Petroleum operations in the U.S. Army require the utmost, detail-focused planning and proper coordination to ensure the success of any mission set. The following is an analysis of one of the newer pieces of petroleum equipment added to force sustainment, the Modular Fuel System (MFS). This document provides detailed comparison and contrast to potential mission sets for future Army operations, as well as the types of units which have been fielded this system and the functionality it provides within a given unit. Ultimately, the MFS, by design, has the potential to provide an immediate and instrumental increase in tactical capability. However, the flaw lies not with the system itself rather with how the system has been fielded to units across the Army. With large-scale combat operations (LSCO) lingering on the horizon, it is imperative that force sustainment units are issued the entire system to increase petroleum capacity on the battlefield while maintaining relative agility within the large-scale battle space.
The MFS is a piece of petroleum equipment that enables fuel distribution and storage capability without using collapsible fabric fuel tanks or requiring engineer support. It was implemented to reduce the amount of fuel inherently lost using the collapsible fabric tanks and increase bulk storage efficiency. This increase in bulk storage efficiency is directly affected by the relative permanence associated with the collapsible tanks. Once the collapsible tanks have been filled, they become a permanent structure until they are defueled into another storage device and the fabric tanks are destroyed. Unlike using the collapsible fabric tanks, the MFS system is used in conjunction with a M978 Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT), M1120 HEMTT Load Handling System (LHS), M1074 Palletized Load System (PLS), and M1076 PLS Trailer. These vehicles allow their MFS to be emplaced and actioned in the most austere locations without the need for prior service by engineers or material handling equipment. The MFS consists of the following components: a Pump Rack Module (PRM) and 14 Tank Rack Modules (TRM). According to the Petroleum Planning and Operations Smart Book generated by the U.S. Army Petroleum Center (APC), the entire MFS is not currently issued to any unit in the Army. However, most units with petroleum equipment have been issued the TRM.
PRM and TRM
The PRM was designed to facilitate ease of bulk fuel transfer in a complex battlefield while being able to hastily mobilize these very same assets, if needed. The PRM is loaded with a 600 gallon-per-minute pump, integrated filtration systems with necessary hoses, couplings, and nozzles to establish eight retail distribution points or four bulk refuel points.
The TRM was designed to facilitate retail fuel operations by increasing a unit’s capability to store, transport, and ultimately distribute the petroleum product. The TRM can be used in conjunction with a M978 HEMTT for line haul distribution, as it effectively increases the storage capacity of a M978 from 2,500 gallons of fuel to 5,000 gallons of fuel. As a stand-alone system, the TRM consists of an electric continuous pump, filtration and water separator system, and a meter to provide clean and dry fuel and retail accountability.
The major discrepancy, as it relates to the MFS, is not related to design of the equipment but in how units interact with it. As previously stated, not one unit has been issued the complete MFS, but many have been issued a TRM, a component of the MFS. By the description of the TRM, it is designed to be used for bulk storage and retail capability. The electric pump built into the TRM does not provide the capacity on its own to establish stable bulk retail operations, but it does in conjunction with the PRM. Operators are undertrained on the TRM and its capabilities and command teams tend to be misinformed on the proper implementation of the equipment. It is a line of thinking that a TRM should be able to be dropped in a location and it will satisfy a given unit's fuel requirements, due to the onboard pump. This is inaccurate. This misinformation leads to planning factors that are unrealistic and likely improbable. Commands often have trouble differentiating the particulars of bulk fuel distribution and retail fuel distribution. The lack of education associated with the terms causes ill advised planning and thus perpetuates the misuse of the TRM. As noted in the description, the TRM has a retail capability. Experience shows, however, the planning factor which is most often associated with implementing the usage of the TRM is derived from using it as a bulk distribution asset. So with better information regarding how to properly utilize the TRM, it will better serve units and continue to be a force multiplier for units with the TRM at their disposal.
Large-Scale Combat Operations
The increasing concern of LSCO is an issue we have shifted our focus to as we navigate away from counter-insurgency operations. With petroleum being one of the major concerns as we look to best prepare ourselves for this potential battlefield, how our product is moved in this environment is extremely paramount. Flexibility will be important as command teams employ systems such as the MFS, particularly as joint force commanders are looking to seize the initiative and consolidate gains on terrain which has been moved through. Use of the MFS will allow for rapid maneuverability and support of the forward line of troops as the battlefield progresses. This line of thought is directly in line with the sustainment warfighting function as it enables sustainers to provide support and services to ensure freedom of action, extend operational reach, and prolong endurance.
As it relates to previous fuel distribution, the MFS does not offer any negative reasons why it is not the progression needed to support LSCO. There is no long-term setup required to effectively employ this system. However, with units being fielded an individual component of the MFS, rather than the system as a whole, there are no units currently capable of effectively employing this force multiplier.
The MFS is designed as a force multiplier. It has the potential to greatly increase the effectiveness of sustainment units with less time spent in an area for refueling operations as well as expand the mobility and the areas to which refueling can take place. While there are not any units currently fielding the MFS in its entirety, owning this equipment allows commanders to plan more effectively for operations. This planning process, along with proper education to command teams of equipment capabilities and employment procedures, will exponentially increase the effectiveness of any unit supported with the MFS.
Warrant Officer 1 Johnny E. Frambo II is a 923A Petroleum Systems Technician currently stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He has an associate’s degree in political science from Florida State College at Jacksonville and is currently pursuing a bachelor's in business management from Liberty University.
This article was published in the October-December 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.