USA — New system delivers water, fuel to Soldiers

NATICK SOLDIER CENTER, Mass. — Every­one knows that with­out water and fuel, the mod­ern Army would grind to a halt in the field.

Con­tain­er Uni­tized Bulk Equip­ment, or CUBE, crates rest in the fore­ground after a test air­drop Nov. 10, 2011, at Camp MacK­all, N.C. The CUBE sys­tem will deliv­er water and fuel to remote for­ward oper­at­ing bases.
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Each Con­tain­er Uni­tized Bulk Equip­ment, or CUBE, sys­tem con­tains two blad­ders that can deliv­er as much as 500 gal­lons apiece to a for­ward oper­at­ing base.
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Once packed, the Con­tain­er Uni­tized Bulk Equip­ment, or CUBE, sys­tem can be deliv­ered by heli­copter sling load or air­drop.
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The Con­tain­er Uni­tized Bulk Equip­ment, or CUBE, sys­tem for water and fuel uses an inex­pen­sive car­go net for deliv­ery by heli­copter sling load.
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Through­out mil­i­tary his­to­ry, the chal­lenge has been to deliv­er enough of those two pre­cious com­modi­ties to the front lines to keep Sol­diers mov­ing. That con­tin­ues to be an issue today in Afghanistan, where unfor­giv­ing ter­rain, weath­er, polit­i­cal con­di­tions and the ene­my can dis­rupt the flow of supplies. 

Most often, fuel and water are deliv­ered in 55-gal­lon drums or 500-gal­lon blivets by air­craft or con­voy. These con­tain­ers are cum­ber­some, and they take up too much space at small for­ward oper­at­ing bases. 

“Resup­ply of fuel and water is always a con­cern,” said Dave Roy, a cur­rent oper­a­tions ana­lyst with the Quick Reac­tion Cell at Nat­ick Sol­dier Research, Devel­op­ment and Engi­neer­ing Cen­ter, or NSRDEC. “Hav­ing to rely on a com­bat logis­tics patrol can be nerve-wrack­ing at times, not just because those con­voys are tar­gets of insur­gent activity. 

“The envi­ron­ment and the ter­rain those con­voys have to go over is like ‘Ice Road Truck­ers’ on steroids. These are the world’s most dead­ly roads.” 

Roy added that, once the water and fuel arrive, the next prob­lem is return­ing emp­ty containers. 

“Some of the chal­lenges include hav­ing enough con­tain­ers at the logis­ti­cal sup­ply points to refill with fuel, pri­mar­i­ly, and water. The abil­i­ty to trans­port prod­uct eco­nom­i­cal­ly to its final des­ti­na­tion; and being able to ret­ro­grade all of the emp­ty con­tain­ers back to the rear for reuse,” Roy said. “We can’t pri­or­i­tize com­bat logis­tic patrols to take back emp­ty 55-gal­lon drums. They take up too much room, and it’s just not pri­or­i­ty cargo.” 

A new sys­tem promis­es a more reli­able, cost-effec­tive way to trans­port the vital liq­uids in suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties with­out wor­ry­ing about retriev­ing expen­sive equip­ment used in the deliv­ery process. The Con­tain­er Uni­tized Bulk Equip­ment sys­tem, or CUBE, allows for deliv­ery by heli­copter sling load, air­drop or ground transport. 

The CUBE sys­tem con­tains a low-cost heli­copter sling-load net, two crate-like, plas­tic con­tain­ers, and two fuel blivets or water blad­ders. The CUBE is expect­ed to cut costs by 50 per­cent, and the stack­able, col­lapsi­ble sys­tem would take up less space on FOBs and be eas­i­er to trans­port back to logis­tics bases. Once the liq­uid prod­ucts are dis­pensed, the crates can be re-pur­posed to pro­vide the for­ward loca­tion with addi­tion­al stor­age and trans­port containers. 

