Marines Deploy ‘Green’ Forward Operating Base to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2010 — The Marine Corps has deployed an exper­i­men­tal for­ward oper­at­ing base to Afghanistan to assess how it stands up to rugged oper­a­tional con­di­tions while rely­ing sole­ly on renew­able tech­nol­o­gy and ener­gy-sav­ing tech­niques.

Marine Corps Com­man­dant Gen. James T. Con­way, cen­ter, tours a tech­ni­cal demon­stra­tion of the first Exper­i­men­tal For­ward Oper­at­ing Base at Marine Corps Base Quan­ti­co, Va., March 13, 2010. The first Marine unit has deployed to Afghanistan to test the con­cept in a com­bat envi­ron­ment.
U.S. Marine Corps pho­to by Cpl. Priscil­la Sne­den
Click to enlarge

The 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 5th Marine Regiment’s Com­pa­ny I is mov­ing into posi­tion in Hel­mand province, where it will sus­tain itself almost entire­ly using renew­able ener­gy, Marine Corps Col. Bob “Bru­tus” Charette said dur­ing a pan­el dis­cus­sion this week. 

Charette, the Marine Corps’ “ener­gy czar,” cit­ed this mile­stone as the Defense Depart­ment observed a week of ener­gy secu­ri­ty events. 

The project began with an exper­i­ment to deter­mine base­line require­ments for com­pa­ny-size and small­er FOBs that typ­i­cal­ly have to pro­vide their own fuel, elec­tric­i­ty, water and food. 

From there, the Marine Corps Warfight­ing Lab­o­ra­to­ry, Com­bat Devel­op­ment Com­mand, acqui­si­tion com­mu­ni­ty and oth­ers eval­u­at­ed exist­ing com­mer­cial, off-the-shelf tech­nol­o­gy able to meet those needs. The result is Ex-FOB, a tent com­plex that runs on solar-pow­ered gen­er­a­tors and oth­er “green” ener­gy to pow­er its systems. 

Marines field test­ing the sys­tem at Marine Corps Air Ground Com­bat Cen­ter at Twen­ty­nine Palms, Calif., oper­at­ed 190 hours straight with almost no fos­sil fuel usage, Charette report­ed. Only their obser­va­tion equip­ment required gen­er­a­tor pow­er. “We’re work­ing on that right now,” he said. 

In this next phase of the Ex-FOB devel­op­ment, deployed Marines will eval­u­ate how it fares in a com­bat environment. 

“We took the 80-per­cent solu­tion,” Charette said. “We trained Marines up on it and we deployed them.” 

The jury is still out on how it will per­form, Charette said. 

“But I like to say we are cau­tious­ly opti­mistic,” he said. “We will see how things go.” 

A fight­er pilot appoint­ed as the first direc­tor of the Corps’ new Expe­di­tionary Ener­gy Office, Charette has tak­en on the improb­a­ble role of “Green Baron” with­out los­ing his “Red Baron” mindset. 

Tech­nol­o­gy has made the Marine Corps increas­ing­ly lethal, he said, not­ing that a com­pa­ny of about 150 Marines on the bat­tle­field today has about the same com­bat effec­tive­ness of 1,000 Marines 10 years ago. 

But those advance­ments in infor­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­o­gy, intel­li­gence assets and com­put­er servers, Charette said, have come at a cost in weight, bulk and ener­gy dependence. 

“In the Marine Corps, we think of ‘expe­di­tionary’ as lethal, aus­tere and fast,” he said. “We’ve become extreme­ly lethal, but today, we are a lit­tle less fast and a lit­tle less austere.” 

In fact, if the Marine Corps took its 80,000 gen­er­a­tors to sea, “we would sink a nuclear air­craft car­ri­er,” Charette joked. 

“We are in real dan­ger of not fit­ting on Navy ship­ping right now,” he said, turn­ing seri­ous. “That’s a huge con­cern for us. So we need to get back to our naval roots, we need to get back to the sea and we need to go back with all the lethal­i­ty of the sys­tems we have today.” 

Gen. James T. Con­way, the Marine Corps com­man­dant, has led the charge in pro­mot­ing renew­able ener­gy sources to reduce the Corps’s reliance on fuel and elec­tric generators. 

Con­way has set ambi­tious goals of cut­ting ener­gy and water con­sump­tion not just at Marine bases but also in the expe­di­tionary force. For deployed Marines, his goal is to reduce fuel usage by one-half by 2025. That means reduc­ing cur­rent fuel usage — about eight gal­lons per day for every Marine in Hel­mand province — to four gal­lons, Charette said. 

Increased reliance on solar and oth­er renew­able ener­gy sources, as demon­strat­ed by the Ex-FOB and oth­er ground-renew­able, expe­di­tionary ener­gy sys­tems, or GREENS, are expect­ed to go a long way in help­ing the Corps reach that goal, Charette said. 

But he’s bank­ing on about 25 per­cent of the ener­gy sav­ings com­ing from a cul­tur­al shift — what the Marine Corps calls its “ethos.”

“We want to equate com­bat effec­tive­ness with resource effec­tive­ness,” Charette said. “We don’t like to talk about demand reduc­tion. We don’t want to talk about tak­ing any­thing away. 

“We want to talk about… men­tal­ly think­ing about your resources — your liq­uid logis­tics,” he con­tin­ued. “Your water, your fuel is as much a part of your com­bat effec­tive­ness as com­bined arms are. It is part of your ethos.” 

Less depen­dence on fuel and oth­er logis­ti­cal sup­port saves mon­ey and ener­gy. But Charette said it also means few­er vehi­cles on the road and few­er Marines putting their lives at risk main­tain­ing the sup­ply train. 

He not­ed that four Marines with the 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 5th Reg­i­ment — the ones test­ing the Ex-FOB — died ear­li­er this week dri­ving the roads in Afghanistan. 

“This is a real issue. Young­sters out there are risk­ing their lives every day,” Charette said. “So we are going to keep after this. We are not going to quit. And I don’t see it ever changing.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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