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Navy, Marines Eye ‘Green’ Solutions to Extend Operational Reach from the Sea

Cables connected to a nearby tactical vehicle help recharge the batteries of the M777A2 lightweight towed 155mm howitzer. during a Marine Corps and Navy-sponsored operational energy capability exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Dec. 6. Gidget Fuentes Photo

Cables connected to a nearby tactical vehicle help recharge the batteries of the M777A2 lightweight towed 155mm howitzer. during a Marine Corps and Navy-sponsored operational energy capability exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Dec. 6. Gidget Fuentes Photo

MARINE CORPS AIR-GROUND COMBAT CENTER, Calif. – The new, high-tech gear, equipment, vehicles and weapons systems the Marine Corps wants for the future force require more batteries and fuel than what Marines had a decade ago. Infantry battalions retooled and equipped to conduct distributed operations now require more fuel to power their larger fleet of tactical vehicles and operate combat systems used by their small-level units.

These increasing energy demands of the modernizing force nag at commanders and service officials worried that a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) could be hampered by resupply or logistical issues. So the Marine Corps, along with the Navy, are pushing ahead to find and field innovative “green” energy technologies and commercial solutions to meet its operational energy demand on the battlefield.

“This is a significant challenge,” said Col. Brian Magnuson, director of the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office “Now everything requires energy and power.”

The individual Marine “is much more capable than he or she was 15 years ago. They are better armed, they are better equipped, they are better protected with better communications. But that has an impact,” Magnuson said, speaking to a group of industry officials, legislative aides, officers and senior enlisted leaders who were invited to a Dec. 6 expeditionary energy demonstration at this desert training base outside Twentynine Palms, Calif. “It’s 45 percent more energy intensive for that individual Marine.”

Marines loaded for combat in 2013 carried 45 percent more weight than they did in 2000, officials say. Just batteries to power radios and computers can add several pounds plus the bulk. And power-demanding, high-tech gear like optics, tablets, in-helmet radar and unmanned drones that Marines will be getting as the force modernizes will further add to that load, even as the service has sought lightweight gear to lighten the load.

Magnuson’s office, known as E2O, is charged with helping the Marine Corps get more energy ready, operationally, and lessen the dependence on fossil fuels in line with the Department of Navy’s “Great Green Fleet” initiatives. The Marine Corps’ expeditionary energy strategy vision states: “By 2025, we will deploy Marine Expeditionary Forces that can maneuver from the sea and sustain C4I and life support systems in place; the only liquid fuel needed will be for mobility systems which will be more efficient than systems are today.”

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, display the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Electronics Network System during the Energy Capability Exercise, in alignment with the Great Green Fleet initiative, at Camp Wilson aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Dec. 6, 2016. Marine Corps Photo

Marines with 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, display the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Electronics Network System during the Energy Capability Exercise, in alignment with the Great Green Fleet initiative, at Camp Wilson aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Dec. 6, 2016. Marine Corps Photo

“We are transforming the Department of the Navy so we can go further on a tank of gas, we can extend the operational reach of the force, we can deliver more firepower,” Joseph M. Bryan, deputy assistant secretary of Navy for energy, told the group.

Bryan, who’s been in the job about two years, said he’s often been asked: Why does energy matter? “Energy matters, because it matters to the mission,” he said, noting that it’s not just a Navy subject of interest.

He quoted retired Gen. James Mattis, who led 1st Marine Division into Iraq and later was quoted saying, “Unleash us from the tether of fuel.” A 2006 report, by the Naval Research Advisory Committee report called “Future Fuels,” advocated the military services seek long-term alternatives to fossil fuels including “green” solutions such as hybrid batteries, fuel cells, more-efficient vehicles and synthetic fuel. “He understands that that matters to the mission,” Bryan said of Mattis, who is expected to be nominated to become the next defense secretary.

The future dispersed battlespace requires supporting more self-sufficient units deployed far inland from the sea base, according to the Marine Corps’ operating concept. So top officials want to extend that operational reach of the MAGTF, whether it’s a Marine expeditionary force, Marine expeditionary brigade or battalion- or company-led unit. Several efforts and experiments are looking at “green” technologies like improved batteries, more fuel-efficient tactical vehicles, improved sensors and monitors to track energy use and more-efficient hybrid generators.

