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SAGE aims to save fuel in Afghanistan

June 24, 2011

By Megan Neunan

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 23, 2011) -- In a June 7 memo to commanders in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus said he expects them to "take ownership" of their units' fuel requirements, as a way to reduce the amount of fuel needed in theater.

As one of the largest users of fuel in the federal government, the Army is developing programs and technologies to slice fuel demand and has rolled out an Operational Energy Strategy.

"For me, it is all about the Soldier. It is all about improving mission capability," said Col. Tim Hill, director, futures directorate, U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command.

Hill said that in theater, reduced use of fuel means fewer Soldiers needed to move fuel. "Those same Soldiers could be re-missioned to do other things, which would increase the number of Soldiers at the combatant commander's grasp."

Hill put the consequences of high use in real terms: dollars and lives. It took $2.7 billion to fuel the Army in fiscal year 2010. Additionally, about one Soldier can expect to die in every 24 re-supplies done by ground. "I won't be satisfied until we have zero casualties for 100 percent of our convoys," Hill said.

The goal is to do more with less, both on post and in the field.

The "Smart and Green Energy for Base Camps" initiative is one effort that will show how currently available technology can help the Army work toward Petraeus' goal.

The SAGE initiative will test renewable energy, new structure designs, energy storage, and control systems by using them to manage the power for forward operating bases that serve between 150 to 2,400 people.

The key to SAGE is the smart micro-grid. The grids harness a generator's full power instead of the 20 percent used now, allowing fewer units to do the same work. One generator could be wired to five tents instead of one, for example.

"If you do that, you are eliminating ... having somebody come and fill them up with fuel," Hill said of multiple generators. "That means less Soldiers and contractors driving these fuel trucks in and around the battlefield that are being affected by improvised explosive devices."

Hill was most involved with the section of the strategy on shelters, and said the Army's focus in the area now is better insulation. Insulated tent liners and shading products make more efficient use of energy funneled to Soldiers' quarters. While the shading technology is still in the test stage, 300 liners are ready to be deployed to Afghanistan, according to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and the Environment.

A new family of tactical generators will also be ready for Afghanistan in 2012. The Advanced Medium Mobile Power Source is 20 percent more efficient than what it replaces.

Hill said for technology like this to make an impact, a cultural change must also occur among Soldiers. He emphasized the need to exhibit the same "green" strategies on military bases -- like turning off the air, when out -- as one would at home.

"I think a lot of it right now is behavioral change that I am looking into," Hill explained. "Our Soldiers are used to having their tents in the summer cold. So they leave the environmental control units running all day."

The Army is not stopping at base power. A popular phrase around the Pentagon is "make Soldiers power managers," and Petraeus charged commanders with the effort.

PEO Soldier's program integrator, Steve Mapes, is helping them respond, in the age of the digitized Soldier.

"What we've tried to do is introduce a variety of tools in a commander's box, so that he can employ the best he sees fit," Mapes said. "Right now, he's either going to have to reduce his battle rhythm " which means don't send guys out " or just walk around being the light-switch police."

PEO Soldier has pushed numerous new technologies to the field for testing, but three stand out for their ability to cut the amount of traditional fuel Soldiers need to power necessities. Included among those are the Protonex Soldier Power Manager, the 1 KW, JP-8 Generator, and fuel cells that take alternative forms of energy -- like methanol.

Mapes said among those, the Soldier Power Manager is the biggest "hit." This small unit allows Soldiers to harvest energy from sources such as half-used batteries or a solar blanket, and transfer it to run radios or laptops. It tells Soldiers how much energy they have to work with and removes the "guess factor" that once made heading to the field with used batteries risky.

"The translation into reducing fuel is that it's less fuel that needs to be burned in pushing batteries forward," said Mapes, referring to transportation. "It's a more efficient use of existing resources."

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