By Dennis K. Bohannon, ASA IE&EOctober 19, 2011
PENTAGON, Washington D.C. (18 October 2011) -- Colonel Peter A. Newell, Director, Rapid Equipping Force, Fort Belvoir, Virginia represented the Army during a Pentagon Energy Security Forum and discussed providing the "tactical edge" for America's Soldiers, "operational energy challenges" and the Rapid Equipping Forces' mission.
The Pentagon Energy Security Forum was held in the Pentagon Auditorium as part of a weeklong Pentagon Energy Security Event and Energy Awareness Month.
Newell, describes the mission of the Army Rapid Equipping Force (REF) as rapidly providing urgent capabilities to U.S. Army forces employed globally in order to improve operational effectiveness. A key element within this mission is the REF's Net Zero at the Tactical Edge Initiative.
"In the past 5 years the Rapid Equipping Force and our partners have developed and deployed a number of energy and power solutions ranging from battery scavengers, to enhanced alternators, to large solar-cell blankets - all aimed to provide more power to our fighting force, quite often in locations where extraordinary measures are required to resupply units," Newell said.
"In these locations, for these units on the" tactical edge" -- the burden of providing power and energy relies primarily on the force on the ground where the operational costs to deliver power and water are the greatest. At the tactical edge, sustainment operations are tactical operations that consume combat power and at the tactical edge, savings will likely be measured in lives rather than gallons of fuel saved.
"REF's NET Zero effort focuses on meeting energy and water requirements at locations that are hard to reach with logistical aid, while simultaneously reducing dependence on ground and aerial resupply operations. This initiative also seeks to decrease the battery load required to power Soldiers' equipment while conducting a variety of dismounted operations and also explores the means to provide wireless energy transfer to allow for longer operations of tactical unmanned air and ground systems," Newell said.
Newell explained that deployed REF assessment teams provide meaningful and measurable analysis of these efforts. This analysis will support Senior Army Leadership's future policy and procurement decisions.
Newell said that to date, REF has obligated over $10 million in the procurement, sustainment, training and assessment of hybrid energy generation and storage solutions to support more than 30 discreet tactical edge locations.
"U.S. Marine Corps Experimental Forward Operating Bases (EXFOB) results, as well as efforts underway within Program Manager-Mobile Electric Power, Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier, the Army Logistics Innovation Agency and the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) have strongly influenced the solution selection criteria for our procurement.
"REF shipments of NET Zero solution packages, conditioned by feedback from Soldiers and leaders in theater, will begin this month and will be met on the ground by REF supported Energy and Water Assessment teams who are already deployed in Afghanistan to capture assessments to refine our requirements for future "NET Zero" efforts," Newell said.
The REF has a permanent forward presence in the Afghanistan theater, which Newell recently visited. He shared the challenges he learned about through talking with Unit Commanders, Leaders and Soldiers.
He said, "During my visit last month leaders at every stop discussed the challenges of resupplying ever more distant Combat Operating Posts and their associated Observation Posts. The problem was most telling in one Brigade's area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border where logistics resupply operations between a battalion level Forward Operating Base and a combat outpost was a 10 hour trip…one way -- all on routes that had to be cleared and secured. From that Combat Operating Post it is a five-hour walk up a mountain to reach the closest Observation Post. There is no landing zone on the Observation Posts and only a single touchdown point with barely enough room for a helicopter to get two wheels on the ground. That Observation Post, by the way, is within two and half kilometers of the border and is in near daily contact with insurgents."
"The Observation Post itself is manned by two squads of Infantrymen who rotate into the site every seven to ten days. They live and work in open bunkers and have only minimal power requirements -- just enough to power their radios and Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) systems and recharge their batteries. Their sole source of power is a single 5 kilowatt generator that they have somehow managed to get to the Observation Post. Unfortunately, the generator is unreliable and difficult to repair -- no surprise given that the power draw on it is less than 20 percent of its capacity. The Observation Post relies on air resupply for fuel and water -- something that can't always be counted on in the winter, and winter is only four weeks away. That single battalion had three other Operating Posts along the border in similar conditions.
"Our observations indicate that "spot power" is a reality for small units who move often and change missions and operating bases as often as they change socks. At these locations there are no grids, save those installed on the fly by very industrious Soldiers. At one small combat outpost representative of the problem, we found power provided by five generator sets. The first generator ran the Combat Operating Post's Command and Control node with 15 computers, three large screens and number of monitors and six radios. That 60 kilowatt generator was running at 17 percent of its capacity. The second generator we found was powering the Combat Operating Post's living areas and dining facility -- this 60 kilowatt generator was operating at 36 percent capacity. The third generator, also a 60 kilowatt, operated a single pump at the shower point that had a power draw of just 750 watts. The fourth generator our team found was the best utilized, with 53 percent of its capacity being used to power the four refrigerator vans that supported the dining facility. The final generator set we found was a 15 kilowatt set used to provide the 1.2 kilowatts required to power the Combat Operating Post's Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment (RAID) tower.
