time instead of waiting for troops to come to us when they’ve found something.
[Related: A Silent, Hybrid Motorcycle For The U.S. Military]
In a 2014 program to build a silent motorcycle, DARPA set a threshold for bikes at 55 decibels when running on electricity. It’s louder than a conversation in a house but quieter than an air conditioner 100 feet away, so not really quiet, but quite sufficient.
The Australian Department of Defense did not name the model of electric bike used, or give a decibel for the motor. Without it, it’s hard to tell how quiet bikes are in the abstract, but it’s safe to say they’re quieter than gasoline vehicles. More importantly, they are quieter than the sounds around them in the field, especially on rough terrain and with some natural ambient noise.
It remains to be seen whether Australia will embrace e-bikes in its forces. As the country continues a modernization process for a possible war in the Pacific, past experience shows that the bicycles provided a valuable advantage to the military who could use them en masse in the eastern Pacific.
[Related: I rode an electric motorcycle for the first time. Here’s what I learned.]
Historically, perhaps the most famous cycling military feat was the Japanese capture of Singapore during World War II, in which light, quiet bicycles allowed soldiers to advance faster than expected on streams and rough terrain.
Much of warfare has changed since the 1940s. Yet the usefulness of light, fast, and flexible transport, carrying everything from scouts to confidential information, remains invaluable. E-bikes may offer the outward appearance of a more sustainable approach to warfare, but basically they’re a new take on an old type of stealth.
Watch a promotional video on the bikes below: