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US Military Orders Less Dependence On Fossil Fuel

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the less-blood-for-oil dept.

Earth 317

Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that it can cost hundreds of dollars to get each gallon of traditional fuel to forward base camps in Afghanistan, so with enemy fighters increasingly attacking American fuel supply convoys crossing the Khyber Pass from Pakistan, the military is pushing aggressively to develop, test and deploy renewable energy to decrease its need to transport fossil fuels. 'Fossil fuel is the No. 1 thing we import to Afghanistan,' says Ray Mabus, the Navy secretary, 'and guarding that fuel is keeping the troops from doing what they were sent there to do, to fight or engage local people.' The 150 Marines of Company I, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, will be the first to take renewable technology into a battle zone, bringing portable solar panels that fold up into boxes; energy-conserving lights; solar tent shields that provide shade and electricity; solar chargers for computers and communications equipment replacing diesel and kerosene-based fuels that would ordinarily generate power to run their encampment."

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317 comments

Nuclear Power! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806492)

Atomic Humvee

Re:Nuclear Power! (5, Interesting)

d3ac0n (715594) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806566)

I've often wondered why we have compact portable atomic bombs, but no compact portable atomic generators. Perhaps now some will finally be developed! Besides, I can't imagine that solar panels would be a good idea at an FOB. I mean, big square shiny targets? Not good. And they really work poorly when disguised with that camo netting stuff.

No, I'm thinking that some portable nuke plants are in order here. Even something that has to be mounted on a semi flatbed is going to be more useful than a solar panel. At least the flatbed could be rolled into a large trench and covered with camo netting and guarded by dirt and sandbag berms.

Re:Nuclear Power! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806602)

Yes. Because putting portable nukes on convoys being attacked all the time is really, really... safe.

Re:Nuclear Power! (4, Interesting)

d3ac0n (715594) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806698)

Yes. Because putting portable nukes on convoys being attacked all the time is really, really... safe.

Well, considering that TWR's and Breeder reactors can be made VERY small (think smart car sized) and can then be encased in hardened concrete or some other armor and cannot "go critical" even when severely damaged or destroyed AND use minimally radioactive depleted uranium as a fuel source, I would say that transporting THAT to an FOB is a heck of alot safer than transporting a thin-skinned tanker full of explosive fuel over the same area.

That and solar panels are a REALLY stupid idea for an FOB. Big... Shiny... Targets of high value. That'll work well. Yeah...

Re:Nuclear Power! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806832)

Big... Shiny... Targets of high value. That'll work well. Yeah...

As if "staying hidden" was an objective. From what I've seen, the average base is HUGE. A few solar panels make no difference. This isn't some TV series historic war show where camo net is deployed 'cause it looks mighty military-ish.

Re:Nuclear Power! (4, Insightful)

d3ac0n (715594) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806934)

As if "staying hidden" was an objective. From what I've seen, the average base is HUGE. A few solar panels make no difference. This isn't some TV series historic war show where camo net is deployed 'cause it looks mighty military-ish.

Staying "hidden" isn't the issue. Protecting high-value targets IS. If your primary power source is a large, shiny, fragile (relatively speaking) object that CANNOT be disguised or hidden in any way because that would impact it's ability to function, then you have a logistical and tactical nightmare.

FOB's in Afghanistan of often involved in heavy firefights. Bullets, even small caliber ones, are VERY BAD for solar panels. And YES, they do use camo netting, sandbags, and other methods of obfuscation to make it non-obvious to the Taliban where the soft targets are in the base.

Frankly, this request sounds like it came down from some desk-jockey paper-star type who's never even gotten his boots dirty, much less had to draw his service weapon for anything other than a cleaning and shining. Nice sounding on the surface, but utterly impossible and idiotic in practice.

Re:Nuclear Power! (1)

lorenlal (164133) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807126)

Hey, whatever. I heard there's this unit that's relied on solar power for decades for basic functions. Sure the demonstration I saw required four hours in Iraq to heat his sandwich... But he was living off the land!

He even managed to figure out where a hostage was being held without ever steeping out of the barracks!

Re:Nuclear Power! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807004)

'Big... Shiny... Targets of high value. That'll work well. Yeah...'

'big' shiny targets all over the place powering individual items as oppose to your near impossible to transport, gigantic centralized ultra-high value target powering everything at the base?

Re:Nuclear Power! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807254)

Been done - not really well. SL-1 was an army prototype reactor that ended badly a long time ago. Perhaps newer technology would be an improvement. The USS Sturgis was a WWII liberty ship converted into a floating power plant - ended up being a successful piece of equipment without a real mission. It spent is useful life in Panama powering the canal zone. Its currently in the James River rusting away with the rest of the ghost fleet. I'm just a lowly AC so I'll leave the wikipedia links to others

Re:Nuclear Power! (3, Interesting)

necro81 (917438) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806646)

Well, there are RTG [wikipedia.org] designs out there that could be put onto a truck without much difficulty. A man-portable one doesn't seem very practical. The Soviets used some to power very remote lighthouses for years and years. Unfortunately, they are really heavy for the amount of power they can produce - much better suited for stationary operation. Even though the nuclear material in them cannot be weaponized, RTGs are still packed full of radioactive heavy metal, which would be a grave risk if it fell into enemy hands. It happens from time to time that a forward outpost needs to be abandoned, possibly leveled with demolition charges. You can't really abandon or demolish an RTG. I suspect a similar problem exists for just about any nuclear power option.

