CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (March 19, 2012) -- Secretary of the Army John McHugh glimpsed the Army's energy future Friday while attending the Army Power & Energy Initiatives Breakfast and visiting the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The breakfast brought McHugh together with 20 researchers, sponsors, presenters and organizers of the annual MIT Energy Conference, which drew leaders of industry, academia, government and finance, who shared their knowledge and analysis of energy technologies. The two-day conference was in its seventh year.
Developing energy solutions for the Army remains one of McHugh's top priorities. Savings achieved there, he said, are measured not only in dollars but Soldiers' lives, because 70 percent of convoy load in theater is comprised of fuel and water.
"If you're an Army at war, the last thing you want to do is add to the risk that the Soldier takes," McHugh said. "For every 44 convoys we put on the road in Afghanistan, we lose one Soldier. Anything we can do to take a convoy off the road is a good (thing)."
Also, as McHugh pointed out, Soldiers' effectiveness suffers when they are diverted to convoy duty.
"It takes you off the main mission," McHugh said. "That logistics piece of it, it's critically important, but as you're handling things and hauling fuel, you're not out doing the mission, in terms of engaging with your enemy."
Shower reuse and mini-grid systems, among others, could dramatically reduce consumption by deployed troops, McHugh added.
"The work that all of you are doing is very, very important to us," McHugh told the breakfast attendees. "And I can't imagine an aspect of research and initiatives that you're looking at that wouldn't be of interest to us."
McHugh said there is a need to better present the Army "as a customer and as a partner. We want people to know how to work the system, where they need to go, where they need to bring their ideas. We need to do this kind of thing more and more."
During his visit to the nanotechnologies institute, McHugh was briefed on such emerging technologies as full-body combat identification for night and low-light conditions, and portable power generation for Soldiers.
"Today in Afghanistan, if a platoon is going on a 72-hour patrol -- kind of an average patrol -- they have to take 400 pounds of batteries with them," McHugh said. "So more high-efficiency batteries, rechargeable batteries, these things are critical (to) getting a load off of the war fighters."
Technology was the focus of McHugh's two-day visit to the Boston area. His first day had been spent touring the nearby Natick Soldier Systems Center.
"What I want to see us as an Army continue to do is build the technologies for the battlefield of tomorrow, and that's always made us better than everybody else," McHugh said. "The things that seem science-fiction-like today are the critical components of what makes tomorrow's Army the best ever. The kinds of projects we've seen both here at [the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies] and yesterday at Natick are the pathway to making sure that happens."
"You've got to have places like this, and people who work in places like this, and give them the intellectual space to look at those kinds of things, to think outside the box, to have the mission of what do we need to do to be the best tomorrow? We've got to have the folks who are looking past today into tomorrow."