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Home Archive October-November 2013 Issue Issue Content Expanding the Value of Operational Energy

Expanding the Value of Operational Energy

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Operational Energy has regained attention and stature among US and allied military forces during the recent Southwest Asia conflicts.  During the Second World War, energy enabled dramatic increases in mobility on the battlefield and across the globe.  General Patton’s Third Army depended upon the “Red Ball Express” to fuel its rapid advance across Europe; the Third Reich almost certainly would have succumbed much sooner without the benefit of synthetic fuel technologies that transformed available coal deposits into liquid fuels.  Since 2001, US and allied forces have been operating in Afghanistan; a rugged, landlocked country that poses dramatic challenges to traditional energy logistics - all the while growing ever more dependent upon energy to maintain their technological advantages over conventional and asymmetric threats. 

Figure 1 - Captured German tank at the Second Battle of El-Alamein, where Rommel's forces ran out of fuel

Source: US Department of Defense

Over the extended duration of recent conflicts, our forces have undertaken many opportunities to develop and field improvements  such as renewable energy collection, more energy efficient heating and cooling systems, and electrical power networks.   For example, US forces have fielded improvements to power generation, distribution and control systems, and installed more efficient shelters and air conditioning on many forward operating bases.  These efforts have been estimated to have saved millions of gallons of fuel.  Other allied forces have been proactive as well; witness, for example, the recent Dutch army deployment of a 480 m2 solar array at Mazar-e-Sharif  that produces approximately 200kWh/day – as well, numerous systems in Afghan communities to promote community growth.  American initiatives, at least, have been limited by uncertainties about system performance and impacts under field conditions, cost-benefit trade-offs, and ultimately payback period depending upon the remaining duration of the deployment. 

Many of the technical performance questions are being addressed through analysis and field testing although political leaders make the call on the retrograde timing.  One important further constraint, though, has been the lack of understanding about how energy truly contributes to operational effectiveness.  Most reports observe successes in reducing energy logistics requirements, but neglect to recognize other operational benefits, such as increased endurance, flexibility and reliability, or even reduced (generator) noise signature.  Consequently, few force design and investment decisions have taken into account the full range of energy impacts.

In the WWII example, mobility was the primary energy contribution. Tanks, aircraft and ships used large amounts of energy, concentrated in the form of liquid fuels,  and converted on demand into kinetic energy to maneuver across land, air and sea.  Quantity was overwhelmingly important.  Energy did enable other emerging operational capabilities, such as communications (e.g., radio) and situational awareness (e.g., Sonar, Radar and digital computers); however, these technologies were relatively primitive, and their impacts were much less visible than maneuver itself.  Few operations depended upon the high precision images, uninterrupted communications,  and rapid decision analyses which today pose stringent demands upon quality, reliability, delivery rate, and other (non-quantity) energy attributes.  Since the 1940s, however, operations have evolved substantially with the benefit of previously unimagined capabilities - enabled by a virtual explosion of energy-enabled technologies.  Managing energy effectively in modern operations requires that we understand a much more complex set of attributes, relationships and interactions than is provided through the simple lens that is the commodity view of energy.

Expanding energy role increases complexity
Imagine a current-day combat command post with streaming video displays on the walls transmitted in real time from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and space assets.  The intelligence cell fuses sensor data with geospatial and social information, mined in real time from worldwide databases.  High speed servers assist complex situational and risk analyses, and development and evaluation of alternative courses of action - all supporting critical and timely operational decisions.  If the commander decides to engage, he may select from weapons aboard the UAV, loitering air support, ground forces or other effects.   In this scenario, power delivery rates constrain sensor range; energy quality factors into resolution and processor error rate; energy density provides for platform endurance; and interoperability is essential to allowing platforms to support onboard systems.  Moreover, synchronizing the entire decision loop of understanding, control, effect, and feedback requires simultaneous, reliable energy services in multiple locations.  In each of these cases, quantity is not the only, nor even the predominant, measure of energy value.

Figure 2: Shadow UAV

Source: Pennsylvania National Guard Military Museum

Elsewhere on the battlefield, dismounted soldiers and marines execute the front-line mission of engaging hostile, neutral and friendly actors on the ground.  As Major  General (ret) Robert Scales observes, the infantry platoons, squads and teams that have made the difference in past conflicts have become so much more important as we face modern “hybrid” threats.  Moreover, they urgently need a boost in operational edge in light of their disproportionate vulnerability - representing some 4% of US uniformed forces but sustaining 89% of casualties in Afghanistan.  These soldiers and marines could benefit from more energy-enabled technologies but they carry those capabilities on their backs.

Figure 3: US Solider on Patrol in Afghanistan

Source: US Army

Soldiers already carry devices ranging from flashlights, laser designators and thermal sights, to global positioning systems, radios and electronic “jammers” to see first, act first, and finish decisively.  Transmitting devices especially consume significant quantities of energy, in turn driving a proliferation of batteries that must be carried for any extended operation.   Once again, while quantity is a relevant parameter, the various technologies depend critically upon adequate power levels, quality and reliability to achieve desired performance.  Ultimately, soldier capability depends upon balancing physical, psychological and cognitive condition and load.  New solutions that increase energy density and utilization, such as power networks, can reduce the physical effort required to carry and exchange batteries.  Power and energy management capabilities contribute value by allowing soldiers and small unit leaders to ensure that each joule of energy meets the most urgent need and well-designed human interfaces reduce cognitive burden and error rate.

