“Green” used to be limited to camouflage for U.S fighting units like the Marines. But in a new initiative that’s more strategic than anything else, the Marines are adopting green technology like never before. The sole purpose is to save lives rather than the planet.
Carting fuel through the badlands of Afghanistan is a logistical nightmare and one that is fraught with risk. The service said it plans to equip thousands of Marines in Afghanistan with solar-powered gadgets over the next year in an effort to decrease the need to make risky runs for fuel through enemy territory. A study found that one Marine is wounded for every 50 trips made for fuel or water in Afghanistan.
More localized energy sources in and would also negate the reliance of the U.S forces on locals for supplies and logistics. A congressional inquiry last year found that some of those companies have been unknowingly diverting money to the Taliban and jeopardizing the safety of coalition troops because contractors often don’t vet local recruits and end up hiring warlords and thugs.
One Marine unit deployed in a Taliban stronghold is kitted with portable solar panels for recharging radios and laptops, and solar-powered generators for day to day combat operations. As Col. Robert J. Charette Jr., director of the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Energy Office in Washington observed –
“The immediate impact is our war fighters are safer today than they were yesterday.”
He also mentioned that The Corps plans to spend $9 million to equip Marines deployed to Afghanistan with portable solar panels by 2012. That should see an increase from today’s nine to maybe something around 300.
Other technologies deployed include – PowerShade, a large solar tarp that fits over a standard Marine Corps tent that can quietly power its lighting system without the buzz of a generator that can alert insurgents. Also, there’s the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System, a solar panel array that can run a platoon-sized command center. In October, the Marine Corps sent in 150 Marines to Afghanistan’s toughest area — Helmand Province’s Sangin district — with an array of solar-powered equipment, including solar blankets, called Solar Portable Alternative Communication Energy System, or “SPACES,” that can be stuffed in a backpack. The troops were told to use the panels to charge their radio batteries. Later, they learned the panels could be used for other equipment.
Since the Vietnam War, the use of fuels has increased by nearly 175 percent. The Marines alone consumes more than 200,000 gallons of fuel per day in Afghanistan. But savings aside, alternate energy could help defense forces become more logistically flexible.