The Marine Corps wants to ensure that, by 2025, it can deploy a MEB that is self-sustained for up to 30 days and a MEF for up to 60 days. Fuel and water account for the bulk of resupply needs.

“Anything that we can do to reduce the amount of logistics that needs to be moved, whether by air or by ground, is going to go a long way in making Marines much more resilient, agile and keeping the tempo that we need to fight and win in these distributed locations around the battlefield,” Capt. Mike Herendeen, E2O’s lead on simulation and technology, told the group. “There is a great deal of risk that is involved when you are going to conduct convoys on long road marches to deliver this amount, this high quantity of supplies.

Transporting and providing water to a battalion accounts for 50 percent of battlefield logistics, officials say, including fuel for the convoys of resupply vehicles. Sustaining a division of 23,000 Marines operating 100 miles inland requires 80,000 gallons of fuel, 122,000 gallons of water, 116,000 pounds of food and 690,000 pounds of ammunition – every day – coming from the ship or shore base, Herendeen said.

So the E2O work includes finding more energy-efficient solutions, such as equipping existing combat systems with devices that save fuel or track use and educating Marines about tactical energy so drivers learn when to idle vehicles to save fuel, for example. The Marine Corps’ tactical vehicle fleet is the second largest consumer of fuel, officials say.

Lance Cpl. Corey Georski demonstrates the Joint Infantry Combat Prototype as Sara Lohmann, lead engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren, explains how it produces energy that can power gear and recharge batteries whenever the Marine walks or runs. Gidget Fuentes Photo

Lance Cpl. Corey Georski demonstrates the Joint Infantry Combat Prototype as Sara Lohmann, lead engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren, explains how it produces energy that can power gear and recharge batteries whenever the Marine walks or runs. Gidget Fuentes Photo

Attendees at the tactical energy demonstration checked out several energy devices and equipment on existing weapons systems and vehicles. Some solutions were relatively low-tech, like a jerry can turned into a battery-charging station that can be plugged into a tactical vehicle. The portable solar arrays of the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network System, or GREENS, can power things like computers, radios and weapon systems’ batteries and even create a micro-grid.

Modifications to the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement, the Marines’ prime mover, are saving about 10 percent in fuel, officials said, from measures that reduce engine idle speed, adding an auxiliary power unit and modifying driver behavior. The retooled vehicle is known as the Fuel Efficient MTVR, or FE MTVR.

Cables running from an MTVR was recharging two batteries that powered the digital control fire system computers of an M777A2 155mm towed howitzer.

“If we go to combat and the gun (batteries) goes out, we can’t do missions, we can’t do our job, we can’t send down rounds,” said Lance Cpl. Marlon Hill, a gunner and “A” chief with India Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Regiment. “So power is very important. It’s very important to this gun.”

 

  • PolicyWonk

    Logistics is key to any military operation – so efforts to reduce energy/fuel consumption, or to generate power while in the field definitely make sense, while saving lives.

    Additionally, wherever it makes sense, designing gear (trucks, tanks, APC’s, etc) to share the same parts (etc.) can greatly help to further reduce logistical burdens.

    I wish the navy and Marines every success, and hope the other armed forces branches climb on the bandwagon.

  • Subsailor

    They had me onboard with everything, until “synthetic fuels” was mentioned as a viable component of the effort.

    Synthetic fuel- in this context- is nothing more than liquid and compressed-gas replacements for petroleum products sourced from non-petroleum processes, such as bio-fuels.

    It takes as much effort- and more, since most biofuels have a lower energy-content than their petroleum equivalent- to deliver and dispense these fuels to the troops, so any notion that these are part of an honest effort to make the force more efficient is a fabrication.

    The program would have an easier time getting support from the skeptics if they would simply be honest with their reasoning- that they want to artificially boost the alternative-fuels industry at the expense of the fossil-fuel industry and the American taxpayer- then defend those intentions in the arena of ideas.

    • Marauder 2048

      Some of the synthetic fuels are approaching JP-10 energy densities.
      There is all of *one* DOD qualified JP-10 refiner on planet Earth.
      Surely, some diversification in suppliers is desirable.