These vignettes illustrate why military leaders can no longer view energy as a simple commodity with a singular focus on minimizing supply requirements.  This situation is roughly analogous to the archaic approach of valuing information in terms of volume.  Words and bits do influence the costs of bookshelf space, hard drive capacity and network bandwidth.  However, in today’s operational environment, information clarity, veracity, consistency and concision are just a few of the priority attributes, and speed, service coverage, and error rate are significant considerations in information system design and investment.

Therefore, we must learn to recognize and exploit the range of energy attributes that enable effects, mobility, agility, flexibility, and protection.  This understanding will inform new system architectures and metrics, which in turn enable systematic methodologies and performance improvement.  In a October, 2009 Joint Forces Quarterly article, Andrew Bochman asserted the importance of operationally-based metrics to facilitate performance improvement in operations, acquisition and enterprise management.  Amory Lovins later described the challenge of balancing energy considerations, consistent with the operational situation, to maximize the net operational benefit.  These notions mesh with, and are reflected in evolving US Army energy concepts.

Exposing energy’s diverse contributions
In April 2010, the US Army published a Power and Energy Strategy White Paper to describe relationships between energy and operational capabilities, and to assess a broad range of near and long-term energy technologies and their relevance to Army challenges.  Finally, the strategy summarized three “Grand Challenges”:

1. Enhance effectiveness by providing soldiers and leaders with situational awareness and ability to manage energy; integrate energy considerations into planning, tactics and strategies;
2. Improve operational focus by significantly reducing logistic energy and water requirements, especially in forward areas;
3. Build resilience and flexibility through energy alternatives, networking and other capabilities that enable mission continuity in the face of disruption.

Collectively, these principles support an objective concept of “Energy-Informed Operations,” which admonishes soldiers, leaders and organizations to balance and manage energy use to achieve the greatest net operational benefit.  To implement that charge, the strategy described a campaign of analysis, planning, research and development activities needed to develop the requisite understanding and to implement appropriate Doctrine, Organizational, Training, Materiel, Leadership, Personnel and Facility (DOTMLPF) solutions.

The next step was to develop a Concept of Operations (CONOP) and an Initial Capabilities Document (ICD) for Operational Energy.  The CONOP explored energy contributions in greater detail by examining three scenarios spanning the range of military operations - from combined arms maneuver to humanitarian assistance.  Drawing insights from appropriate subject matter experts, the ICD systematically reviewed energy needs across domains, or “use cases,” of dismounted, mounted, air and base camp operations.  The analysis exposed capability gaps and identified commonalities, such as the ability to manage energy, network, provide alternatives and reduce consumption.  The document also provides a methodology to assess the anticipated costs and operational benefits associated with Operational Energy solutions, combining operational benefits with direct energy cost savings.  The approved ICD serves as an essential step in the capability development process, providing the requirements basis for future investment in DOTMLPF solutions.  

In March 2013, the Army’s primary analytic organizations:  Center for Army Analysis (CAA), TRADOC Analysis Center (TRAC), and Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity (AMSAA), organized an Operational Energy Analysis Task Force.  This represents another significant step toward understanding energy relationships within military operations.  Each of these organizations focuses on different operational aspects.  CAA examines Army processes and theater-level operations, TRAC considers lower-level operational decisions, and AMSAA examines equipping and sustaining aspects.  Energy factors into each of these domains, and the respective organizations have the opportunity to inform such activities as force composition, system design and operational procedures.  Through this team effort, the task force could provide connectivity that would pay off through more effective and balanced decisions.

Energy-informed operations
Today, the US Army is building its ability to execute “Energy-Informed Operations” through a systematic program of operational analysis, research and development, system improvement, and training.  Progress is monitored by senior leaders with performance measured against operationally-relevant energy metrics.  For example, enterprise-level metrics include the length of time that dismounted soldiers or mounted brigades can perform their doctrinal mission without energy resupply.  Another metric is the portion of the aircraft fleet with sufficient power to operate at full mission capacity under “high-hot” temperature/altitude conditions equivalent to 95oF/6000ft – enabling them to  reach over 90% of global terrain.  Advancing such goals across the force will require coordinated improvement through DOTMLPF solutions, guided by operational analysis and testing.  Truly significant advances, though, will require development of new architectures and standards that provide flexibility and interoperability - not unlike the restructuring of information systems over the past few decades, which has enabled creation of flexible, yet stable systems and networks. 

Emergent efforts are underway; for example, the Interoperable Open Architecture initiative being advanced by the British Ministry of Defense, and “Scalable Energy Networks under investigation in the US.  These efforts will eventually define conventions that enable flexible, “plug and play” integration of energy solutions.  Finally, the Secretary of the Army has declared a campaign to achieve an Energy-Informed Culture.  This directive recognizes that hardware/software advancements in themselves may provide incremental performance improvement but that the central focus must be upon human performance.  For example, a vehicle engine may be tuned to reduce energy consumption by a few percent, but providing a speedometer, fuel level gauge, ammeter, temperature gauge, accelerator, brakes, road signs and training are essential to enable drivers to manage energy effectively to balance speed, safety, efficiency, and reliability.

Operational energy is a relatively young domain, but its focus already is yielding improvements to operational effectiveness, protection and cost performance.  New technologies, analytical approaches, metrics,  and ultimately  flexible architectures will enable broad performance improvement through energy-informed operations, which will be critical to maintaining our fleeting operational edge in this dynamic operational environment.

Contributor Paul Roege is a Colonel with the US Army Directorate of Logistics, G-4




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