Soldier Power

Senior Engineer Steve Tucker discusses solar battery recharging technology with Assistant Secretary Sharon Burke and Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center Director Dr. Jack Obusek.

By Sharon E. Burke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy
Plans and Programs

As markets worried about unrest in Libya and other parts of the Middle East, crude oil prices hit a 2 1/2 year high last week, with prices surging to more than $100 per barrel. Those rising global fuel prices have wide-reaching effects across the U.S. economy, including implications for the Department of Defense.

In fact, a $1 increase in the price of a barrel of oil sustained over the course of a year can increase DoD fuel costs by $130 million given that the DoD purchases approximately 130 million barrels of petroleum products per year.

While these fuel price increases wreak havoc on our budgets, especially because Congress hasn’t passed one for 2011, I am confident our uniformed men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq will receive the fuel and energy they need to accomplish their missions. At the same time, we are improving the Department’s resilience to price shocks and our military capabilities through technologies to reduce energy use in the battlefield. I saw some of those technologies last week when I visited the Director and staff of Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center in Massachusetts. Natick Labs is the Army’s one-stop Soldier support organization, and is responsible for research on everything from a Soldier’s food, clothing, and shelter, to his support.

As part of their work, the team is developing the next generation of tent shades and insulated tents, which use less fuel to heat and cool. On the battlefield, where shelters are a major consumer of fuel, moving that fuel has become a major problem, putting lives and missions at risk and diverting combat troops and dollars to force protection.

Researchers at Natick are also looking at the batteries an individual Soldier carries. Today’s handheld technology can plug a Soldier on patrol into the network, but it can also tether him to a huge number of batteries. In some cases, a Soldier may carry 10-20 pounds of batteries for a three day mission. To tackle this challenge, scientists at Natick are looking at both better batteries and lower power devices.

And I learned about tomorrow’s innovations for Soldier power. From combat boots that recharge batteries to deployable waste-to-energy systems that will cut logistics and create on-site energy, the staff at Natick are helping provide America’s Soldiers with the best equipment in the world. That work, to give Soldiers better energy options, helps DoD execute its core mission – to defend the Nation.