Thursday, August 4, 2011

Changing the Paradigm for Operational Energy: REF 6 Speaks

In a previous post I mentioned that the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force (REF) was taking on the role of executor for operational energy, similar to the USMC Expeditionary Energy Office. I had the opportunity to speak with the current director of the REF, Colonel Pete Newell. COL Newell, former commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division is a veteran of Panama, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. As a side note, you can tell when the Army thinks a position is important; they assign a former brigade commander. Newell is only the second former brigade commander to fill this role. Good news for the REF. His predecessor, BG Dave Bishop went on to become a flag officer.

I asked COL Newell why the REF took on the energy mission. His answer surprised me, but should not have. As far as the REF is concerned energy security is just another problem that commanders in contact are experiencing and it needs an immediate solution. That is the mission of the REF. They are designed to find technology solution to commanders’ immediate battlefield needs. "The REF cannot solve all of the Army's Energy problems" he said. Newell clearly understands the challenge. He described a recent visit to a brigade in Afghanistan where the unit was preparing to resupply a combat outpost (COP). In order to do so it would be required to secure 7 or 8 valleys along the route. It would take two battalions to conduct the operation and would resupply the COP for 10 days. The operation would result in the COP having the beans, bullets, water and fuel necessary to execute its mission.

Unlike so many others who have created new organizations to deal with energy security, the Army turned to its utility infielder and said, “Here’s the problem; get some solutions”. It is not something special; it is simply another set of problems and the REF solves problems.

Newell’s own experience as a brigade commander in Iraq was being responsible for well over a dozen separate COPS spread out over swampy terrain with, in many cases, one way in and one way out. The danger was in becoming predictable if the supplies must go out every 4 or 5 days. If he could have reduced demand and had adequate storage as he did with food, ammo and water, he could have ensured that patterns did not become predictable.

In at time of dwindling resources, COL Newell felt assured that if the warfighter needs it, the Services will provide it. I asked what made this foray into operational energy different than the Power Surety experience. He said, unlike 2006, the DTOMLPF wheel has started turning with the publication of a white paper on power and energy by TRADOC in April 11. This begins the creation of a big “R” requirement for the Army Acquisition Community. Additionally, this time the leadership is committed with the Vice Chief of Staff coming up on the net and visits to the REF by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy, Environment and Infrastructure as well as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs. I hope they noted that after eight years the REF is still housed in trailers. They do not want to appear to be too permanent. Finally, MG Raymond Mason, the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff, G4 has the rose for the Army for operational energy.

That energy is to be considered like any other logistical problem first, makes sense. We impose fire discipline because it is the most effective AND efficient way to employ a logistically constrained commodity. I never heard any of my gunners say they had too much ammo! The Army has a magnificent culture of discipline. They do not have to change that culture; just use it to change behavior. Energy discipline can be as effective as fire discipline.

Many have tried to make operational energy something other than it is. I like Newell’s approach. The real paradigm change is how he intends to go about it. In the early days of the REF there was an almost arrogance about the mission. They (we) felt that they (we) could not be held up by bureaucratic procedures imposed by what was considered an antiquated acquisition system. The REF was dismissed by the acquisition community as creating an unsustainable logistics environment and doing one off, “boutique” fielding of equipment. Newell is taking on the mission of creating solutions that are doctrinally sound, meet federal acquisition regulations legal requirements and are logistically sustainable. Previously,successful solutions were “thrown over the wall” to the acquisition and logistics community to figure out how to “field” the solution (vice “equip”) and to logistically sustain it. The new REF paradigm is to bring the team together so that parallel paths can move successful solutions more quickly into the mainstream.

For energy, COL Newell will pull expertise from Program Manager, Mobile Electric Power and Program Executive Office, Soldier, the G4, the Logistics Innovation Agency and other labs, agencies and industry as necessary, while still ensuring that the solutions get to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in a rapid fashion. This effort is to be commended and encouraged. Leave the egos at the door.

Energy is a battlefield commodity like water, ammunition and food. In order to sustain the war fighter we must be able to provide the “tools of Mars” in a way that is sustainable in blood and treasure. Fire discipline ensures that targets are serviced adequately without wasting ammunition. Murphy’s rules of combat says there will always be one more enemy squad than you have magazines. We need to think about energy use in the same way. If it is practiced at the installation, it can be second nature in the field. Sweat in training so you won’t bleed in combat. Same holds true for energy.

O.K., team. It is off to the banks of the Ohio River and Cincinnati for GovEnergy 2011. Look forward to seeing many of you there and posting from the site for those who cannot make it. Dan Nolan

Acronym Soup:


  • Doctrine: the way we fight, e.g., emphasizing maneuver warfare combined air-ground campaigns.
  • Organization: how we organize to fight; divisions, air wings, Marine-Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs), etc.
  • Training: how we prepare to fight tactically; basic training to advanced individual training, various types of unit training, joint exercises, etc.
  • Materiel: all the “stuff” necessary to equip our forces, that is, weapons, spares, etc. so they can operate effectively.
  • Leadership and education: how we prepare our leaders to lead the fight from squad leader to 4-star general/admiral; professional development.
  • Personnel: availability of qualified people for peacetime, wartime, and various contingency operations
  • Facilities: real property; installations and industrial facilities (e.g. government owned ammunition production facilities) that support our forces.

1 comment:

Vince Marshall said...

Comparing energy to ammo is an excellent way to show that fuel is just another commodity to be managed. Our biggest single impediment with the federal government is Acquisitions and a history of “this is the way it is done, don’t try to change it.” Very frustrating. Getting everyone on the same page from the beginning is the ONLY way to do this right and fast.

I like the idea of practicing at home so it is 2nd nature in the field. That makes so much sense.

Well done!