Re:Nuclear Power! (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806654)

I've often wondered why we have compact portable atomic bombs, but no compact portable atomic generators

The answer in one word: shielding. In its passive state, all that's going on in a nuclear bomb is nuclear decay. U235 has a very long half life, so the radiation is not particularly dangerous unless you are right next to it for long periods. Typically, portable nuclear bombs are designed to be stored safely, transported for a short period, then detonated. Other than the occasional (subcritical) spontaneous fission reaction, there is no x-ray or neutron emission until it detonates. At this point, you don't care about shielding because the entire point of a bomb is to deliver energy to someone else, not hoard it.

In contrast, the fuel rods in a reactor are undergoing constant controlled fission, emitting neutrons and x-rays, and if you want humans near them then you need a lot of shielding. You also want to contain the fuel in case of damage to the reactor, which is why you don't tend to get fission power in anything smaller than a submarine. The amount of shielding required to safely operate the reactor makes it unfeasible. This is especially true for things like tanks or APCs, which are quite likely to end up scattered over the landscape in normal operation.

Re:Nuclear Power! (2, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806716)

The answer in one word: shielding. In its passive state, all that's going on in a nuclear bomb is nuclear decay. U235 has a very long half life, so the radiation is not particularly dangerous unless you are right next to it for long periods.

The problem today is that the wars we're going to fight are in places that we would like to be our friend when the war is over. We're not fighting wars against entire populations, but smaller factions within that population.

You don't make friends by leaving a lot of nuclear material lying around old battlefields. If military hardware is going to contain nuclear fuel, there is going to be nuclear fuel left on the battlefield.

But for every vehicle on the battlefield, the military has many away from the battlefield. Those should be hybrid or electric, maybe powered by small reactors on military bases.

Re:Nuclear Power! (4, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806882)

The problem today is that the wars we're going to fight are in places that we would like to be our friend when the war is over

Even in a total war, you generally don't want to completely obliterate the terrain. At worst, you want to kill the population and then move your own people in to exploit the resources. If you don't care about the people or the resources, you probably wouldn't be there at all.

But for every vehicle on the battlefield, the military has many away from the battlefield. Those should be hybrid or electric, maybe powered by small reactors on military bases.

That's certainly possible. Aircraft carriers already do this, for example, containing small(ish) nuclear reactors that provide the power. If you had efficient hydrogen fuel cells, these reactors could be used to generate hydrogen by electrolysis of sea water for smaller craft. The military is currently about the only user of LiS batteries, which are another alternative. They have a higher energy density than other cells, but only last for about 30 charge cycles. This makes them perfect for things like UAVs, where weight matters and being reusable after 30 missions is a very low priority. Replacing the batteries in a vehicle after a month is probably an easier logistical challenge than importing enough diesel to keep one running.

The big problem with using nuclear power near a combat zone is that the presence of enriched uranium is likely to make the base a very attractive target. A well placed bomb or missile that breaches the containment can scatter radioactive material all over your troops. It's less of a problem for ships, because getting a boat, plane, or submarine close enough to attack an aircraft carrier is a lot harder than getting a guy with a rocket launcher close enough to attack a base on land.

Re:Nuclear Power! (1)

stdarg (456557) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806952)

The problem today is that the wars we're going to fight are in places that we would like to be our friend when the war is over.

Yeah maybe it's time to give up on that ideal. It's not working out too well. Our so-called friends in Pakistan for instance attack us and give aid money to terrorists to attack us.

It's funny because we had a lot of support among Afghan citizens. We had friends. We just screwed it all up by not winning and threatening to give them back to the Taliban, under Pakistani control of course.

Well I guess we're keeping our friends in Pakistan happy.

Re:Nuclear Power! (1, Offtopic)

obarthelemy (160321) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807136)

You don't make friends by invading a country either, so maybe the whole concept should be re-evaluated ?

Re:Nuclear Power! (2, Insightful)

d3ac0n (715594) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806840)

True for a traditional nuclear reactor. But when one is simply wanting to supply a base with power one doesn't need a power source large enough to supply a city. Enough to supply a single family home would be acceptable. As I noted in a response to another poster, there are TWRs currently in development that are the size of a small car. While still heavy, they could be transported to an FOB if needed, and then buried in the ground and protected from capture by a ring of claymores or other HE method.

TWRs use depleted uranium as a fuel source, the same stuff used in armor piercing rounds by the military. It is minimally radioactive, just above background levels. So it's safe to use both for the servicemen, and if it needs to be destroyed by way of HE to prevent capture.

Now, for vehicles, yes. We simply don't have the technology to produce a small, safe, useful reactor for a vehicle. Yet. However I don't doubt that day is coming.

Re:Nuclear Power! (2, Insightful)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807110)

Depleted uranium is a hazard beyond its radioactivity, too. It's rather unpopular with the locals due to it being used for ammunition and subsequently getting atomized and dispersed into the local environment, causing health problems.

