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.”
“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.
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.”