Wartime technologies have always had a habit of working their way into post-war civilian applications – everything from microwaves to GPS to the internet, drones, jet
engines, duct tape and super glue, to name a few. These are high-end and seemingly simple technologies that have not only advanced an armed force’s success in any given conflict but also have provided a means of mitigating risk, cutting costs and saving lives.

Examples stemming from the Iraq War are recent advances made in solar technology and solar energy storage, as well as new critical ways of looking at how solar energy can ultimately reduce America’s reliance on foreign sources of energy – a reliance that, strategically speaking, has far too often resulted in armed conflict to protect America’s overseas oil interests either directly or indirectly.

Tactically speaking, there are newfound and ongoing conversations among military planners and logisticians as how best to mitigate risk and save lives on the always dangerous main supply routes (MSRs), where U.S. and allied fuel-resupply convoys have been regularly subjected to every form of enemy hazard. Fuel convoys have always been viewed as soft, albeit rich, targets by terrorists and insurgents: One man with a rocket-propelled grenade can wreak havoc on a multimillion-dollar fuel convoy guarded by vulnerable young Americans.

Hitting a fuel convoy almost always results in a lot of burning petroleum, ammunition cooking-off and roiling black smoke seen for miles. Then there are the untold monetary losses in terms of destroyed equipment and supplies, a temporary slowing – at least as perceived by the insurgents – of the U.S.-led effort, and the potential for a lot of casualties.

Nevertheless, convoys have been a critical – and often the only – means of resupplying the many forward operating bases (FOBs) constructed near the larger cities and the much smaller outposts and battle positions in the back country of any overseas operational theater. Fuel has always been needed for electrical power generators in the FOBs and outposts and for ground vehicles and aircraft.

There’s no way around the fact that traditional petroleum-based fuels are volatile targets, difficult to defend in war zones – and solar may well be the answer.

The findings of a U.S. Army study published several years ago, “Sustain the Mission Project: Casualty Factors for Fuel and Water Resupply Convoys,” determined that a “10 percent reduction in [fossil] fuel consumption over a five-year period could lead to a reduction of 35 fuel-related resupply casualties over the same period.”

The report added, “Casualty impacts (and other operational impacts) related to using
alternative energy and water technologies to sustain Army missions should be
evaluated in Army combat and combat support models over a wide range of theaters
and scenarios to better reflect the complex conditions and actions at the tactical and
theater levels.”

Additionally, “Army analysis agencies should evaluate the potential impacts, such as casualties, of different energy technologies in the battle space to include resupply convoys.”

Petroleum energy for fuel will continue to be a necessity, but it does not have to be the
primary and only means of fueling everything all the time, in all environs, without
considering other legitimate, cost-effective and infinitely safer options.

Solar solutions could change the fuel dynamics for America not only overseas but also here at home, where petroleum prices have skyrocketed over the last two decades, and far too many Americans have thrown up their hands in a sort of submissive acceptance that fuel costs will always be high – as will the various wars that play a part in those ever-rising fuel costs.

Solar as a means of generating electricity is one thing; solar as fuel for vehicles is
another. Granted, solar energy won’t fully replace fossil fuels for vehicles in the short run, but we need to begin thinking in terms of the limitless possibilities of this unlimited, totally clean, and – for the first time – truly affordable and storable energy resource.

Solar technology has existed for years. But the full fruit of commercial application has not – until now. Solar energy companies are now, like never before, enabling individuals and businesses to produce marketable, working energy. And they are able to do so at at- or below-market costs.

And solar could potentially and measurably save American lives overseas, which brings us back to our first and perhaps most salient point: Strategically speaking, solar energy is now fully capable of reducing – though perhaps not yet eliminating – our reliance on foreign sources of fuel. That in itself will save lives in terms of not having to deploy the vast number of troops America has traditionally needed in order to defend our gas and oil sources overseas.

And, again, if we parse it down to the tactical level, fewer and smaller convoys transporting less fuel on the miles and miles of MSRs crisscrossing the war-ravaged countries wherein U.S. troops are deployed will always mean fewer soldiers tasked with defending those convoys.

That in itself is worth advancing talks about solar.

Maj. Gen. Tom Mullikin is a military officer; founding principal of the South Carolina-based Mullikin Law Firm; and president of Global Eco Adventures, a nonprofit dedicated to visiting and studying the Earth’s fragile ecosystems. He can be reached at tommullikin@mullikinlaw.com.

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