About 8 years ago, I wrote an article about how the Marine Corps was considering replacing some of its Humvees with hybrid vehicles. The advantage would not only be better gas mileage but also a vehicle that gives off considerably less heat, thereby making it less visible to infrared devices. In the end, it was determined that hybrid vehicles just weren’t yet practical, largely due to cost.
More recently however, the Corps has made several equipment changes, resulting in a much more energy efficient and “green” Corps. In the July/August 2012 issue of “Semper Fi”, there were three articles that supported this claim.
Many of these efforts began around 2008, through the work of Marine Commandant General James T. Conway. According to "Lessons Learned,” he began “greening” the Corps to make it less dependent on massive, highly vulnerable convoys laden with fuel, water, batteries and other consumables. Not only helping with the mission of the Corps, one might say that General Conway was doing his part of help prevent future wars. He claims, “The U.S. needs to wean itself from reliance on foreign oil supplies before we can return to the powerhouse status unconstrained by natural resources that we used to have.” He also states, “I see our dependence on oil as a primary resource that drives our industry as creating a national vulnerability.” Having since retired, Conway still works to help achieve the goals he set by serving on the board of directors for Textron, where he specializes in energy issues, and Future Energy, a non-profit organization.
In “Lighter, Faster, Deadlier,” Solar Portable Alternative Communications Energy Systems (SPACES) were described. This is a lightweight solar panel that can be rolled up and carried in a backpack. Also mentioned was the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System (GREENS), a collection of portable 1600-watt solar panels. Still in testing are a device that uses solar power to heat water, a solar backpack that can recharge radio batteries on the move, and a variety of mobile water purification systems that could eliminate the need for bottled water resupply. These and other changes have resulted Marines being lighter, more energy efficient, and sustainable in the field. Over a 7 year period it is expected that a typical Marine Expeditionary Brigade will use 8.43% less fuel. This equates to an extra month of operations with the same amount of fuel.
I find it not surprising that of all the green technologies that the Corps could use, solar power seems to be the one that has dominated. Each technology has its strengths and weaknesses. Since 2010, I’ve had photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of my garage. Every day, I see how many kilowatt hours of electricity they have generated. I have no doubt as to their efficiency. In the first year, I calculated that my panels provided 63% of my home’s electricity. For more information, see Solar Energy for more information. Of course, solar panels are not for everyone. But they are for the Corps. Consider some of the places the Marines have fought in the last 25 years: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan. One of the things all these places have in common is a significant amount of sunlight. To take advantage of this natural resource, Marines are using lightweight, flexible solar panels that can be incorporated into shelters and used to power computers and communications gear or recharge batteries. This was demonstrated at “Marine Expo South” on April 11-12 and described in “Order of the Day.”
While the Corps is doing its part of help save the environment, it is not necessarily doing so with that particular goal in mind. The mission of the Marine Corps hasn’t changed. It is still a “force in readiness” that can be deployed for extended combat operations in a moment’s notice. It just so happens that adopting certain green technologies will support this mission. According to Colonel Robert "Brutus" Charette, Jr., director of the U.S. Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office, “We’re not doing energy (efficiency) for energy’s sake. We’re doing energy to increase the combat efficiency of the Marine Corps.”