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Base camp lab develops fuel-saving gear

Nov. 6, 2013 - 03:21PM   |  
At Base Camp Systems Integration Laboratory at Fort Devens, Mass., new technologies have been spinning out to soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere since the unit stood up in June 2011.
At Base Camp Systems Integration Laboratory at Fort Devens, Mass., new technologies have been spinning out to soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere since the unit stood up in June 2011. (PM Force Sustainment Systems)
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Wanted: New technologies that cut the Army’s reliance on fuel and water in the war zone.

The Army is seeking energy-efficient gear for outposts so that it can save money and the lives of soldiers who man and protect water- and fuel-hauling logistics convoys.

“Energy is critical to our mission success,” said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment. “Our primary goal ... is to maximize the effectiveness of the soldiers on the ground so they can focus on the mission.”

Fuel and water comprise 70 to 80 percent of the weight of resupply convoys in Afghanistan, and the idea is to employ new technologies to cut those numbers.

The nexus of the effort is the Base Camp Integration Laboratory at Fort Devens, Mass. Hammack and other Army officials visited on Tuesday to see the equipment being tested.

“We’re not waiting for the perfect solution, so as we get things that are proven here, we’ll phase those into the production line,” said the Army’s deputy chief of staff for logistics, Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason.

The Army will most likely field a tent replacement called the Rigid-Wall Camp, the star of the show at Devens.

The ballistic resistant shelters house 10 to 12 soldiers, use half the energy and can be set up and taken down — like a pop-up RV — by four people in 15 minutes.

The shelters have bunks, not cots, and a laundry list of energy-efficient features: LED lighting, water efficient laundry systems, low-water latrines and shower heads, waterless urinals, rain water collection systems, shower water reuse systems, highly efficient generator micro grids, and solar shading with photovoltaics and battery power storage.

The year-old lab, known as the BCIL, has already yielded tech for the war zone, including a shower water reuse system, insulating tent liners, and a combination of power-budgeting “smart” microgrids and generators.

The lab is modeled after two 150-soldier camps — one that resembles current bases and one used for testing gear.

Mason’s goal is to have packages of equipment that grow more elaborate the longer soldiers stay in a base. Soldiers might first get a shelter, then a shower system and then a kitchen.

“You want to be able to ramp it up and ramp it back down quickly,” he said. “What I saw here was the scalability.”

Despite their usefulness, Army research and development efforts are not immune from the effects of continuing resolutions and sequestration. Mason called them a “double-whammy” that spell uncertainty for the Army and its industrial partners, particularly small businesses.

“This investment will save us, not only money, but soldiers’ lives,” Mason said of the BCIL. “If we don’t invest in research and development, we will find ourselves on the battlefield in a situation where our enemies have an advantage over us.”

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