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Alternative methods of powering the armed forces

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This well attended event held at BAWA, was presented by Paul Johnson who was programme manager for this challenging and interesting technology demonstration programme.

Paul explained that MoD was no different to many organisations, seeking to minimise its dependency on fossil fuels. Today’s battlefield technology requires an ever increasing demand for power, which is normally supplied by generators; which are complex and relatively inefficient.  Diesel fuel is expensive, dangerous and costly to transport to the battlefield, especially in remote areas such as Afghanistan.

Forward Operating Bases (FOB) are used to house troops and equipment needed to operate away from main bases. They are especially reliant on diesel generation and present good opportunities to try and identify alternative methods of power.  The PowerFOB programme was designed to investigate options as to how that may be achieved.

Paul explained how the PowerFOB programme was developed. The procurement approach adopted was to appoint a systems integrator to manage the integration of the various technologies to be investigated on a ‘plug and play’ basis. This included solar, and fuel cell technologies. This was a joint programme with Canada, who looked at the challenges presented by cold environments.

The first phase was a trial conducted in Cyprus.  Paul outlined the risks and issues that were identified and planned for, including international transport, availability of subject matter experts, technical risks with plug and play as well as admin issues such as food, transport and accommodation for the 150 trials team and stakeholders.  Fall back options and contingency budgets were agreed and a reconnaissance visit helped identify and reduce risk further.

During the trial, the environment was very dynamic, and daily replanning meetings were held to manage issues and keep the trial on track to meet its objectives.  One risk that was not planned for was the world’s 4th largest accidental explosion which destroyed one of Cyprus’s power stations!  However, with a managed response, the trial still succeeded.  The use of integrated energy management, solar panels / mats saved up to 45% fuel and 75% generator running time. Fuel cells were shown to be credible alternatives to batteries for specialist tasks.

Stakeholder management was key to the success of the programme. A ViP visit was arranged for senior sponsors and decision makers.  This took a lot of effort, but secured continuing support and a prompt decision that an Operational Concept Demonstrator (OCD) was needed in Kenya.

In planning the Kenya OCD for summer 2012, several risks were identified, including troop availability due to the Olympics, terrorist threat, poor transport links to and within Kenya, poor communications in the bush.  Mitigation was planned, with the schedule being adjusted, budgeted fall back options, including air transport, and satellite phones.  The OCD was very successful; it confirmed the fuel and generator time savings, that renewable energy sources can be effectively integrated and that behaviours can be changed to recognise fuel as a scarce resource.  A cost benefit analysis is being developed to underpin future business cases, requirements definition and investment appraisals. 

Paul highlighted a point of personal refection for himself, and that was the ‘crash’ in motivation when the team came back to office reality after being on trial. This anti climax needs to be planned for to re-motivate the team.  He achieved this through some team building exercises and away-days.  In future he plans to include this in the schedule!

This case study emphasises the importance of managing stakeholders effectively, keeping them engaged with a ViP visit to the trial. Also the importance of managing risk by understanding the local environment and context, seeking expert local advice for communications, transport and security.  How a rolling wave approach provides a dynamic planning environment to take advantage of opportunities, allocate cost to risk,  to respond to issues, and still meet the planned objectives.


Martin Gosden

SWWE Branch Chairman


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