(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Joint Pacific Multi-National Readiness Center (JPMRC) hosted its first Arctic Regional Combat Training Center (CTC) rotation in March 2022 at Fort Greely, Alaska. This first-ever Arctic Regional CTC faced harsh winter conditions, with temperatures ranging as low as -30 F, and exposed a critical capability gap in the U.S. Army’s current doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) regarding bulk water storage and distribution. Building on lessons learned during Arctic Warrior 21, the 725th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) experimented with several solutions to overcome extreme cold weather (ECW) to keep bulk water liquid. Some of the battalion’s innovative approaches were more successful than others. All of them come with operational costs that commanders and planners must understand and balance when planning sustainment in ECW. This article describes ECW effects on Army bulk water sustainment, describes implemented solutions and their efficacy, and proposes a different approach to bulk water sustainment that is worth exploring.

ECW Effects on Water

Keeping any quantity of water liquid under ECW conditions is extremely hard, if not nearly impossible. In 2021, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division executed Arctic Warrior ’21 — a battalion task force with enablers conducting an airborne assault at Donnelly Training Area near Fort Greely, Alaska — and saw ambient temperatures as low as -65 F and sustained sub-zero temperatures ranging between -35 F and -10 F. The 725th BSB established a forward logistics base supporting the exercise and struggled to maintain liquid water throughout the operation. Load handling system compatible water tank racks (Hippos) and the unit water pod system (Camel) were simply overwhelmed by the elements. The BSB main and forward support companies were forced to completely drain their water tanks once distribution was complete, resulting in an unrealistic overreliance on the forward logistics base’s water point. The BSB experimented with placing a Hippo in a heated maintenance tent and saw mixed results as even a heated maintenance tent struggled to provide enough warmth at -65 F.

While JPMRC 22-02 did not see such extreme lows, it did face sustained sub-zero temperatures that challenged both Soldiers and equipment. Put simply, current Army bulk water storage containment systems cannot cope with these extreme temperatures and are quickly overwhelmed, resulting in frozen bulk water. Water Buffalo and CamelBak water systems in U.S. Army Alaska (USARAK) are modified with the addition of fuel-fired heating systems for ECW operations. While these additional heating systems help retain liquid water in extreme cold, they have limits. Water Buffalos freeze at 20 F, Hippo at 10 F, and Camels at -2 F. Frozen water wrought havoc on the Hippo, specifically the plastic distribution components. Residual water in distribution pipes quickly freezes, causing ball valves to freeze and plastic handles to break. Our Hippo training student guide calls for preheating an empty Hippo and draining water from distribution valves before and after water distribution. This alleviated some issues but did not resolve broken handles and some other damage. Other modifications, such as using insulation blankets wrapped around distribution pipes, are less effective. Insulation blankets under true ECW conditions freeze quickly and do not provide adequate insulation, resulting in damaged equipment. The guidelines seem more suited for winter conditions in temperate locations. A complete relook at ECW guidelines may be required.

Mitigation and Experimentation

725th BSB mitigated some of the mentioned shortcomings by enclosing one Hippo in a heated tent. In this instance, A Company placed the Hippo at the desired location and established two 20-foot A-frame shelters end-to-end, with floors removed, over the Hippo. Bullet heaters and Easyheat pipe heaters, a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) government purchase card (GPC) purchase, were installed. This created a climate-controlled environment capable of maintaining an average of 56 F and kept water liquid. A short-term solution would be to request U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command authorization to drill a small hole in the top door to insert internal heaters and sanitize.

Placing Hippos in tents proved effective, but this solution comes with operational costs. First, mobility is inhibited because it takes time to set up and tear down the location and achieve adequate temperature. It took approximately 90 minutes to establish the site with tents and heater. However, breaking the site down took approximately five hours because the warm tent melted snow that then froze the tent to the ground once the heat was turned off. Soldiers had to break the ice to move the tent, which was time consuming and laborious. Additional equipment is required (two tents per Hippo, plus generator and heaters), which requires space on vehicles for transport. Current tents and heaters being utilized are either the common table of allowance or COTS, meaning units are not funded to purchase or maintain these items. Long-term solutions under this model require the table of organized equipment changes. Another material solution is improving the Hippo capabilities to effectively function at -60 F temperatures, thus eliminating the requirement for tents, heaters, generators, and truck space.

Heating equipment for the Hippo is placed inside a shelter during Joint Pacific Multi-National Readiness Center 22-02 rotation on March 25, 2022.
Heating equipment for the Hippo is placed inside a shelter during Joint Pacific Multi-National Readiness Center 22-02 rotation on March 25, 2022.
(Photo Credit: Photo by Sgt. Equonie George)


Another approach to bulk water challenges is to work with nature instead of against it and ship bulk ice instead of attempting to keep water liquid. Other arctic counties, such as Norway, distribute ice on trucks and line units thaw it forward. USARAK Soldiers are already trained to melt snow for supplemental drinking water, so training them to melt bulk ice would be an easy transition. Additionally, ice is far more efficient at producing water than snow because snow consists mostly of air, whereas ice is nearly a one-for-one, i.e., a gallon of ice produces a gallon of water. Experimentation is required to develop doctrine, equipment, and TTPs such as what vehicle is used to move the ice, what sized ice blocks are best suited, where ice is formed and thawed in the supply chain, and how it is sanitized for consumption, but the basic concept of moving ice is fairly simple.

One proposed method is to freeze ice in cylindrical shapes less than 2.5 inches in diameter and 8.25 inches long. This shape and size allow the ice to be placed directly in the Soldier’s canteen with insulated carrier. Enough space remains between the bottle and carrier to place a commercial hand heater powered by either batteries or a chemical reaction. The specific amount of energy required to melt the ice is to be determined. Cylindrical molds could be produced in a modular rack system that could be transported on a containerized roll-in/roll-out platform, in a medium tactical vehicle, or on a towed sled to the company trains and stored or distributed there. Soldiers then use their canteen and heater combination to produce potable water.

Another solution is to produce 5-gallon blocks of ice cylindrical in shape that could melt over a modern burner unit in an Assault Kitchen. This would produce ice more efficiently but would also weigh more than 40 pounds per block. Other solutions exist; these are simply two to begin the creative thinking process.

Moving forward

Bulk water operations in ECW conditions are much more difficult than in temperate climates. Even with integrated fuel-fired heating systems, the cold quickly overwhelms current bulk water assets. While 725th BSB’s experimentation creates solutions, they are still flawed. Bulk water must be able to quickly react to the operational environment, and COTS or GPC purchases require initial investment and support.

Solutions to bulk water in ECW include adopting Norway’s ice strategy or improving the operating temperatures of current equipment. Other viable solutions remain unexplored, but our question remains: what is the best way to get potable water to line units in ECW?


2nd Lt. Nathan Bedel currently serves as the 3rd platoon leader, Avalanche Company, 725th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 11th Airborne Division, where his team battles the elements to distribute liquid logistics. He graduated from the University of Findlay with a bachelor’s degree in Logistics and was commissioned from Bowling Green State University in May 2021.


This article was published in the Fall 22 issue of Army Sustainment.


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