I just reviewed last year’s Pew Research paper “From the Barracks to the Battlefield: Clean Energy Innovation and America’s Armed Forces.” You can check it out for yourself by clicking here. Here are some of the major points I would like to point out:
- Fuel delivered to forward operating bases in Afghanistan costs at least 16 times more than the civilian equivalent. Under certain conditions, the delivered cost can range from $75 to $400 per gallon.
- Eighty percent of convoys in combat areas have been for fuel.
- One in 46 convoys results in a casualty.
- Just in 2010, there were 1,100 attacks on fuel convoys.
- From 2003 to 2007, there were 3,000 convoy-related casualties.
Missing from the report was any mention of politics in Pakistan. Since the successful mission into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden, many convoys were idled at the border and unable to cross due to tensions between the two countries. While positioned in one place, they proved to be sitting ducks and many vehicles were attacked while within the borders of a supposed “partner nation.”
For our brave men and women in uniform, alternative energy is more than a political tag-line. Energy independence can and does mean the difference between life and death. Further, forward-deployed troops reliant on a long logistics trail are less nimble and are more vulnerable to enemy attack of convoys.
Adding to the increasing use of energy (an average of 22 gallons of fuel is expended per soldier per day), we now have the “iSoldier” so tied into complex electronics that the foot patrol load includes 7 pounds per day just for batteries. Imagine our soldiers and marines fighting with 35 pounds of batteries alone on their back. That’s just not nimble by any stretch.
So what’s being done to correct the situation? Plenty. Troops are positioned in forward operating bases (FOBs). The Department of Defense has been experimenting with these bases to make each one energy independent. These Experimental Forward Operating Bases (Ex-FOBs) have been able to support personnel without resupply of fuel or other forms of energy. The Army’s Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power System and improvements in rechargeable batteries literally lighten the load carried by soldiers.
So what does this mean to civilians? Government does very well when it is engaged in pure research and provides business a ready customer base. This is how the space program improved our daily lives in unexpected ways from enhanced weather reporting, global voice and data communications, non-stick cooking in the kitchen, and memory foam mattresses. Similarly, many of the technologies developed for an Ex-FOB will enhance our energy security and price stabilization at home. This is just one more way that our men and women in uniform defend not only our freedom, but our way of life.