Magazine article National Defense

Gargantuan Thirst for Fuel Creates Logistical Nightmare for Marines

Magazine article National Defense

Gargantuan Thirst for Fuel Creates Logistical Nightmare for Marines

Article excerpt

The commandant of the Marine Corps dispatched a team of observers to Afghanistan earlier this year to help pinpoint urgent battlefield energy needs.

The "energy assessment team" came back with a long list of problems, said Gen. James Conway. The most pressing one is the need to reduce fuel consumption because transporting fuel into Afghanistan is a logistical nightmare, Conway said at the recent Navy Energy Forum in McLean, Va.

In the United States, there are plenty of renewable energy programs on military bases, he said. "But we're not doing so well with our expeditionary capability. That's where we are most inefficient."

Energy demands have grown exponentially in recent years, he noted. In 2001, a Marine infantry battalion had 32 canvas-topped humvees. Today it has 55 armored humvees. The same unit had 175 radio sets in 2001, and today it has 1,220. Fuel is needed not just to fill up trucks but also to power mammoth electrical generators.

The daily fuel requirement in Afghanistan's Helmand Province for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade is 88,000 gallons a day. "Most all comes through a tenuous supply line through Pakistan," said Conway. About half of the fuel goes to aviators. The other half goes to ground vehicles and logistics.

The supply lines are unsafe. About 80 percent of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan are caused by roadside bombs--with 10 percent of those attacks being directed at resupply convoys.

A gallon of jet fuel that costs $1.05 ends up costing $400 by the time it gets to Afghanistan because of the transportation and security expenses.

Water shipments are another Achilles' heel. Marines are not allowed to drink the local water, so 60-ounce plastic bottles have to be shipped from the Persian Gulf and traverse Pakistan. "For every fuel truck, you have seven water trucks," Conway said. …

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