Fewer will go into harm’s way with mobile power strategy

Initiatives turn DOD’s operational energy strategy into reality

“Would you want to take these solar power systems into theater with you?”

Choosing his words carefully, the young combat veteran responded to the question about the value of solar systems: “When I was in Afghanistan I was the battalion S-4 (logistics). And a lot of my time was spent requisitioning Class III fuel and trying to get it pushed out to the COPs (command outposts) and FOBs (forward operating bases). I would say that about 50 percent of that fuel was to run power generation (equipment). So if we could have something like this that would significantly reduce – or even eliminate, in some cases – the requirement for generator fuel, that would alleviate some of the pressures we have in getting fuel out to those COPs and FOBs. So I think it definitely has an application on the battlefield.”

That line of tactical thinking is reflected in the March 2012 edition of the Defense Department’s Operational Energy Strategy, which outlines a three-fold approach to ensure that U.S. forces have a reliable supply of energy for 21st Century military operations: reducing demand for energy in military operations; expanding and securing energy supplies for military operations; and building energy security into the future force.

Not surprisingly, the Army and Marine Corps have been quick to recognize the tactical advantages inherent in an operational energy strategy. Simply stated, reducing the fuel requirements to support forward bases translates directly to a reduction in the amount of support vehicles and truckloads of fuel going into harm’s way.

Examples of the growing service interest can be found in the Marine Corps’ Experimental Forward Operating Base program, through which the USMC has been studying available technologies that could enhance the logistics sustainability of remote FOBs, as well as similar initiatives by the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force and other organizations. The processes have already led to the rapid fielding of small quantities of operational energy equipment items to warfighters in theater.

Desert Energy

Some of the most recent Army investigations have emerged over the past couple years during the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) process, semi-annual evaluations conducted by the Army’s 2nd Brigade 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD) at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. Originally designed to integrate and mature the Army’s tactical network in a mountain/desert setting, the NIE’s have evolved to include candidate Systems Under Evaluation (SUEs) that could be applied against a narrow set of specific, identified gaps in the current and evolving networked equipment solution set.

In a sources sought announcement process during the fall of 2011, the Army called for industry sources to participate in the just-concluded NIE 12.2 event, held at White Sands in April and May 2012. Among the identified gaps where the Army sought candidate SUEs was “improved operational energy.”

Following what the Army is calling an “agile” acquisition process, through which successful industry white paper responses led to equipment laboratory testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., before insertion into NIE 12.2, a range of vehicular, man-portable and standalone power systems went to the field with 2/1 AD. Along with the NIE SUEs, other operational energy systems were present at White Sands as part of parallel operational energy demonstrations.

Clear to the Eye

The potential contributions of many of the systems were quickly grasped by assigned observers and soldiers on the ground at White Sands, with some of the systems highlighted during the field communications exercise (COMMEX) that preceded the formal start of NIE 12.2.

One example was the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle-based On-Board Vehicle Power (OBVP) design from DRS Technologies.

“This is not the shiniest piece of equipment out here but honestly, speaking from an ex-sergeant’s point of view, this is the coolest,” said Matthew Herschede, a former Army Joint Network Node chief and section sergeant who is now a senior network engineer at CSC.

By installing a Transmission Integral Generator powered from the engine driveshaft, the OBVP generates 10 kW of power, either on the move or at engine idle. Even more significantly, the system generates more than 30 kW of continuous power in a stationary position.

“That’s enough to power a brigade TOC,” Herschede said. “So, you just need this one truck, as opposed to large towed generator systems.”

“My military background is in JNN (Joint Network Node) and communication of that level,” he said. “I had to carry a 10 kW generator tow-behind. And when I rolled out for a mission I had to bring three vehicles with three tow-behinds, minimum, just to make the mission happen. This eliminates that tow-behind requirement.”

The operational energy systems were still in the spotlight four weeks later, when COL Mike Harris, director for the Brigade Modernization Integration Directorate under Brigade Modernization Command, offered an early glimpse into the performance of some of the systems during NIE 12.2.

According to Harris, the several operational energy systems participating in NIE 12.2 fell into two broad categories: batteries and chargers; and generating power for things such as environmental control units.

In the batteries/chargers category, Harris observed that the various powered devices carried by today’s soldiers are each powered by different batteries. In response to that individual logistics burden, the NIE was exploring the Soldier Wearable Integrated Power System (SWIPES), a polymer conformal battery weighing half of the current standard BA-5590 battery and featuring multiple outlets for powering different devices. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command developed it.

“It’s lasting the soldiers 24 hours,” Harris said. “And the soldiers are estimating that that saves them carrying 10 to 12 pounds of extra batteries.”

Another individual power system, which Harris called “Shaker”, is a 3.5 watt kinetic energy harvester being explored for its potential to recharge batteries through soldier movement.

Other operational energy systems at NIE 12.2 focused on power generation needs for static facilities.

According to CPT Andrew Kemp, the former S-4 noted above and currently commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company of 2/1 AD’s 1-6 Cavalry, three systems evaluated by his unit during NIE 12.2 were the ZeroBase H-Series mounted 5 kW Regenerator, the Solar Stik 360 3 kW dismounted hybrid energy system operating in tandem with a 3 kW generator, and a mobile hybrid energy generation and storage system called “Forge” that can also be operated in tandem with a 3 kW generator.

Acknowledging that this was the first time his unit had experience with any of these systems, he said, “Our initial assessment is that they are good. They all do what they say. They all provide solar power to augment the energy requirements that the standard generator will provide.

“For instance, the H-Series is a 5 kW system with a generator,” he said. “We could plug directly into the generator if we needed to, but the design is that the solar panels and the battery reserve basically eliminate all of the wasted energy from the 5 kW. So if we are only drawing 2 kW of power, instead of having to run the 5 kW and waste 3 kW, the 5 kW generator uses all 5 kW to charge the battery bank. Then we only pull the energy we need from those batteries in real time. And in addition to the 5 kW charging the batteries we also have the option of recharging them with solar energy.”

The other two systems employ similar concepts.

Emphasizing that it will be up to the Army’s different centers of excellence to generate follow-on requirements for any of the NIE SUEs, COL Harris said, “Almost across the board it’s looking like these energy systems are performing well and the Sustainment Center of Excellence will be given very high marks for them.”

Additional Online Resources

DOD Operational Energy Strategy: Implementation Plan

Army Operational Energy

DRS' On-Board Vehicle Power - HMMWV

About the Author

Scott Gourley is a contributing writer at Defense Systems.

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