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Army officials advocate energy networks to help soldiers refuel on the go

The Defense Department needs a policy that will motivate troops to build scalable energy networks so they can find places to refuel on the fly, Army officials said on Monday.

If achieved, such an arrangement would allow soldiers to create ad hoc communications networks and locate energy hot spots for recharging batteries wirelessly, without lugging generators. For example, an approaching ground vehicle could act as a generator for a soldier's battery, and, reciprocally, a nearby base camp could supply electrical energy to refuel the vehicle.

"The fact is that energy is what enables us to be decisive on the battlefield," said Col. Paul E. Roege, special assistant to the energy director at the Army Capabilities Integration Center. His comments came during a conversation with researchers, industry representatives and other federal officials hosted at the Brookings Institution.

Roege imagines the day when military leaders can tap any available fuel or battery for heating, cooling, light or even weapons to take out an adversary. But participants in the discussion noted the Defense Department lacks policies and a business case to turn this vision into a reality.

"We do need the policy," Roege responded. "We need the drivers to get people to consider energy networks. . . . The challenge becomes -- How do you come up with policies? You need outcome based policy, not prescriptive policies," such as failed attempts by other groups to ban water bottles and other environmental hazards.

Defense missed a December 2010 deadline for submitting to Congress a departmentwide operational energy strategy for reducing fuel consumption. During Monday's talk, officials in the office of Sharon Burke, Defense assistant secretary for operational energy plans and programs, said the comprehensive strategy is coming, but declined to specify a time frame.

An April 2010 Army Capabilities Integration Center white paper offering a 20-year outlook for power and energy resources stated, "By providing a capability to seamlessly connect and disconnect, import or export power, we would dramatically improve operating flexibility."

On Monday, Roege offered the example of wireless energy transfer, where soldiers could hook up machinery to an energy hot spot on a base camp for refueling. While the concept might seem "pretty far out" to some people, he said engineers already have demonstrated how to power an unmanned aerial vehicle with a laser.

"Most of the components already exist," Roege said. "What we need to do is change our thinking to advance in this direction."

He added that energy storage is key to creating energy distribution networks.

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