Two international contractors inspect a sample of JP-8 fuel in Kuwait in 2010. The Army hopes to use the fuel as the basis for a "super engine" that can power a number of ground and air vehicles, as well as generators using this fuel. (Source: US Army Sgt. David Reardon, 1st Sustainment Brigade Public Affairs, US Army)
Elizabeth, one fact that you mention in your article is interesting and all too familiar to me. The fact that the single fuel policy (which is a good idea) was originally put forward in the 1980s. Consider what your article says. They are just now getting around to doing some of the basic research. This is just sad. I did a lot of government and corporate funded research over the years, and it often seems that the government is generally behind the curve. Remember, all of the systems they used are made by industrial concerns, not by the government. I remember when that decision was made in earnest. I remember because my father worked at an Army research lab. He was lamenting that they were contracting everything out.
This situation is also interesting in relation to autonomous vehicle research. The government, again for the military, has been looking at this since at least the 1980s. Who is really doing it now, Google. The whole situation is that the government sometimes starts to work on things when they are really are not feasible. I saw a lot of that. That is why a lot of the talk about DARPA in Design News amuses me, sometimes. It might be much more interesting to see what is being done in Japan in robotics. They are doing some really innovative stuff and it is not in the military realm.
DARPA does some good work, naperlou, but I generally agree with you. Too often, government is behind the curve. This is often true in electronics, where the best graphics processors are avilable for games, not defense.
My Ph.D. professor and many of his student are largely responsible for the multiple advances that made commercially viable LED possible today. We did research at the university and published papers, everyone of which was supported in part by the predecessor of DARPA. To denigrate government sponsored R&D is overreaching in my opinion.
In my nearly 40 year career outside of the light-emitting field, I have worked in two prestigeous Fortune 50 research labs. Most projects don't pan out. To the outsider, it would be called waste and abuse if those government work. For corporations, everything is just fine to the same people. Research is hard. If it were easy, it would already have been done. Few people are as intelligent or knowledgable as those who read these blogs and comment. If the whole population were as smart as we are, we would just be average Joes. In this economy, we would just be scraping by, not enjoying our comfortable life.
56ml, I was not trying to denigrate government research, or DARPA, in general. On the other hand, we hear more about this than we do about privately funded or univeristy research, for obvious reasons. Thus, we have more to "comment" on. I have worked on DARPA funded projects, Atomic Energy Commission funded projects (long ago) and corporate R&D funded projects. The DARPA projects were mainly about things that had not been done yet, and were perhaps premature. That's appropriate for such an agency.
I direct you to eafpres' comment. Is this really a research project?
bob from maine also has a very good point. Our military services are really wonderful organizations in many ways, but there are still some major bureuacratic issues that need to be dealt with before some major effeciencies can be realized. Just as an example, the Army, under criticism for its choice of cammo for uniforms, talked about adopting the Marine uniform patterns. The Marines shot back, no you can't, that's ours. Of course it is not theirs. Those patterns are property of the US Government (meaning us). I saw a lot of this, along with some major sharing, when I worked in the aerospace business.
I hear what you're saying, naperlou, and it's completely true. If you want innovation, you really have to look at private business. I wrote about the government for another publication for about two years and in that time I felt like I was writing the same story over and over...the government was pondering this or that legislation and really meant to address it imminently, but it never happened. I do think, though, that DARPA is an exception, but they work with the private sector (ie, Boston Dynamics) to do a lot of their robotics innovations.
Wow, let's just reinvent combustion research! Seriously, don't you think that, say, taking each of the engine/vehicle platforms the military desires to use JP8 in, giving them to good engineering teams, and telling them "figure this out" would lead to answers quicker than studying vaporization in combustion chambers? I'm a scientist at heart, then a technologist, so I'm biased towards R&D. But this is over the top.
At the end of WWII the Army had a multi-fuel-engine that they put into most of their heavy duty trucks. They ran best on diesel but as the instruction manual said "If it'll burn, it'll run in this engine". The engines weren't very fuel efficient but no matter where in the world you ended-up, you could always find fuel. Navy ships that used boilers burned bunker-C, what's left over after just about everything else had been refined out of a barrel of oil. They also burned crude oil. Naval aircraft have been using a different Jet Fuel than the Air-Force for years. As engines get more efficient and specialized, the fuel required becomes more specialized. Research on fuels by the military is nothing new, but it's a sure bet that if the Army is able to derive a single-fuel approach, the Air-Force, Navy and Marines will find another method.