      • Subsailor

        Any refinery in America could produce JP-10, and at considerably less cost than any equivalent synthetic. Back when the term “peak oil” was being thrown around there was some (apparent) real justification for the DoD to be involved in the alternative-fuels quest.

        That threat, like many other alarmist predictions, never lived-up to the dire warnings and hand-wringing.

        I have no issue with a private company using its own finances and venture-capitalist investments to research, discover, produce and market synthetic fuels. When they reach a price-point and/or product quality that makes it the better buy, then I and everyone else will begin buying and using their product.

        Forcing the military services to purchase an inferior product at four times the cost of petroleum fuel because it spurs “green initiatives” is the kind of corrupt crony-capitalism that we need less of.

        • Marauder 2048

          “Any refinery in America could produce JP-10, and at considerably less cost than any equivalent synthetic.”

          Uh no. JP-10 is a b*tch of a synthetic hydrocarbon to produce and handle which is why it’s $20/gallon and why few companies have the time, inclination, capacity and capability to make it.

          JP-10 has no commercial application and only one domestic customer; private investment is unlikely to focus on improving the price-per-gallon of a niche, but strategically important, product.

          • Cl1ffClav3n

            Once you understand that huge amounts of fossil fuel hydrocarbons are used to make fertilizer for biomass feedstock or directly as feedstock for alternative fuels, for cultivation and harvesting and processing energy, for the upgrading hydrotreatment process to convert alcohols and triglycerides to pure hydrocarbons, and for the conventional fuel blending necessary to produce a finished “drop-in” fuel product — and that the sum of all these fossil fuel inputs is far greater for a unit of allegedly “green” fuel than for a unit of conventional refined petroleum fuel, this whole SECNAV and Obama administration fantasy is exposed.

            JP-10 is one of scores of jet and rocket fuels needed only in boutique quantities that will always be more expensive than their mass-produced counterparts. They become only more expensive and the cause of greater polluting and GHG emissions if made less efficiently using alternative feedstocks and pathways.

          • Marauder 2048

            Sorry if I was unclear: my point is not about feedstocks and other hydrocarbon inputs to synthetic fuels and their green merits/demerits.

            It’s more about getting higher energy density fuels (MJ/L) in quantity to the frontlines. That reduces the logistics chain since more work can be accomplished per gallon of fuel delivered.

            High energy density synthetic hydrocarbons like JP-10 have production constraints that preclude large quantities.

            If non-hydrocarbon derived synthetic fuels can get JP-10 like energy densities in quantity that’s a huge win.

            The services should also be producing the coal-tar derived JP-900 in quantity since it has many of the nice properties I outlined above.

          • Cl1ffClav3n

            Volumetric energy density is indeed a virtue for combat fuels, but there are many other virtues that must be balanced: volatility, flashpoint, cold flow properties, shelf-life, storage and handling ease, elastomeric seal compatibility, conductivity, compatibility with existing infrastructure and powerplants, etc. If energy density was the only criteria, why not move past JP-10 with its measly 150,000 BTU/gal and synthesize heptacyclo-tetradecane or pentacyclo-undecane at 190,000 BTU/gal? It shouldn’t need to be said that expensive and exotic and unstable are not a good fit for the battlefield. On the other hand, Naphtha and kerosene, which are the basis for our jet and diesel fuels, are excellent general purpose and battlefield energy carriers with very good volumetric and gravimetric energy density as well as great scores across all of the other criteria above.

      • Cl1ffClav3n

        Name one biofuel or alternative fuel that Mabus and company or that the Air Force or the Army have purchased since 2007 and tested in their parade of propaganda events that exceeds the corresponding fossil fuel energy density? You can’t because there are none. The alcohols and triglycerides have lower densities, and the “drop-in” fuels have exactly the same densities, mostly because they are 50-90% fossil fuel anyway. The only military use for exquisitely expensive, exotic, unstable, incompatible single-molecule fuel like JP-10 is cruise missiles. We are not firing enough of them to justify multiple refineries to replenish the supply.

