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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Fueling the Force of the Future

This article from the Logistics Management College came out in 1999, but it didn't click until now that the Army's recent re-gearing thrust to lighter and more agile (or more facile as Mr. Bush the Lesser said in one of the Kerry debates) vehicles has been driven by energy issues as much as anything else in Rumsfeld's strategic vision.

Of course, lighter vehicles means less armor on the battlefield, leading to more susceptibility to roadside bombs and explosives. Even though having the extra armor does not guarantee safety, such as the events leading to the loss of 7 men in a 35-ton Bradley Fighting Vehicle last week show, it certainly helps in the long run.

In any event, the article provides some good numbers:
Therefore, AAN (Army After Next) technology is centered on improving the fuel efficiency of armor and aviation systems. It takes approximately 565,000 gallons per day to fuel a ground armor division and 350,000 gallons per day to fuel an air assault division.
meaning that 10 such paired divisions use the equivalent of 1% of the total U.S. consumption. This is likely the equivalent to North Dakota's total consumption.
The present fuel distribution system is not very fuel efficient. For example, a CH-47D Chinook helicopter consumes 130,000 gallons of fuel in its effort to refuel the force with 200,000 gallons.
This seems an utterly incomprehensible waste of fuel; kind of like filling up a car at the gas station and letting 40% of it splash away down the sewer.

The article also mentions the potential of hydrogen fuel for driving the Army After Next. (Coincidentally, GM will show a demo hydrogen-powered car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next week. Doubly coincident, GM has started the FastLane blog to allow some public discussion on future directions on their product line.)

As a precursor to Army After Next, the Future Combat Systems (FCS) lineup of ground and air combat vehicles scheduled to be deployed in less than 10 years shows much of the headway in this strategery (as Bush the Lighter himself would admit). With many of the vehicles using hybrid-electric/diesel engines, lots of lightweight unmanned ground and airborne vehicles, and the manned ground vehicles limited to less than 20 tons, they may be halfway there.

So to summarize: we have the Bradley weighing 35 tons and the equivalent FCS ICV weighing less than 20 tons. Likewise we have the original Crusader self-propelled howitzer (on the drawing board until a few years ago) at 60 tons now down to less than 20 tons in the FCS variant. And the biggest Abrams tank goes from 67 tons down to the less than 20 ton MCS FCS "tank". Of course, what goes first is the armor protection, a significant part of the weight, and secondly firepower. As Rumsfeld would say, "It's basic physics".

I hope FCS does not turn into Future Coffin Services.

But, at least our surviving soldiers can say they are doing their job in battling the energy crisis.

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