"It's probably best that I not repeat what our Soldiers have to say about the battery load they were humping on 96-hour patrols in the mountains but suffice it to say they want lighter, more powerful energy sources for not just their personal gear, but also for the litany of counter improvised explosive device and Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance devices we have provided them to carry as well," Newell said.
The Rapid Equipping Force has been involved in operational energy from as early as 2007, to include Tent Foaming, Power Surety Task Force, Tactical Garbage Energy Refinery (TGER), and the Tactical Hybrid Energy Production System (THEPS). Newell shared some of the lessons learned from previous experiences that are now being incorporated into current efforts.
"There are in fact several key lessons we have learned from our early attempts to provide operational energy solutions that we have incorporated into our current efforts. First, energy solutions must be developed in an open, transparent, and collaborative environment. Several of our early efforts lacked this coordination. For instance, in the early days of foaming we failed to load balance the generators that powered the air conditioning for the tents. While we were successful in reducing the temperature inside the tents, the reduced load on the generators caused them to be more inefficient and resulted in more fuel burned. Likewise, at the tactical edge the operators are Infantrymen, cooks, and medics, not electricians. Clearly, Program Mangers and Training and Doctrine Command Capabilities Managers need to be involved early in our efforts to insure materiel solutions delivered for these Soldiers' use are resourced with rapidly developed, yet well-coordinated and well understood Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, policy and leadership guidance," Newell said.
Newell emphasized, "We must identify measureable metrics and baseline data requirements upfront and we must integrate collection and monitoring plans early in the procurement phase that are transparent to tactical units. They are already overburdened with an ever growing task list. All solutions need tactical, operational, and strategic buy-in, yet we must understand that saving money or reducing dependency on fuel is not necessarily the top priority of units in the direct fight - reliable energy sources, Soldier welfare and fully mission capable equipment is!
"Third," said Newell, "our Highly Qualified Experts and assessment teams must be solution agnostic. At the opposite end of the procurement spectrum, solution providing prime vendors should not be responsible for measuring their own effectiveness.
"Finally, we have to understand that fuel reliance is just part of the sustainment problem for tactical units; access to clean water and waste removal account for a significant portion of our sustainment convoy requirements and must be addressed as well," Newell said.
The Rapid Equipping Forces' equipping mission is broad in scope and unlike a traditional Program Office as it is not limited to a single capability or commodity. Yet the Operational Energy at the tactical edge challenge is that it touches practically every capability. Newell explained how REF is manned to plan, execute and sustain such a technically challenging effort.
"The Rapid Equipping Force is an adaptive organization comprised of uniformed military officers and Non Commissioned Officer's with operational experience in theater, professional acquisition officers and a team of skilled scientists; all operating under one roof under the direction of the Army G3 and in partnership with the Army Acquisition Executive. Our backbone is our permanent theater presence and our continuous interaction with deployed and deploying units that allows insight into what leaders see as their most difficult emerging problems.
"Despite the expertise resident in REF, we recognize the real power of our organization is our ability to bring together teams of subject matter experts from other organizations in order to more rapidly understand and solve complex problems. We rely heavily on partnerships and collaboration with other government organizations, academia and industry; all of whom have the skill-sets necessary to support rapid requirements analysis, unit coordination, accelerated procurement, contracting, training, assessments and sustainment. Our "Net Zero" initiative is no exception.
"From Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology we rely heavily on Program Manager Mobile Electric Power and PEO Soldier for their resident expertise in vetting a number of our proposed solutions. We also have a close relationship with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab and Marine Corps Energy Office - relying heavily on the successes of the Marine Corps EXFOB exercises to gain valuable lessons learned and to gain insight into other potential solution sets. Close coordination with RDECOM, the Logistics Innovation Agency and a host of Academic labs has broadened our technical expertise while our continued close relationship with USSOCOM continues to yield invaluable leads on exceptionally innovative solutions to challenging tactical problems. This close coordination and the information sharing between the Secretary of Defense Office of Energy Plans and Programs, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment and the United States Army Corps of Engineers has been invaluable in helping us define and refine requirements, speed our procurement efforts and reduce redundancy between programs," Newell Said.
Newell ended by saying, "Since we understand many of the solutions will be non-material in nature, the scope of our partnership with the Brigade Modernization Command, Army Capabilities Integration Center, Training and Doctrine Command Capabilities Managers and others may have an even more significant impact than our procurements, as we help to refine "NET Zero" requirements and capture gaps in leader and Soldier training that will shape future decisions in our Army."