As Roy point­ed out, the CUBE sys­tem is a com­bi­na­tion of items already in the gov­ern­ment pro­cure­ment sys­tem and off-the-shelf com­mer­cial items. 

“There is a lot of low-hang­ing fruit that can be har­vest­ed sim­ply by tak­ing those com­po­nents that would not nor­mal­ly have been thought could go togeth­er and nest­ing them togeth­er,” Roy said. “Crazy ideas that work are not crazy. Real­ly, it’s just being able to lever­age strength through tech­nol­o­gy. There’s a big pay­off at the end for the entire force.” 

The need was iden­ti­fied in 2010 as the 101st Sus­tain­ment Brigade pre­pared for its deploy­ment to Afghanistan. The Warfight­er Pro­tec­tion & Aer­i­al Deliv­ery Direc­torate at NSRDEC, with John Mahon as the project lead, respond­ed with a pro­to­type of the CUBE. The 101st SB took a num­ber of the sys­tems with them. 

Since deploy­ing, the 101st SB has fund­ed and received, through NSRDEC, more than 100 sys­tems with the pri­ma­ry blad­der used to sup­port fuel trans­porta­tion. This sys­tem allowed the pre-posi­tion­ing of fuel in antic­i­pa­tion of adverse weath­er at the most remote FOBs. 

“The unit deploys to Afghanistan in Sep­tem­ber of 2010,” Roy recalled. “While they’re there, they’re con­stant­ly call­ing back (and say­ing), ‘Hey, we want some more of that stuff.’ ” 

Roy and the QRC got involved. Now, sev­en CUBE units — four for fuel, three for water — are sched­uled for deliv­ery to the Com­bined Joint Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Task Force-Afghanistan by the end of 2011. 

“We’re very close to deliv­ery,” Roy said. “Devel­op­men­tal Test Com­mand has pro­vid­ed a Sys­tem Safe­ty Con­fir­ma­tion, and we are on sched­ule to have the sev­en CUBE kits deliv­ered from Peck­ham, an Abil­i­ty­One source, to the RDECOM For­ward Assis­tance Sci­ence & Tech­nol­o­gy — Cen­ter in Bagram, Afghanistan, in December. 

“We’re posi­tioned now for a for­ward oper­a­tional assess­ment of this capa­bil­i­ty by Army Test and Eval­u­a­tion Com­mand in Afghanistan in sec­ond quar­ter of this year. It’s of inter­est across the force.” 

The NSRDEC QRC has col­lab­o­rat­ed with Tank-Auto­mo­tive and Arma­ments Com­mand, or TACOM, Inte­grat­ed Logis­tics Sup­port Cen­ter Sol­dier-Prod­uct Sup­port Inte­gra­tion Direc­torate to devel­op a local­ly pro­duced Inter­im Tech­ni­cal Doc­u­ment that pro­vides the basic func­tions of a tech­ni­cal manual. 

Nation­al Stock Num­bers have been secured for each CUBE kit, as well (NSN: 1670–01-598‑5071 — Fuel, Con­tain­er Uni­tized Bulk Equipment/NSN: 1670–01-598‑5067 — Water, Con­tain­er Uni­tized Bulk Equipment). 

Roy believes the sys­tem will prove use­ful for gov­ern­ment agen­cies beyond the Depart­ment of Defense. 

“This has appli­ca­tion for human­i­tar­i­an mis­sions exe­cut­ed by DOD, Depart­ment of State, and Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, as well as the poten­tial to sup­port U.S. For­est Ser­vice and Bureau of Land Man­age­ment,” said Roy, adding that it’s a mat­ter of trans­fer­ring “this tech­nol­o­gy to make the max­i­mum effec­tive use of tax­pay­er dol­lars — not just for Army or DOD use — but across the full spec­trum of the gov­ern­ment so that the tax­pay­ers get the biggest ben­e­fit for our investment.” 

US Army 

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