Last fall, the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment deployed to Sangin, an especially violent area of Helmand province where the unit would lose 19 comrades in the first three months of their deployment, fighting what one Marine Times scribe recently called “one of the hardest battalion deployments in the history of the nine-year war in Afghanistan.”
While securing the area around Sangin was the objective of the 3/5, the unit's India Company had another objective: prove out the Marines ambitious new renewable energy program called exFOB, which uses wind and solar energy to power everything from battery packs to cooling and heating systems used in living quarters and operations centers.
According to Marine Corps documents, the system proved itself such a success in operations that two patrol bases are currently operating entirely on renewable energy, with a 90 percent reduction in fuel required at a third base—and the unit was even able to conduct a three-week foot patrol “without battery resupply, reducing load on Marines by 700 lbs.”
One India company squad leader, Sgt. David Doty, is quoted as saying that on his patrol base, “our generators typically use more than 20 gallons of fuel a day. We are down to 2.5 gallons a day,” thanks to the exFOB technology.
While exFOB is being billed as a success, the Corps recently released a Request for Information (RFI) looking to take its energy (and money) saving initiative one step further. The RFI says that 3/5’s deployment
has already resulted in changes to USMC's requirements documents, acquisitions, and investment decisions. ExFOB has provided the USMC the ability to mitigate decision making risks in an environment that vendors and government can collaborate real-time in the field with actual capabilities operating in a representative combat environment.
And now the Corps is looking for Concentrated Solar Energy Harvesting technologies that “reduce the area required to harvest solar energy at the 5kW and below. In addition to an interest in providing small renewable power the USMC is interested in concentrated solar technologies that produce hot-water for health and hygiene. Technologies of interest will demonstrate the ability to utilize solar energy to reduce fuel demand for company-sized FOBs.”
The Corps also wants to increase the fuel efficiency for its tactical vehicle fleet while sitting at idle. At small outposts, Marines often use idling vehicles as power generation sources, and in doing so, the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement can suck up .8 gallons of fuel per hour—not much of an improvement over a 10kW tactical generator, which consumes .92 gallons per hour. To try and cut the amount of fuel used, the Corps wants to improve fuel efficiency by asking industry to supply ideas for bolt-on auxiliary power units; improved engine/power train efficiencies, “as well as any other automotive technologies such as cold and hot weather idle free solutions for vehicle climate control, reduction of parasitic loads, or any other automotive solutions designed to improve vehicle fuel efficiency.”
The RFI makes clear that these are just, you know, some ideas, and they’re looking for more. The Corps’ overall goal is to reduce their battlefield requirements for energy by 50 percent by 2025—and from the looks of the current budget situation, is probably stepping up these initiatives to try and squeeze out some savings wherever it can.
Pic: 3/5 in Sangin. USMC photo.