WARREN, Mich., Sept. 19, 2011 -- With budgets falling and thousands of troops scheduled to redeploy back home, commanders in the field are striving to become more efficient with resource-saving measures such as the Shower Water Reuse System.
The SWRS is one of several ways the Army's Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems has been working to lighten the logistical burden on forward operating bases.
"Within the Army, 70 to 80 percent of our resupply weight or convoy weight is fuel and water," said Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Environment and Energy Katherine Hammack.
"That's a lot of manpower not focused on the mission," Hammack said. "What we want to do is enable our Soldiers to focus on the mission."
"We know that our budgets are going to be coming down and we are going to have to figure out how to do more with less," she said. "But if we can deploy technology that makes us much more efficient, so we don't need those resources, we're not only demonstrating fiduciary responsibility, but were enhancing the mission."
Shower water makes up roughly 75 percent of all potable water usage at FOBs.
"By reusing some of this water, you can drastically reduce the logistical burden on units," said Kevin Fahey, program executive officer for Combat Support and Combat Service Support .
The SWRS works by taking waste or gray water and essentially recycling it for future use. To accomplish this, the SWRS takes the soiled shower water and runs it through a series of filters, membranes, and chemicals. What comes out is water that falls within potable quality standards.
"While the water is technically potable, the surgeon general has only approved it for reuse within the shower," said Ryan Eckert, a chemical engineer who along with mechanical engineer Bob Graney designed the SWRS for PM FSS.
"The SWRS was leveraged off of the Tactical Water Purification System and Hospital Containerized Batch Laundry as a capability to decrease the logistical burden on FOBs (forwrd operating bases)," added Eckert.
The SWRS can treat up to 12,000 gallons of water per day and returns 75 percent of it for reuse. If the system is used at its full capacity, 9,000 gallons of water are saved per day. Spread that out over an entire year and the Army could recognize a potential savings of more than 3.2 million gallons of water in just one shower facility.
Most FOBs are not near accessible water supplies and thus have to be constantly resupplied. The per gallon cost of water in a war zone is extremely high. Once all factors are added up, one gallon of water delivered to a FOB in Afghanistan can cost anywhere from $5 to $30.
The cost of each supply convoy is also very high both in dollars and mission effectiveness. Each Solider who is out protecting a convoy is one less Soldier who is not actively engaged in the mission.
"This is what makes the SWRS such a force multiplier," added Fahey. "By drastically reducing the amount of water needed to be resupplied, it returns more Soldiers to the field and lessens the burden on combat forces due to the coming drawdown."
The SWRS could also affect strategy in the field when it comes to placement of new FOBs. Commanders may not have to worry as much about placing a FOB in a location that can be easily resupplied with water and can instead place it in a more strategic combat location.
"We need to figure out how to enable our Soldiers to go out on patrol, to set up camps, without this long logistical supply train," said Hammack. "We want to enable our Soldiers to go further with less of a supply train so that they can really fight better."
The SWRS is currently undergoing additional field testing at the Army's recently opened Base Camp System Integration Laboratory at Fort Devens, Mass. The SIL is designed to enable the Army and the joint services to evaluate future technologies in a live Soldier environment, providing solutions to reduce the energy demand and logistical burden on base camps in Afghanistan.
The four-acre SIL is fully instrumented to measure water, fuel and power usage, forging the path for increased energy efficiency and base camp commonality.
While the SWRS has already undergone two years of mission testing, evaluation at the SIL will be slightly different.
"We are currently working with Penn State University to create a way to filter laundry water in the same water reuse unit," explained Eckert.
If successful, the laundry water filter will be added on to the SWRS in the field. Within the next six months, 54 SWRSs will be fielded to units in Afghanistan.
Each SWRS system costs roughly $170,000. If used to its fullest capacity, the Army could realize a potential savings of millions of dollars per unit each year. It is this type of innovation that the Army is banking on to enhance their capability and "do more with less," officials said.
The SWRS and the SIL are managed and operated by Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems, under the leadership of the Project Manager for Force Projection, within the Army's Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support , or PEO CS & CSS.