MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Last year, when Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, announced the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Strategy and Implementation Plan, he stated that the Marine Corps can even be expeditionary in its use of energy.
The strategy includes creating a more capable Marine Air-Ground Task Force, helping troops leave less of an environmental footprint and become less dependent on liquid and battery logistics, all with a greater operational reach at less risk.
“The current and future operating environment requires an expeditionary mindset geared toward increased efficiency and reduced consumption, which will make our forces lighter and faster,” said Amos.
One of the most recent projects to see this plan to fruition was the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network System, which was recently tested by troops aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
Officials from the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office say they have issued a comprehensive requirements roadmap to guide to the Marine Corps’ investments in equipment and its personnel.
The Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office said it is “working – item-by-item, system-by-system, Marine-by-Marine – to build a force that requires less energy yet is just as lethal.”
Projects like GREENS and other endeavors are focused on supporting the Marines in combat today but also on increasing the combat effectiveness of the future. According to the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Strategy and Implementation Plan, these investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy can lead savings in weight and fuel transported – which translate also into fiscal savings.
For example, across the Future Year Defense Plan, there are estimated savings of up to 1,011 barrels of fuel, reducing the weight carried by forces by 284,498 pounds, and reducing the total weight of batteries carried by 196 thousand lbs.
The GREENS system boasts the capability to operate up to 300 watts of power for 16 hours, just off of four fully charged high-energy lithium battery packs. These battery packs all meet up with a control box, where a user can manage the amount of energy being pull from them, said Michael Bissonnette, a support contractor with L3 Communications, who supports the program manager for Expeditionary Power Systems with Marine Corps Systems Command.
There is also a series of solar panels which can virtually keep a charge of 300 watts continuously, as long as there was a source of sunlight. A sustainment of daylight, plus four charged battery packs can provide 24 hours of energy for whatever troops may find the need for.
“There are other ways of using external power sources and there is a lot of flexibility in the system,” said Bissonnette. “For example, if a vehicle came into the forward operating base after a convoy, you could hook the vehicle power directly to the controller to top the charge off on the vehicle’s battery. You can use different combinations, such as one panel and one battery, it just depends on your mission and how long you’re going to be out there for.”
Bissonnette added that 300 watts compared to a generator’s output isn’t necessarily a lot of power but when there is a control base, observation point or command and control center that does not running very many radios and is ‘bare boned,’ 300 watts should be enough to sustain operations.
“If you’re doing that with a renewable energy sources, you don’t have to run generator, you don’t have to put a convoy on the road that’s susceptible to enemy attacks and you’re saving fuel,” said Bissonnette. “I’ve even seen places that can only be refueled by helicopter so they’re obviously not that easy to get to begin with. If you can reduce the amount of supplies you have to get to them, it will allow home to remain self-sufficient.”
Bissonnette added that where there are high demands for energy and power sources, the GREENS systems currently in use will not replace any generators.
Seven similar prototypes were previously built by the Office of Naval Research, which were fielded by to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, during its Mojave Viper training in October 2010. Troops with 3/5 later spent about a year in Afghanistan using them.
“It demonstrated the use of a renewable energy power system in an expeditionary environment,” said Bissonnette. “Marine Corps Systems Command received an urgent statement of need which defined a requirement to develop these production systems and deploy 120 more GREENS systems to Afghanistan.”
Cpl. Joshua Byrd, a radio operator with RCT 8 Headquarters Regiment, said he was chosen to get a better understanding of the GREENS systems which would allow him to bring the knowledge back to his unit in case they would have the opportunity to utilize the system in country.
“It seems like a pretty good piece of equipment to have,” said Byrd. “If my unit would have had this last year it would have been a great help. A lot of power could have been saved and less generators could be used. Hopefully, next time we deploy with another unit, we should have one or two of these at our disposal.”
Byrd added that after deploying back in 2011, the biggest difference is the fact the there is no need to refuel it “at least five times a day, every day.” Also, the GREENS systems could have easily replaced their generators on a good deal of equipment they needed to power up.
“This is probably the largest expeditionary renewable energy system that has been fielded to the Marine Corps to date,” said Clint J. Govar, the team leader for Advanced Power with Marine Corps Systems Command. “This is important because it’s helping to reduce the amount of fuel used and the number of convoys needed to provide it. It’s also provided capability beyond what the Marines have been able to do.”
Govar added that there are still operations in place that don’t have generator power and are just running off of batteries.
“Systems like this allow them to recharge rechargeable batteries and wean away from throw-away one time use batteries, which greatly reduces weight and resupply requirements,” said Govar. “It’s modular and the footprint isn’t small, but depending on what the power demand is, you can just bring a small portion.”
Bissonnette said the majority of the systems being fielded now are going to Afghanistan so a number of the remaining systems are being sent to be used at the various Marine Expeditionary Forces, preferably two GREENS for every regiment.
“As units re in the deployment cycle then we will go out and give them a GREENS as well as training classes,” said Bissonnette. “They will also use it in Mojave Viper before they deploy and during the deployment. The unit we’re working with next is 2/10.”
As the Marine Corps draws down from Afghanistan, energy efficiency will be a critical enabler for the Corps’ future missions. By reducing the need for fuel, expeditionary forces will minimize their exposure to the enemy, increase range and flexibility as a highly self-sufficient force, and operate in places where others more dependent on logistics cannot.