So I can imagine the idea of burying a huge pile of DU somewhere with "blowing it up" as a contingency to prevent misuse would go over like a Depleted Uranium balloon.
=Smidge=

Re:Nuclear Power! (1)

d3ac0n (715594) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807338)

Um, we're there fighting a war against tribal extremists who used to use the locals that they didn't like as 80MM target practice. I doubt that environmental issues are first on the list of the locals. Most of them are more concerned with day to day survival, and frankly, the amount of LEAD being unloaded into their environment right now is of far greater concern than a few isolated and REMOVABLE TWRs.

Re:Nuclear Power! (1)

Vectormatic (1759674) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807154)

i dont think a ring of claymores will be sufficient to protect such a target, once the enemy gets wind of a prize like that, they might decide to risk a large scale assault.

As for size, if you can build a reactor the size of a smart car (saw that posted in this thread), fitting it into a main battle tank should be possible, and if power output is sufficient, you could add gobs more armour too (in a tank, adding 50 tons of extra weight means bigger engines/more fuel, if you already have that power anyway out of your little reactor, why not use it?)

Hell, you could build a tank twice the size of an abrams with a dual heavy bore gun turret, weighing 200 tons or so, with semi-unlimited range. Now build a working rail-gun, and munition storage will also be much more efficient (a small metal bolt instead of a large anti-tank round with propellant)

Re:Nuclear Power! (1)

d3ac0n (715594) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807264)

Well, the claymores wouldn't be there to "protect" it per-se, but to destroy it if the base is about to be overrun. Keep in mind that a TWR is fully automatic, small enough and durable enough that it can be BURIED, which means that you might not even be able to SEE the thing from outside the base. People could walk right over it and not know it's there.

As far as putting it in a tank, I think you MAY have played a few too many rounds of Mechwarrior. We aren't at a technology level where we can build (or easily transport) any military land vehicle of that size. Although the idea does sound cool, I'll grant you that.

Re:Nuclear Power! (4, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807316)

you could add gobs more armour too (in a tank, adding 50 tons of extra weight means bigger engines/more fuel, if you already have that power anyway out of your little reactor, why not use it?

Hell, you could build a tank twice the size of an abrams with a dual heavy bore gun turret, weighing 200 tons or so

What happens when you need to drive your 200 ton tank across bridges that are only rated for half that weight or less? Weight isn't a zero sum game with AFV design. Even if you have the power to move that much weight around it still comes with drawbacks.

Re:Nuclear Power! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806702)

They exist. Leave it to Toshiba [toshiba.co.jp] .

Re:Nuclear Power! (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806746)

I've often wondered why we have compact portable atomic bombs, but no compact portable atomic generators.

From the discovery of fire it was thousands of years before we figured out how to get useful mechanical work from it (steam engine etc). Lots of problems with nukes to be solved yet.

No, I'm thinking that some portable nuke plants are in order here. Even something that has to be mounted on a semi flatbed is going to be more useful than a solar panel. At least the flatbed could be rolled into a large trench and covered with camo netting and guarded by dirt and sandbag berms.

No matter what better-than-fossil-fuel energy source they bring into battle, it's going to be of interest to the enemy. It doesn't matter if it's nuclear, solar, or hamster wheels, if it works better than what they are using now then the enemy will want it.

Based on something I read recently about the army being a bit too chubby, maybe a few human powered 'hamster wheels' might be a good idea...

Re:Nuclear Power! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807038)

Not sure how true your statement is about how long it took to get useful mechanical work from fire. We don't really know when humans first started working with fire, but we do know that, long, long before steam engines came along, fire was used for felling trees and shaping them into canoes, which I would qualify as useful mechanical work. There are probably lots of other clever uses I'm not even thinking of right now.

Re:Nuclear Power! (2, Interesting)

Fallon (33975) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806748)

FOB's are not hidden locations. Pretty much everybody that cares knows where they are located... Follow the masses of troops & trucks. And military bases of any sort tend to stick out with all the fortifications.

Re:Nuclear Power! (2, Informative)

d3ac0n (715594) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807074)

You do know what FOB stands for, right?

Just in case you don't FOB stands for Forward Operations Base. It is a small, "tip of the spear" base, usually about the footprint of your average American home. It's walls, if it has them, are often dirt, wood and sandbag affairs, and they frequently take advantage of local terrain for defense.

FOBs are NOT the large "tent city" affairs that you see on the news reports.

Re:Nuclear Power! (5, Informative)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807244)

You misunderstand how these bases work. We aren't trying to hide; this isn't a conventional war. We want people to be able to come to the FOBs and report incidents, sell wares, in some cases even go to work (we often work with locals for everything from translators to building contracts, at least we did in Iraq). The FOBS are well guarded of course, you can't just walk in, but they aren't the traditional camp under camo nets. Indeed all the camo nets I ever saw setup were there to provide shade in places like motor pools, not hide anything. Your point would be valid for special ops units and such, but not for the vast majority of troops, at least not in these wars.

Seems like a good idea (2, Insightful)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806598)

On the other hand, totally self-reliant (though not "renewable" by any stretch of the imagination) armies without supply lines have been done to death.

Female horses : transport, self-replicating, meat, milk and cheese. And a lot of fun at parties too*. [wikipedia.org]

Incidentally, the Afghans will probably find all about them in their history books. Well, the history books that haven't been burned (yet) by those muslims, taliban and otherwise.

* I mean mongol horse contests, not ... euhm ... muslim late-night activities.

