In the middle of the Afghanistan campaign, the Army was wasting millions of gallons of diesel fuel and needlessly risking the lives of transportation soldiers who had to truck the extra fuel along road infested with deadly IEDs, because of grossly inefficient efforts to provide electrical power at its bases and outposts.
To attack the problem, the Army created “Operational Energy” advisory teams who were sent in to assess the energy supply conditions at the locations and provide more efficient systems to meet the energy needs.
A former member of the OE teams, CWO4 Michael Richards, described his experiences during a presentation Oct. 22 at the Warriors Corner among the exhibits at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition at the Washington Convention Center.
Richards noted that he was an unusual soldier, having joined the Army at 34 after a career in construction and was trained in heavy equipment operations.
Richards said the energy problems developed partly because Army units deploying to Afghanistan in the later years of the engagement did not bring their unit equipment but fell in on whatever was at the base or outpost to which they were assigned.
In many cases, he said, the energy systems at those positions were commercially procured generators or power plants that were non-standard military equipment and were not being used or maintained properly because they were unfamiliar to the soldiers operating them, many of whom were not trained generator operators.
Richards said the commanders at the installations were focused on the tactical problems and if they needed additional power to support their mission, they bought it commercially.
Because the generators were not being run efficiently or maintained correctly, they were burning more fuel than necessary and broke down quickly, ending up in large junk yards of discarded energy equipment the OE teams found at most bases, he said.
He described conditions at Combat Operating Post (COP) Jahgalo, occupied by a unit of the 173 Airborne Brigade Combat team, which had multiple generators still operating that produced a total of 400 kilowatts of power. The OE team replaced them with eight of the Army’s improved generators, the Advanced Medium Mobile Power Source (AMMPS) that produced 235 kw, “which was all they needed.”
Richards noted that the Army-procured AMMPS, supplied by Cummins Power Generation, are 21 percent more efficient that existing Army generators.
“We saved the unit 93 gallons of fuel a day,” Richards said. “The significance was not the fuel, but the operational impact.” Because the COP could only be resupplied by air, if the weather was bad “or the bad guys were shooting at it, they didn’t get resupplied,” affecting their operational capabilities, he added.
“So, conserving energy meant operational improvements,” he added.
A much bigger problem was Forward Operating Base Shank, which had hundreds of soldiers and more than 400 generators to support them. “They had trucks and soldiers who did nothing but drive around refueling,” he said.
FOB Shank had bought a 500 kw power plant for $19 million, but it was not hooked up to anything, and had contracted for another expensive plant, Richards related.
The OE team persuaded the FOB commander to cancel the second contract and to disconnect 70 smaller generators, while they connected the existing plant.
“They are on track to save 2.5 million gallons of fuel a year,” which would mean millions of dollars saved and possibly countless casualties avoided by reducing the resupply convoys, he said.
To avoid those problems in the future, Richards said the OE unit is working to change Army regulations and doctrine to make fuel efficiency a command’s priority.