Interesting, Bob, I didn't know that bit of history about the Army. It actually seems like something like that is a more fuel efficient and practical option that creating some kind of super fuel that is specialized. And streamlining across all military branches seems like a no brainer, even though as you point out it's just the opposite!
Bob, not sure about the "Navy takes a different method" approach. I know of at least one class of naval ship (details classified) powered by diesel and gas turbine engines (diesel for cruise, GT for combat). The gas turbines in these vessels burn diesel, not kerosene, to simplify fuel storage, supply and delivery.
Navy ships do a significant amount of re-fueling at sea, often from tankers, occasionally from carriers. Naval aircraft use JP5, which has a different specific gravity than diesel, plus different BTU/gal lubricity and burn characteristics. Aircraft are less tolerant of fuel differences than perhaps a diesel engine or a stationary Gas Turbine so having one single diesel-ish fuel is the best answer even though it is likely a compromise in some applications. U.S. environmental laws have regulated our diesel fuel to remove some desirable characteristics to the detriment of longevity of the engines burning it. This is notable when reviewing the stated standard overhaul period for engines used in the U.S. versus the same engine being used in Europe. I'd guess much of the research into diesel fuel is to find a way to restore some of those desirable characteristics.
Should this come to fruition, the army has added a huge burden to its logistical tail. Instead of being able to source fuel locally, the army will have to bring it with them from much further away. The army claims switching would reduce its logistical burden, but that statement sounds like smoke and mirrors.
JP8 seems only to be used by the US military and some allies. However, this article:
Good points, TJ. Personally I think local is the way to go, and am more interested in the military's use of alternative sources of fuel and setting up local solar and wind arrays than in this type of investment. There are definitely some other military efforts in terms of energy sourcing and consumption that are more appealing both financially and ecologically.
Fuel 'diversity' is the best policy as TJ notes. Nothing stops a modern military faster than lack of go-go juice.
Solar and wind for military applications is very misguided. The large arrays required to get adequate energy will make a good target when used downrange. I know that I would like our enemies to mark their locations as provacatively.
Military R&D budgets have been used too often to perform research on things that have no practical use on the battlefield. In my opinion, the military should not be looking into things unless they can be used in harm's way.
Sorry, but we have to draw a line somewhere and that seems a reasonable restriction for military R&D. Considering the defense cuts coming our way; I would hate to see some of our useful and fieldable war technology get budget pressure because of something that has little benefit to the mission.
To be fair, I bet there's no more enticing target for a pilot than a fuel tank farm. The phrase "The ensuing fireball" would have to be a favorite of theirs. Blowing up solar arrays would be the same as dropping bombs on any piece of empty desert.
Solar and wind energy just do not give the same energy density that petroleum fuel has.
Wind and solar definitely make boring targets. You just can't get the impressive secondary detonations that give you a warm fuzzy during BDA.
I was just speaking strictly form factors - Petroleum can be more readily distributed and concealed (admittedly a lot of effort) than the high output wind and solar technologies that I am aware of. Wind can't get away from having tall structures (or kites). Solar is highly reflective and requires a lot of area.
However, with the growing backlash against wind and solar partly because of these reasons, perhaps solutions will be found. I just believe it is more appropriate to have civilian/private R&D work these issue.
Whatever cuts the military budget, I cool with. It seems so silly to spend billions on advanced tech that never gets used. Most combatants the USA faces are irregular/rebel/civilian militants with simple weapons.
I agree that when considering weapons for a particular mission the overriding theme should be kills per dollar spent. With the way we fight all the low intensity/counterinsurgency ops going on; the cost per kill goes way up thanks to the 'precision weapons revolution'.
I am a big fan of the civil war Gen. W.T. Sherman. He had a simple philosophy: War is hell, so you make it as bad as you can; the faster the enemy surrenders, the faster you can make friends.
I say use the big, dumb, cheap bombs and accept the colateral damage. Overkill is OK. It is all the extra damage that makes the enemy reconsider his life choices.