Re:Seems like a good idea (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807092)

muslim

It would help your point if you used the phrase "Muslim extremists". Otherwise you may as well refer to the American army as Christians.

Re:Seems like a good idea (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807156)

* I mean mongol horse contests, not ... euhm ... muslim late-night activities.

Are you fucking kidding me? Did you just imply that Muslims routinely engage in bestiality? Take your bigotry somewhere else, asshole.

As usual (4, Insightful)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806494)

Nothing spurs innovation like trying to kill the other guy.

Re:As usual (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806520)

They found the HAL Chi Minh trail, what took them so long?

Something Spurs Innovation Further (4, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806556)

Nothing spurs innovation like trying to kill the other guy.

What about trying to stop the other guy from killing you? I think the US military has the luxury of being the hunters that occasionally succumb to attrition. You can still lose that way (Vietnam) but we're not afraid of every single person in America being killed or captured. I'd argue you saw more innovation come out of World War II when we actually faced a threat of every person coming under the rule of a handful of tyrants (and really one very bad tyrant). Sure, Hitler's V1 and V2 Schneider Programs were innovative but look at what the work of the Polish and, later, British at Bletchley Park did to start us into the computer age. When you're striving to solve a problem and the fate of your entire country rests on it ... I think you forgo sleeping, eating, playing video games, etc. The guys 'innovating' in Afghanistan still go to sleep at night. The guys calling the shots probably don't live any differently than you or I and that is quite comfortably.

Re:Something Spurs Innovation Further (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806650)

I fought in WWII, and mainland America never faced the "threat of every person coming under the rule of a handful of tyrants". That's bullshit each and every way. Even before America became involved, Germany and Russia were too involved fighting one another to pose a serious threat to America. Japan was heavily involved in China and southeast Asia, as well. Australia may have faced a slight threat, but it was well prepared to defend itself.

As time goes on, each generation of youth born after 1950 adds their own layer of "understanding" to history, and usually this "understanding" is blatantly wrong. You're no exception.

I Understand the Isolationist PoV and I Reject It (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806848)

I fought in WWII, and mainland America never faced the "threat of every person coming under the rule of a handful of tyrants".

Right, I'm sure that once Germany had taken all of Europe and Russia they'd have just sat on their hands contented. They wouldn't have used those extensive resources to make a push to conquer the world. Tell me, since they fought everyone around them to the bitter end, where would have Germany and Japan halted? What borders could have possibly satiated their thirst for power and resources?

I guess my understanding is 'blatantly wrong' and my opinions are 'bullshit each and every way' but I do know that there were divided opinions in America at the time. The isolationists [wikipedia.org] who thought that all Hitler wanted was to conquer a few surrounding countries and the other people who thought that Hitler would stop at nothing until he controlled the world. After reading Winston Churchill's account of the Second World War, I'm in the latter camp. It appears you're confident Hitler would have stopped had he won the Battle for Britain and overrun the Eastern front. He sure didn't stop after the Invasion of Poland and the Battle of France. The German war machine excelled at turning conquered territories into another cog in the war machine. Hitler didn't shut down all the factories producing munitions and arms once he overtook a country.

I appreciate all you did for your country and I'm sorry you are dismally appalled at my attempts to learn and understand the part of history you influenced. I'd be happy to listen to another point of view from anyone who fought in World War II but it would take a great deal of startling revelations to change my opinion on America's risk had the Allies lost.

As time goes on, each generation of youth born after 1950 adds their own layer of "understanding" to history, and usually this "understanding" is blatantly wrong. You're no exception.

And you wonder why your children and grandchildren never visit you ...

Re:I Understand the Isolationist PoV and I Reject (4, Interesting)

VJ42 (860241) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807026)

Right, I'm sure that once Germany had taken all of Europe and Russia they'd have just sat on their hands contented.

Without US involvement, Germany still wouldn't have taken Europe - much less Russia. It's the Soviets who would have been the big winners and "liberated" Western Europe had the Americans stayed at home. Whether you think that America would have ended up at risk of coming under the rule of tyrants depends on what effect you think that this would have had on the cold war. Perssonally I don't think that even Soviets emboldened by the conquering of Europe would have tried to invade the US after Hiroshima & Nagasaki.

Re:I Understand the Isolationist PoV and I Reject (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807112)

Perssonally I don't think that even Soviets emboldened by the conquering of Europe would have tried to invade the US after Hiroshima & Nagasaki.

You are aware the Nazis had their own nuclear program, correct? It was only canceled due to the fall of Berlin -- something the United States did play a part in. To assume the US would have been the only ones with a nuclear weapon is not sound logic.

Re:Something Spurs Innovation Further (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807096)

I fought in WWII....

You did, did you?

The youngest surviving WWII vet is 80 now (http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:ArzyNNa8VhUJ:www.scrippsnews.com/node/38026+who+is+the+youngest+wwii+vet&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a).

Most surviving WWII vets -- those that enlisted "legally" -- should be 85 or older.

Interesting to know that there are 85 year olds reading /.

Now get off my lawn.