  • Cl1ffClav3n

    Any device that creates electricity from motion must impose resistance to that motion. So we are taking Marines that are already carrying 45% more load than they used to and putting them in knee braces that add weight and put drag on their legs that makes walking and running that much harder. In other words, we are increasing the load on the Marines with this misguided stuff, and gullible reporters who don’t remember high school physics gobble it up and spread the greenwash propaganda to the detriment of the troops and national security.

  • vincedc

    In the good old days soldiers had to worry about running out of ammunition….now they have to worry about their batteries going dead.

    • Paul

      If you mean WW1 by the good old days, maybe…

      Batteries are nothing new. Infantry battalions have lived and died by single channel radio since WW2 and radios aren’t powered by telepathy. Battalion Tactical, Admin, 81mm FO, artillery FO, Naval Gunfire liaison, Forward Air Control, etc. are all examples of nets that have to be guarded 24/7 at different levels within even relatively small units.

      Say a BA-5590 (radio battery) might last 12 hours give or take depending on usage and you never really know when your next resupply is, especially if you are doing movement to contact over terrain with no roads. They weigh slightly less than 2 1/2 pounds each. You need to carry as many as possible in addition to your pack, flack vest with SAPI plates, helmet, e-tool, personal weapons and ammo, food, water, grenades, to say nothing of extra stuff that gets spread loaded like AT-4s, 60mm mortar rounds, 7.62 mm link, etc. That adds up.

      That’s even before they started putting battery powered sights on weapons, night vision goggles, GPS units, and other gear that really does give our troops an edge into the mix.

      Anything that lessens the logistical tail is worth looking in to.

  • RobM1981

    There is much complexity here, and I sincerely hope the Navy Department is tracking all of it.

    Yes, electronics add capabilities but they also add weight and bulk. Got it.
    They also add “one more thing that can go wrong.” Electronics fail, even if the batteries don’t die. Electronics are vulnerable to combat conditions.

    Now we are adding another layer, the Green layer. This makes sense, but it has to be acknowledged as yet more weight, bulk, complexity, and possible vulnerability. One more thing to carry; one more thing to go wrong.

    Yes, the benefits can be huge, so I’m not saying let’s revert, but we need to really think these things through.

    And we need to be sure that the individual sailor or Marine fails safe. If/when electronics fail, a Marine in the field has to know how to prevail using “the old fashioned” stuff.

    I wish the Navy Department complete success here. This won’t be an easy task, if done properly.

    • Silverpalm

      Yes, and China knows how much we rely on GPS and is prepared to cripple us.

      • draeger24

        yep….

  • KillerClownfromOuterspace

    It would be interesting to see if the weight and bulk of green actually replace the fuel it displaces. Usually green solutions are only green for the amount of money they cost.

    • Silverpalm

      Green may be a misnomer here. Most people when they think of green they think of horribly inefficient energy sources like solar and wind… The USMC is not so much concerned with helping the environment as becoming more efficient. While new technology isn’t always more efficient, they sound like most of what they’re doing is trying to consolidate and minimise the physical amount of stuff, using whatever technology they think best. The Marines aren’t stupid: they might talk nice about going green to please the politicians, but when it comes to business they take it seriously. The percentage of Marines dedicated to logistics support is too large, and most of them would rather be fighting.

      • KillerClownfromOuterspace

        I agree marines are mission focused but never doubt the strength of the green constituency – especially with current navy civilian leadership where 500 buck a gallon gas was a great deal.

        I seem to remember Puller, when shown a flame thrower, asked how you could mount a bayonet on it.

        • Silverpalm

          Amen Chesty. Bayonets are cool weapons.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Sounds to me like a real Achilles heel for the USMC. Just shoot their Energizer bunny, and they all have to go home.

  • old guy

    Jill Stein for Commandant. Hoo Ahh!

    • draeger24

      LOL….

  • draeger24

    If one life is lost due to this “green” nonsense, those responsible should be put into Leavenworth along with BRADLEY Manning….I’m not sure how paying 52 dollars a gallon for JP-4 made from aquatic slime is anything other than “trendy” in converting us poor military people into that which these enlightened socialists in the Obama administration would like us to be….enough of this Mabus nonsense….

    • old guy

      AMEN to that. Prez Trump has his work cut out for him.