ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 31, 2012) -- Reducing energy consumption, standardizing equipment across the armed forces, streamlining processes and improving training dominated discussion at the 2012 Power User Conference last week.
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines gathered at the fifth annual conference held by the Department of Defense's (DoD) Project Manager, Mobile Electric Power, or PM MEP, as an open forum to address tactical electric power topics and solutions.
Set up as a one-stop shop for resolving power issues on the battlefield, the event comes as the military is aggressively increasing its effort to cut fuel consumption and increase alternative energy use across the military.
"Having the opportunity to come out here and provide our input and experience with the people who are making the decisions is great," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Bruce, a Soldier with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. "Getting things fixed so the Soldiers in the units and on the ground can have better platforms to do their mission is really most important."
The conference, held May 8-10, gave service members the opportunity to meet with representatives of the combat developer, materiel developer, sustainment commands and headquarters. Keynote speakers Sharon Burke, assistant secretary of defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs, and Maj. Gen. N. Lee S. Price, program executive officer for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), addressed conference attendees on the importance of reining in tactical energy use.
"One sure way to increase energy efficiency on the battlefield," said Burke, "is to insist on it."
Price, who spoke on May 8, pointed out the ultimate result of energy efficiency in the field: it saves lives.
"Too many U.S. casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq have been related to ground resupply missions," said Price. "If we build generators that consume less fuel, fewer convoys will be needed to supply that fuel. Taking them off the roads directly translates to less risk to our Soldiers."
Soldiers attending the conference participated in small-group breakout sessions, had a chance to view new technology and provided feedback on lessons learned in the field.
New equipment on display provided a first-hand opportunity to see what power is being supplied to the field and what promising new technology is on its way. Military generators produced by PM MEP are changing to be sleeker, more adaptable with increased energy efficiency. The newest generators, known as Advanced Medium Mobile Power Sources or AMMPS, are 21 percent more fuel-efficient than the systems currently in theater, with greater reliability and a 10 percent reduction in size and weight. During the next 12 months the Army expects to field approximately 1,600 AMMPS to Afghanistan.
"It's good to come here and see what the other services are doing on a grander scale," said Chief Warrant Officer Charles Hart with the U.S. Marine Corps. "AMMPS are encouraging and both the Army and Marine Corps are moving towards that same system. I think the light bulb has turned on as far as waste is concerned. We need to start using what we have and to make it compatible throughout the forces."
Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ian Lopez agreed.
"Just looking at the AMMPS, it's a great improvement over what we have now," he said. "You just hate to see fuel wasted. You can do things other ways."
Also on display were solar tents, Improved Environmental Control Units (IECU), GREENS solar panel network and the Load Demand Start Stop (LDSS) microgrid system.
Solar-Generator Hybrid systems were also available that provide portable power solutions sold as a "turn-key" packaged with a set-up time of less than 10 minutes and no tools or specialized knowledge needed. The design uses renewable solar and wind power generation, easily scaled to meet changing power requirements.
Harnessing the potential of alternative energies so they meet the demands of a military environment is a major focus for PM MEP, which supplies tactical electric power solutions, training and support to the different service branches.
The new technology and advances in energy efficiency introduced each year at the MEP User Conference is what brings Master Sgt. Timothy Reitz, of the Louisiana Air National Guard, back.
"The main thing I see in the past three years is the focus on energy conservation. They are definitely going in a good direction for that," said Reitz. "The conference is a good way to get feedback because as power pros we seldom all get together and this conference does that. The people who meet here, you get to discuss your ideas and their ideas and then it gets back to the right people."
Air Force Master Sgt. Charles Bostock said he attended the conference to learn about the new generators and swap information with other units.
"It is really interesting to talk to the Army, Marines, Navy and find out what they're doing," said Bostock. "This is the only opportunity that I know of to get everyone in the same room."
The three-day event also included the presentation of the "Power Professional Awards" to recognize outstanding achievements of military power professionals from across the DoD.
This year's winners were: Specialist Katrina L. Osborn, U.S. Army; Staff Sergeant Gerardo Figueroa, U.S. Army; Lance Corporal Joshua J. Niederriter, U.S. Marine Corps; Staff Sergeant James M. Kanelos, U.S. Marine Corps; and Technical Sergeant Brian M. Kaufman, U.S. Air Force.
While in Afghanistan, Osborn said she was able to reduce energy by setting up streamlined power grids, perform assessments on power usage and condense generators.
"If you have 15 generators running but can get it down to 10, it makes a big difference in the amount of maintenance time," said Osborn. "Then I can focus on something else and it also results in fuel savings."
The last day of the conference offered a popular question and answer session with a panel of Soldiers and Marines who had first-hand knowledge of problems and solutions for supplying energy while fielded.
To close the conference Col. Brian Cummings, project manager for MEP, told the 244 attendees that at next year's conference he would come back with news on advancing a new microgrid system, which consists of "smart" generators that link with one another to intelligently manage the power supply and operate at peak efficiency. He also said he would push up the user feedback portion to the first day of the conference.
"These lessons learned, as they apply to the battlefield will filter back out," said Cummings. "Over the next 12 months that's the one thing we want to do is to make sure we stay connected to the Warfighter and make sure we don't leave here and not make a difference on the things you are saying."