Re:Something Spurs Innovation Further (2, Interesting)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807138)

Ever hear of the Bund? That was the name of the Nazi party in the United States made up of 1st, 2nd, and even 3rd generation German-Americans. While Hitler did not like the leader(he was essentially snubbed by Hitler on a trip to Germany), Kuhn saw himself as America's Hitler. There certainly weren't millions in the party, but they had enough members to fill Madison Square Garden when they rallied there. When people saw thousands of Brown Shirts marching down the streets of New York in 1939, you can damn well bet they felt the "threat of every person coming under the rule of a handful of tyrants".

Re:Something Spurs Innovation Further (0, Flamebait)

Elektroschock (659467) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806672)

Exactly, it is not about real war [youtube.com] . It is about avoidance of casualties. The Americans may not act like the Russians when faced with partisan warfare. In a real war one would hang those civilian combattants and collect all local guns.

Re:Something Spurs Innovation Further (1, Troll)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807238)

All I know is that if I were a soldier getting shot at, and my gun jammed because some hippie insisted that it be manufactured in some environmentally-friendly way, I would be pretty pissed off. It's one thing that my "energy efficient" front-loader washer sucks ass at washing my clothes compared to my old traditional washer. It's quite another thing if my helmet can't stop a round because someone at the Pentagon thought it would be a good idea to go with an environmentally-friendly ceramic instead of titanium.

Ya well don't knock it (3, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806610)

The US military is responsible for all sorts of amazing technology that makes like better. GPS would be a good recent example. Any civilian company would have said you were nuts to try and build a GNSS. WAY too expensive and really, how useful would it be? Not enough to justify the funds for sure. The military said "Wait we could locate every craft, every vehicle, maybe even every soldier, every bomb? Yes please." The result? The most amazing advance in navigation and location since, well, the theodolite probably. Everything is now GPS for primary navigation (and sometimes only these days). The world now navigates by GPS and is safer and more efficient for it. In fact hte EU recognized the problem in relying on a system owned by the US military and has talked about their own, but despite having already seen the need and the system working, they've yet to launch a single satellite (it was supposed to be up and running by now). For the moment, a military built system is the only option (the Russians also have a military GNSS).

In some cases, the military really gets shit done. This is in part because they have such a large budget, and are used to expensive, long term projects. They are ok with an outlay of large amounts of money for something that will take a long time to develop and deliver. That is something hard to find in the corporate world. Another useful thing is they are public, they are owned by the government. Means anything they do can be made available to everyone. Of course not everything will be, things that are national security related won't (like the weapons themselves) but something like better solar technology? Sure.

So maybe they will lead the way to better renewable power.

Seen and unseen (1)

srussia (884021) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806738)

The US military is responsible for all sorts of amazing technology that makes life better.

Sure, but at what cost. What was the opportunity cost?

This is in part because they have such a large budget, and are used to expensive, long term projects. They are ok with an outlay of large amounts of money for something that will take a long time to develop and deliver. That is something hard to find in the corporate world.

This is the "missing strawman" fallacy, if you will. You're comparing an actual something to a virtual nothing. Not fair. Is there not a possibility that if all those resources were spent on something else we would now have something much more life-enhancing than GPS? Think flying cars... no, scratch that... world peace perhaps?

Re:Seen and unseen (2, Interesting)

stdarg (456557) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806986)

You're comparing an actual something to a virtual nothing. Not fair. Is there not a possibility that if all those resources were spent on something else we would now have something much more life-enhancing than GPS? Think flying cars... no, scratch that... world peace perhaps?

But you're also comparing things that don't exist with things that do. Honestly, if we spent less money on the military, we would just spend more money on entitlement programs. Temporary quality of life improvements, unfortunately unsustainable because of our population profile. Personally I'd prefer more military spending than we have now, because at least we (as in my generation) will get *something* for it. I don't have such high hopes for the 12% of every paycheck pumped into the SS Pyramid Scheme.

Re:Seen and unseen (1)

srussia (884021) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807166)

Personally I'd prefer more military spending than we have now, because at least we (as in my generation) will get *something* for it. I don't have such high hopes for the 12% of every paycheck pumped into the SS Pyramid Scheme.

Neither do I. Would you invoke Godwin if I said: "I'd settle for another Leni Riefenstahl."?

Entitlement programs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807364)

Entitlement programs? You mean like the bank, where you put money in and are entitled to ask for it back?

Or social security, where there's a bankroll of 2.5Trillion people have paid in and these people are therefore entitled to take it out?

But in either case, entitlement programs save lives. Military destroys lives.

That's quite a big difference and I ask why you'd rather end a life than continue it?

Re:Ya well don't knock it (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806854)

In some cases, the military really gets shit done. This is in part because they have such a large budget, and are used to expensive, long term projects. They are ok with an outlay of large amounts of money for something that will take a long time to develop and deliver.

True, and I am grateful for their willingness to fund long-term research. Unfortunately, however, for all the same reasons you listed, the military sometimes does nothing but burn huge amounts of money for years and years on projects that are clearly wasteful and going nowhere. Worse, they allow defense contractors screw them over and over and over: going over budget and not meeting deadlines. Projects and spending decisions no longer get made on merit and priorities: they get made by career bureaucrats who never built anything in their life, or by bought-and-sold politicians who need to bring home the bacon.

Re:As usual (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806888)

Nah.

Nothing spurs innovation like trying to kill the other guy with overwhelming force.

The dream of any soldier would be either A: No War or B: War where everything the other guy shoots at you is equivalent to spitballs while you've got deathrays.

