In September 1939, the U.S. Army Air Corps had a heavy bomber force of just 23 B-17. Then Chief of the Air Corps, LTG Hap Arnold had requested an estimate from his staff of production capabilities, training capacities and other logistical requirements necessary to expand the force to meet the looming specter of war in Europe. The number provided by the staff was significantly lower than LTG Arnold felt necessary, so he went to the President with a request for 10,000 aircraft. The rest, as they say, is history.
In August 2006 then MG Zilmer, commanding USMC forces in the Anbar province of Iraq asked for one hundred and eighty three renewable power generation systems . The Joint Requirements Oversight Council felt the technology was not mature enough so no systems were fielded. There was no Hap Arnold to overrule the staff in this case.
Today, four years after the request, the Marines have deployed one company with a suite of renewable energy systems . These systems like the 300 watts of continuous power provided by Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System (GREENS) will help in unleashing Marines from the tether of fuel, but they will not be sufficient to meet the megawatt needs of our large forward operating bases.
Now, with border crossings closed and multiple attacks on fuel convoys sitting in Pakistan, the front page of the New York Time lauds this effort. It discusses the other programs that the Navy and Air Force are pursuing to relieve the burden of fuel. The one mention of the Army is about an out dated report on casualties associated with convoys. The article states that for every 24 convoys, one contractor or service member is killed. The report mentioned is the September 2009 Sustain the Mission Project which states that for every 24 convoys in Iraq, we sustain one casualty, not KIA. This number has dropped significantly for Afghanistan where convoy security from source to major FOB is provided by contractor personnel. This may be function of spotty reporting from contractors. None the less, after nearly nine years of combat and four years since Zilmer’s request, we are still waiting on the significant impact of renewables in the battle space.
Afghanistan is not Vietnam. In Vietnam, we could bring our supplies in through Cam Ranh Bay and protect our lines of communication all the way to the front. In Afghanistan we have to bring our supplies in through Karachi in Pakistan and hope for the best. Perhaps the light from burning fuel tankers at the Torkham border crossing will illuminate the need for assured power to support our combat operations.