But don't forget that we still have peer adversaries. China is not an honest actor and Putin would love nothing less than to go back to his Soviet roots. We still need the big ticket items to counter their advances.
While General Sherman was a quite effective fighter at the time, the huge difference is that the enemy troops that he fought were fairly rational humans. They did not intend to die, they would choose to avoid death, in fact. Not that his enemies were chicken, or cowardly, but that they were rational.
The maniac jihadists that we are fighting tody are NOT RATIONAL human beings, but instead they are brainwashed maniacs, and many are devoid of any of the value of life that both Sherman AND his enemies felt. So the war is quite different now.
As for the "one fuel for all" drive, it certainly would be convenient if all the engines ran on the same fuel. My guess is that JP8 is a descendant of JP4, which ran both rockets and some tanks in the 1960s, as I recall. That stuff had been deemed OK for diesel engines of that era, although I don't know how they handled the issue of lubrication by fuel. It did not work very well in spark-ignition engines, although it could be mixed with gasoline and run in some two-stroke motorcycles, at least in warm weather. It would probably work quite well in most diesel type engines, but it seems that the military needs to know just how well it would work.
I think the trade off here is whether to simplify the fuel logistics tail or simplify fuel sourcing. I am as suprised as some of the other commenters that we haven't done this type of research back when JP-8 was developed.
My second ship had LM2500 Gas Turbines that could run JP-5 or diesel. We also had 5 diesel generators, that if I recall correctly, could run either fuel as well. Effieciency was not as big a driver as the price and availablility of fuel, but that was back in the late 80s and early 90s.
Respectfully, the only difference is how many maniacs must be killed to allow the reasonable people to assert themselves. Unfortunately, when you go past some arbitrary number, people start crying genocide. The thought that we can wage war in a way the respects our enemy's culture, when it is that culture that sustains them is asinine.
In the case of Sherman - Yes; it is easier when your enemy is rational, or shares some level of common culture that makes them more predicatable.
IMO, you set your goals to win the conflict and execute the mission to maximum effect until the enemy concedes or ceases to exist. The 'low impact' approach puts you into these protracted engagements where you still kill a lot of bad guys, but risk losing more friendlies. It also reduces the impact of the war to our own people, which politicians love. But then people begin to grow comfortable and even forget that we have a war going on aside from the monetary cost.
Have to agree. Look at the start of Desert storm. The US bombed the crap out of Bagdad. Even using precision ordinances, the media (which by some odd reason was in Bagdad reporting hits) made political hay out of every missed target!
You remember the results, those infamous elite republican gaurds of Saddam that would put up a severe fight. Somehow the US military fell prey to the media and politicans. Now the best we can hope for is a technological edge to keep us in the game. The enemy jihadist can now just wait it out until the media propaganda turns public opinion. So I guess this research, if even belated and illogical must add some value to advancing our technology.
I hear what you are saying, Watashi, and on some level agree with you. But I think the military acting as an R&D institution, even if technology that's explored or invented doesn't make it into practical military application, is a worthwhile endeavor.
You are right. A "one size fits all" is not a rational approach. Perhaps the article slightly misreported the actual goal. BMW is pursuing using a "one size" cylinder displacement for a variety of engines with varying number of cylinders.
In general, the military does not have a stirling record of powerplant innovations. For a look at how federal regulations crippled develoment of an advanced reciprocating aircraft engine in WWII read "Chrysler Aircraft Engines," by Kimble D. McCutcheon, 2012.
Here is a good summary of the Department of Defense's single-fuel concept.
In spite of the single-fuel concept, it appears that the Department of Defense recognizes the value of multi-fuel engines. The outboard engines used by the U.S. military are capable of running on gasoline, kerosene, Jet A, Jet B, JP-4, JP-5, and JP-8, among others.
A multi-fuel engine does have advantages. When the gains outweigh the costs and disadvantages, the multi-fuel engines will be adopted. With that, it is still not feasible that one engine can serve all needs.
In a line of ultra-futuristic projects, DARPA is developing a brain microchip that will help heal the bodies and minds of soldiers. A final product is far off, but preliminary chips are already being tested.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.