The military industrial complex isn't about building a better gun. It's about researching godmode.

This has to happen. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806498)

Look at the loss rate on getting fossil fuels where they are needed. I want 5K gal of diesel at a far-FOB in the Afghan mountains. How many K gal am I going to burn just to get it there? It's awful. How about some compact nuke power cells a la submarines. Safe? No. Effective? Very. Generally speaking, war isn't very safe either.

Re:This has to happen. (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806620)

Gets kind of interesting when the Taliban overrun your FOB.

Re:This has to happen. (1)

CdBee (742846) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806806)

Not really, you just have a remote killswitch on the batlefield nuke that makes it go supercritical. Then inform the Taleban that any attempt to capture one will result in that immediate area being denied to them for the next 3 centuries

Re:This has to happen. (1)

Magada (741361) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807016)

Thus giving them a very handy way of wagging the dog. How many nuke plants do you expect to afford to lose in this manner? How many allied troops would there be left in country a week after you pulled such a stunt? For that matter, how would the Afghan military that you're trying to train react? How about the Afghan gov't? How about the UN?

Moronic.

Re:This has to happen. (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806720)

A similar calculus exists for the logistics in Antarctica. Most of the coastal stations can be supplied from the sea - McMurdo gets nearly all its materiel by boat. The South Pole station is another matter. Currently 99% of what's at the South Pole gets brought in by air, at an enormous cost for fuel.

Because of the enormous costs, the US Army Corps of Engineers has been developing the logistics and technology to have supply convoys go overland [army.mil] from McMurdo to South Pole station [asoc.org] . It's a lot slower: a few weeks on ice versus a half a day in the air, but the logistical cost is much much lower.

Unfortunately, while some renewables have been tested and deployed in Antarctica, by and large they haven't panned out. Wind turbines shred themselves in a -80 C gale, and solar panels are no good during the winter. Nuclear is banned by the Antarctic treaty.

Re:This has to happen. (1)

Magada (741361) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807040)

There are lots of volcanoes there so IF one could dig for geothermal, things may become much easier. Sure, it would be a large initial investment.

The answer is... (1)

bradley13 (1118935) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806534)

...pedal-powered tanks!

yabadabadoo! But seriously, why not hemp diesel? (1)

katz (36161) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806634)

Good pop culture reference :) Anyway, I was thinking that maybe hemp could be used to fuel diesel machines since it grows quickly, according to Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemp [wikipedia.org] . Since I've been hearing about hemp diesel for years but have seen nothing come from it (so far), I assumed it is either burdened with legal issues or is otherwise unviable.. Does anyone know about this?

US finally got tired... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806540)

Of invading other countries for it.

Re:US finally got tired... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806560)

Yes. The oil's a gushing over there in Afghanistan, isn't it? Fucker.

Re:US finally got tired... (1)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806594)

There are many plans to build oil pipelines in Afghanistan, so yes, oil is a significant factor in the current conflict in Afghanistan.

Re:US finally got tired... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806740)

Some of the world's largest untapped oil fields are in central Asia. In fact, I once heard the Taliban were willing to turn Bin Laden over to the US if they could do so discreetly and in exchange for a deal to sell their oil. Instead of oil, they're now selling opium.

So in a way, I think the Afghan war is actually not about oil, but rather about vengeange or being pissed at the Taliban, or using an opportunity to get rid on a really oppressive, conservative regime there. It could have been finished cheaper, quicker, and the US would have gotten Bin Laden and oil out of it. I hope the alternative is worth it.

Trickle down? (1)

zrbyte (1666979) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806572)

Let's hope that, with so many other technologies developed by the military, some of it finds its way into everyday use.

Re:Trickle down? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806674)

Let's hope that, with so many other technologies developed by the military, some of it finds its way into everyday use.

In this case it's more that technology in everyday use finds its way into the military. They already have diesel-hybrid war machine design programs, for example.

In reaction to this news... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806578)

The Republican party declared that the Military was obviously filled with a bunch of commie green traitors!

proposed alternative energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806668)

There are serious proposals to use battlefield fission power plants. Bad idea.

The holy grail of alt energy (4, Interesting)

chainsaw1 (89967) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806688)

The panels were on display at Modern Day Marine. Basically two standard cell panel integrated into a box that is "Marine resistant". Up to eight plug into a HD box housing the charge controller.

The problem is that personnel need electricity for their gizmos. HMMWV's have 200A 24V alternators from the factory now (which are so big the original 6.5L alternator mounting holes need extensions). If you don't have a vehicle handy, charging items becomes more interesting since you already have 80+ lbs of gear on your back [adding extra / bigger batteries usually exceeds single person weight limits]. Solar is especially nice because you don't have to ship fuel and generator parts around--a base actually becomes more self sufficient. Simply using a green alternative for dino JP-8/5 doesn't do this.

Another solution solution being heavily looked at with larger vehicles is diesel-electric propulsion, coupled with a renewable carbon sourced fuel (WVO conversion, algae, Fischer Tropsch, etc.). The hybrid drive provides electrical generation without needing a dedicated generator (stationary use) or an oversize alternator (mobile use).

Finally! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806742)

Now that the military wants to use less fuel, we'll have alternatively-powered vehicles within a few years. Seriously, every huge technological innovation of the past 30 or 40 years began with the military. Even the Internet was originally a military project.

