Nikola Motor Seeks Military Work for Weaponized Off-Roader

May 16, 2019 by Alan Adler, @AlanAdler

Nikola Motor wants to sell the U.S. military a version of its super-fast electric utility-terrain vehicle equipped with advanced weapons systems.

The Reckless is a more powerful version of the Nikola NZT, a 550-horsepower side-by-side off-road vehicle expected to go on sale in 2021.

Both are powered by a 400-volt battery pack and twin e-axle technology. Power electronics and four independent electric wheel motors from Robert Bosch enable the Reckless to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in four seconds.

“We built the Reckless to solve complex problems for the military,” said Andrew Christian, Nikola vice president of defense.

One such challenge is finding a better way to sneak up on the enemy. The noise level of the Reckless “is the equivalent of a whisper in a library,” Christian said. It generates little heat from its electric wheel motors. That limits detection by thermal imaging. Diesel and gasoline engines have a much larger heat signature.

ZH2 COMPARED

The Reckless functions are similar to the General Motors ZH2 concept reconnaissance vehicle. The hydrogen-powered fuel cell is a derivative of a Chevrolet Colorado pickup. GM and the U.S. Army tested the ZH2 on several bases in 2017. Soldiers praised its straight-line power, climbing prowess and ability to creep up on an enemy in war games.

General Motors ZH2 concept reconnaissance vehicle (Photo: Ryan ZumMallen/Trucks.com)

Like the ZH2, the Reckless exports energy to power non-vehicle uses such as a combat operation center.

“You can pull this vehicle next to any mud hut in Iraq or Afghanistan and power a portion of the village off the energy,” Christian said.

Pratt & Miller Engineering in suburban Detroit assembled the ZH2 and a preproduction model of the Reckless.

POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS

Nikola is shopping the Reckless with the Marines, with whom Christian served for 28 years. Off-road testing on bases at Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms, Calif., showed some of its capabilities. Nikola also is talking with Sofwerx, the innovation lab of the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Nikola plans to work with the Department of Defense to add a hydrogen fuel cell to extend the range beyond the 150 miles the Reckless gets from an electric charge. Nikola is working with Envision Solar on portable battery banks that could store energy for transfer to the Reckless in the field.

“Hydrogen offers distinct advantages in range and capability,” Christian said. But it makes logistics more difficult because the hydrogen needs to be brought to the Reckless, he said.

WEAPONS GRADE

Nikola Defense partnered with aerospace and weapons makers to equip the Reckless for modern warfare. The vehicle can be equipped with military drones and a high-powered gun.

Planck Aerosystems makes a system that works with the Reckless that allows drones to take off and land autonomously on moving vehicles without GPS guidance, a radio link to the ground or an operator.

“It’s a vision-based system,” said Josh Wells, Planck chief executive. “When you get into environments where GPS isn’t available, our aircraft can still operate.” The lack of connection also helps protect it from hackers, Wells said.

The Reckless also incorporates a remotely operated AimLock Inc. R-M1 weapon station that continuously tracks its target.

“Vision processors fuse all the information together from all available sensors,” said Ryan Burkhart, Aimlock chief executive.

Defense contractor Profense installed an electrically driven M134 Gatling machine gun capable of firing more than 3,000 rounds a minute.

The platform for drone takeoff and landing on the Reckless also can be used for medical evacuations.

“You can’t develop a new product for the military just because you think it’s cool,” Christian said. “It’s got to solve a problem for them.”

HOMAGE TO A WAR HORSE

The Reckless is an homage to the twice-wounded Korean War supply horse of the same name. The Marines promoted Reckless to the military rank of staff sergeant in the late 1950s.

Sgt. Reckless originally was known as Flame of the Morning. A Marine lieutenant purchased her for $250 from a boy at a Seoul race track in 1952.

John O'Dell May 8, 2019
Nikola Motor founder Trevor Milton watched his mom die of cancer, sold candy in the schoolyard, and dropped out of college. He says it all helped make him a successful entrepreneur.

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