We arrived in Kuwait City and immediately were taken to Ali Al Salem Air Base north of the city. This way station on the road to Iraq and Afghanistan has seen thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and civilians pass through. I have been through here three times and the pros there do a great job of moving a mass of humanity in and out of war zones with a minimum of pain. That being said, "hurry up and wait" in 120 degrees is no fun. Spray foam anyone? Eventually we boarded the C-17 with a couple of multi-ton MRAPs for the four hour trip to Kandahar. It is apparent that the closer you get to the front, the less bureaucracy you have to endure. Kandahar was our last stop before entering the domain of the US Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan.
Headquartered at Camp Leatherneck, MEB-A is responsible for all USMC operations in the Helmand Province, the wild west of Afghanistan. According to ISAF (International Security Assistance Force, the NATO command in Afghanistan), bases are either temporary or enduring, and only Bagram and Kandahar are designated as enduring. All other bases, therefore, are temporary. This distinction becomes important when discussing military construction. Temporary bases are not eligible for those funds, therefore all construction projects must be $750K or less (without a DoD waiver). The potential economies of scale via by large investment are unfortunately limited by this legal designation. Result: $20 million worth of projects at one installation are being done $750K at a time.
Marines Return and the Maturity Path
Although the US has been in Afghanistan for years, the reintroduction of the Marines is a recent event with all the attendant growing pains, and in many cases they had to fight their way back in. Marine bases are classified by maturity and command responsibility. Camps are large, more mature sites, pushing logistics down to the next level, Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) who in turn provide support to the Combat Outposts (COPs) and from there to the Patrol Bases (PBs). The permanence (actually it's more like the opposite of permanence) of these bases ranges from fleeting to temporary to enduring. Energy demand seems to follow the bureaucratic path as well ... in other words, demand declines (some might say dwindles) as you move down the hierarchy. Additionally, as maturity grows, so does efficiency. When they first deploy, Marines are extremely effective, but not necessarily efficient. Energy demand is low and singular and spot generation is the rule. As a base matures, it brings in the climate control necessary to protect electronics and provide a better environment for troops. However, little is done to increase the efficiency of the structures until the next level of maturity is reached: contract support.
Contract Support and Spot Power
Contract support for temporary bases should contain provisions for rewarding the contractor for efficiency, otherwise there is no incentive. Commanders must insist on this. As non-enduring bases shift from fleeting to temporary, a number of energy conservation and efficiency measures can be taken. Simply moving from spot generation to “ganging” generators increases the efficiency of power production as a prelude to prime power. Spot generation is one generator to one load. Usually the generator rarely matches the load so it runs at lower efficiency and burns additional more fuel. When you group or "gang" generators so that load more closely matches generation, you have greater fuel efficiency and less wear and tear on the generator. In one installation we visited, 19 megawatts of capacity was available to support five megawatts of demand. This is not a matter of malfeasance, it is simply the fact of spot power. Individual generators are required as facilities are established. Over time, efficiencies can be gained through “ganging”, but this requires a command decision. The same is true in the application of other measures such as tent foaming, shifting from tents to hard structures and moving to contract support. In tactical situations, we call it “position improvements”.
The reduction in the fully burdened cost of fuel (FBCF) in dollars and blood require that we give commanders the tools and the knowledge to improve their positions as soon as the situation warrants. There is a cost-cross over point where delaying the decision to move from fleeting to temporary status can be measured and assessed. Determining that point is as much art as science; however, delaying the decision without good tactical rational puts our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines at unnecessary risk. The more support functions the uniformed forces can turn over to contractors, the more combat power can be put where needed. The caveat is that accountability must be ruthless. Contracts must have explicit requirements for efficiency and conservation of energy with appropriate incentives. If the contractors cannot demonstrate cost savings there must be severe penalties. There is an old maxim, “The unit does well what the boss checks.” We must give the boss the tools to check.There's that call for tools again (see previous post). Stay tuned ... other Services like these energy audits and are signing up. You may get to read another one in the not-too-distant future.
Photo: Titin Valley in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan
Photo Credit: US Army on Flickr