You may talk of gin and beer
When youâ€™re quartered safe out ‘ere
Anâ€™ youâ€™re sent to penny fights and Aldershot it
But when it comes to slaughter
Youâ€™ll do your work on water
Anâ€™ youâ€™ll lick the bloominâ€™ boots of ‘im thatâ€™s got it
Some things have not changed since Kipling wrote Gunga Din about a heroic Indian water-carrier with the British Army; the Tommies are still fighting Afghans beyond the Northwest Frontier, and water supply is still a vital element in the logistics chain. But back then the water came from a goatskin bag, “was crawlinâ€™ and it stunk” — these days quality control has improved somewhat.
According to one US Army estimate, up to 65% of military road traffic in Iraq is taken up with transporting water to the troops. Cutting the number of trucks used for water will reduce the number of convoys that need protecting, and Allied Command Transformation Headquarters aims to do that by generating drinking water in the field. They recently demonstrated a mobile bottling plant that fits into a C-130 which can generate, purify and bottle 700 liters of water an hour.
Further down the line, DARPA are pursuing a project called ‘Water From Airâ€™, looking at ways of extracting potable water from the atmosphere or from vehicle exhaust (water is one of the by-products when any hydrocarbon fuel is burned). Water generation was also one of the many features included in the original plans for Future Combat System, all part of the goal of traveling light and reducing the logistics tail.
But there is one big, rather simple problem, as explained in this piece on logistics in Iraq:
Dependence on bottled water in Iraq turned out to be a major sustainment and quality of life issue, Chambers said. Bottled water made up 30 percent of the distribution requirement even though bulk water was available, he said.
Because the bottom line is:
“Soldiers do not like to drink purified water.”
Which is why the idea of recycling urine into drinking water is even less likely to catch on, something that the Army has looked at on the grounds that “The technology is there. NASA is doing it. However, Thomas Bagwell, acting executive director for research at TARDEC, admitted that the last time he put this idea to soldiers, they chased me out of the room.
Water may be technically safe and potable, but it can still taste terrible and troops are understandably not going to want to drink it. If you can solve that problem, you can take out a huge amount of the logistics overhead. Maybe they should look at additives (flavoring? caffeine?), or maybe it needs some branding and an advertising push (“Real Water For Real Men”). But I suspect it will take a lot more to persuade people to give up bottled water for purified. And if you can work out how to do that one, youâ€™re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.
— David Hambling
UPDATE: The Water Generation requirement was dropped from the FCS program during the last ORD review - thanks to Douglas Weber for the update.