India Co. 3/5 (0, Offtopic)

sniperdoc (1027736) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806758)

Oorah Devil Dogs of 3/5!! The most decorated Regiment of the Marines charging forward once again! Though I am curious what the boat company is doing in the desert... ;-) Shouldn't this be Kilo or Weaps out there? HM3 STA 3/5 93-97

Crazy idea.. nuclear? (1)

FishTankX (1539069) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806774)

This may be an absolutley crazy idea, but why not bring in small (50mw) nuclear reactors into afghanistan, and wireup a small, perhaps microwave grid, with backup generators. Bury it and pour concrete over it to make it terrorist proof.

That will take care of electrical.

And as for liquid fuels, it might be possible to setup a plant based around the fischer tropsch process which takes hydrogen and carbon monoxide to create gasoline. Run it off an electrolysis station and a carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide converter. Then generate it in the field. It should be more economical than paying hundreds of dollars a gallon to truck fuel in.

If you made each fischer tropsch module about the size of a semi trailer, that's a fairly simple thing to drag into a base camp, which could then produce liquid fuels from the nuclear powered grid fairly easily.

However, as a more reasonable stopgap, research could be done into hybrid electric turbines. Being able to turn the turbine off in low power would save drastically on fuel. Having enough power to get going under a combat load and still have enough juice to start the turbine might be a bit tricky, but I think it can be done and would probably double if not triple the mileage of those tanks.

Re:Crazy idea.. nuclear? (1)

pryoplasm (809342) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807320)

Just thinking, but a microwave grid might be bad for storage of munitions, or possibly setting off unexploded ordinance from attacks. Think of a mortar that hits the base and ends up luckily enough being a dud, being set off by the power grid without the nice whistling warning...

Also, part of the cost of the fuel is just getting it there, some of these options for biofuels and whatnot might be more expensive/hazardous/harder to ship down range.

Maybe (5, Interesting)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806782)

It might be that less dependence on fossil fuels would mean less dependence on war.

I realize this is going to be a minority opinion in this all-male, all-tech geek environment, but still...

I wonder how quickly the taste for war would fade in this population if there was a draft? And if you couldn't get out of it by being too fat.

Re:Maybe (3, Insightful)

Thing 1 (178996) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806962)

Taxes: the new draft. (War is fought mostly by machines these days, anyway -- they don't need your body, they need the resources that you can produce.) And yes, this does make us fat and careless.

Re:Maybe (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807054)

Because before the automobile, we never had wars, did we?

Re:Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807252)

It might be that less dependence on fossil fuels would mean less dependence on war.

I realize this is going to be a minority opinion in this all-male, all-tech geek environment, but still...

Your prejudices about male tech geeks offend me. Only few of us are warlike loonies.

Re:Maybe (3, Interesting)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807258)

You do realize wars were fought long before fossil fuels were discovered, right? There are many factors that cause war, resources or geopolitics are only 2 of them. And about this dependence on oil, think about how many states' economies are tied into the production and export of oil. What happens when the demand for oil suddenly drops? Many of these states use the oil revenues to suppress internal dissent. When that revenue is gone, all they will have to suppress dissent is force. Force is generally responded to by force. Do you see what is going on in Sudan and Somalia? That is what could very well happen in those states as well. And the thing about conflicts like that is they have a tendency to involve those around them by spilling over borders creating large numbers of refugees. People imagine a world where war is increasingly rare without oil dependence. In fact, it will probably be much higher in the short term(roughly 100 years or so). Everything going on right now? It's just the warm-up.

and IAAPS(I am a political scientist)

and on a personal, political note, the only thing better than a draft would be compulsory term service in either a military or civil capacity. This would get rid of the entitlement culture this country is increasingly showing and would force people to actually learn a skill and be productive(at least temporarily). Let people earn their keep instead of simply sitting around waiting for unemployment checks.

Small actions en-masse make a difference (3, Interesting)

CdBee (742846) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806786)

Over this summer I've refitted my old car with solar panels to charge the battery when its parked and replaced all low-energy incandescent bulbs with aftermarket LED replacements. on this one car its lead to a detectable reduction in liquid fuel use. I imagine the fuel savings from even minor adjustments like this, applied to the whole service fleet, could make a noticeable saving on fuel... even before they start retiring portable generators in favour of panels.

Re:Small actions en-masse make a difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806914)

I don't see how that could reduce your fuel usage a measurable amount. Did you remove the alternator or something?

Do you leave the lights on inside your car all the time? I don't see how using LED's would make even the slightest difference. My car has a switch to disable the lights when you open the doors and that's what I use but not because I think it will save fuel.

I understand that reducing the load on the alternator from having to charge the battery might make a slight difference but I doubt it would be detectable.

Stop using fuel guzzling vehicles (4, Interesting)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806860)

If the US Army replaced their fuel guzzling M1 tank turbines with modern diesel engines like the MTU engine used in the Leopard they would spend a lot less fuel to begin with. The same applies to the HMMWV.

If they switched to diesel-electric, the vehicles would spend even less power.

For Afghanistan this is useless, but for campaigns near the shore it would be useful to recharge the vehicles using the nuclear reactor in US Navy carriers.

If the infantry switched to caseless or cased telescoped ammunition, it would take less volume to transport the same number of rifle ammo rounds.

The B-52 uses ancient engines from the late 1950s which guzzle fuel but the Air Force cannot get Congress to pay for the upgrade because it is deemed uneconomic.

Solar can have its uses. The military could especially use flexible solar cells which could be more easily transported. However the military also needs reliability, something that works 100% of the time, which is something solar cells cannot provide.

We have come a long time since Genghis Khan. The Mongols could feed their horses by grazing and drinking water along the way. They were nomads, so they brought cattle as food supply along with them, as well as their families etc. Present military hardware requires too much power for this to be feasible anymore.

Re:Stop using fuel guzzling vehicles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807142)

I think the best solution would be not go to that WAR at all!!

Re:Stop using fuel guzzling vehicles (1, Interesting)

inviolet (797804) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807230)

If the US Army replaced their fuel guzzling M1 tank turbines with modern diesel engines like the MTU engine used in the Leopard they would spend a lot less fuel to begin with. The same applies to the HMMWV.

If they switched to diesel-electric, the vehicles would spend even less power.

Leaving aside the energy cost to actually build the MTU engines, to redesign the M1's transmission, to ship the new engines to the repair yards, to pull the old engines from the M1s and dispose of them, to install the new engines, to adjust our supply lines to insure that diesel fuel is always available (gas turbines are able to burn other fuels), and to adjust the M1's chassis for the extra weight of the engine.

Yeah, leaving aside all of THAT cost, they would definitely spend a lot less fuel to begin with.

Any other brilliant, simple, easy ideas you'd like to share with us morons?

local people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33806868)

"and guarding that fuel is keeping the troops from doing what they were sent there to do, to fight or engage local people."

I'm all for honesty, but I suspect that PR isn't that guy's strong point.

Stirling engines (1)

Errol backfiring (1280012) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806872)

Well, the military might help to make Stirling engines cheaper. Those engines are already used for transforming solar heat into electricity and seem to have a good effectiveness into doing so. The main problem of this way of capturing power is that the engines are quite expensive to make. This could be an opportunity for the military to make the world a better place.

Irony (0, Troll)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806912)

If the US military manages to become independent of fossil fuels, allowing the civilian sector to take advantage of the technology they develop, they could effectively work themselves out of a job, since their primary function is to secure parts of the world where fossil fuels are found.

Just a good idea (4, Insightful)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 3 years ago | (#33806970)

Political-correctness be damned, it's just a GOOD IDEA. It's an old saying that 'amateurs discuss tactics; professional soldiers talk about logistics'.

The vulnerability of our fighting forces (or any modern military) to attacks on their fuel/supply trains is staggering, and was proven in Iraq. If the opposition in Iraq or Afghanistan was anything close to a peer-level opponent, it would have been catastrophic.

The ability to thin the supply lines also multiplies the effectiveness of the logistics assets you have, as well.

This is a great idea, and the fact that the military is addressing is extremely encouraging for our society. Not that the DoD is magical, but due to their requirements and hard field-testing, their solutions to things tend to be far more pragmatic and practical than the "political" solutions of politicians. Take "integration" as an example - the politicians talked themselves blue in the face about it for decades, but AFAIK there is no more color-blind, racially neutral employer today than the US military.

I'd argue that what the military develops in terms of robust, practical methods of reducing energy consumption will translate into civilian systems relatively quickly.

Deja vu (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807010)

Hm, this could be another military innovation that trickles down to the sub-society of well educated, capable men and women who will use it to better the whole of society.

It reminds me of an innovation developed for the exclusive benefit of the dogs of war called Internet Protocol.

Let's hope they get excellent solar panels, energy cells, clean water and whatnot.

Fight or engage local people? (1)

kill-1 (36256) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807158)

The US military openly admits that their mission is to fight or engage local people? How did that one slip past the censor?

The reason this liberal supports military spending (1)

zerofoo (262795) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807206)

Sure, I don't like our empire, or the fact that we still think we can build nations and bring democracy to every corner of the earth. I do, however, like the technological progress that results from military spending.

It's the closest thing we have to real publicly funded research that most politicians can support.

The private sector has been dragging its feet on alternative energy for 30 years (yes Government does share the blame here). If the military decides it needs to be energy independent, and the physics/chemistry allows it - it will get done.

One can hope that any resulting innovations trickle into civilian life.

-ted

Biodiesel (2, Interesting)

voss (52565) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807218)

One of the crops native to Afghanistan is safflower, safflower oil could be readily made into biodiesel.
Also its a premium grade food oil so any surplus could be sold on the world market. It can also be used for
dyes and paints. Of course it would be better for a native safflower processing industry to develop but
that takes time. The army could build a processing plant and start buying safflower crops right away
and then when they leave turn over the processing plant to a native company.

The army gets cheaper diesel to fuel trucks and tanks and the native people actually make money and develop industry.
Of course that makes too much sense.

Technology & Strategy (1)

nomad-9 (1423689) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807266)

All that is fine & dandy, but the major problem for the US forces in Afghanistan isn't energy, but a lack of strategy, IMO.

Talibans don't have F-16 nor drones, they don't have solar panels, and they still control over 90% of the country.

Example of bad strategy is fuel trucks crossing the Khyber Pass, historically well-known & pretty well-suited for ambush. Just ask the British who lost an army there in the nineteenth century.

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