Improving Bad Driving Habits Can Lead to Fuel Savings in Military Vehicles

By Eric Beidel
The Defense Department has been putting increased emphasis on fuel efficiency, but officials are finding out that saving on gas can be quite expensive.

The military can’t rely solely on total overhauls of vehicle engines and other expensive technology to save on fuel. These solutions take time and money, which is getting harder to come by inside the Pentagon.

Increasingly, experts are focusing on smaller changes — both to the vehicles and how they are operated. This includes taking a hard look at who is driving them.

In the Marine Corps, the typical driver of a tactical vehicle is between the ages of 19 and 23 and has about the same amount of driving experience as any member of the civilian population at that age. But Marines most likely have not operated anything as heavy and large as a tank, said David Karcher, director of energy systems and counter improvised explosive devices at Marine Corps Systems Command.

The military has the difficult job of teaching young service members how to efficiently drive vehicles such as the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected variety that weigh more than 14 tons. The education has to extend from the steering wheel all way the back down the logistics tail, officials said. Marines are being taught lessons on everything from idling engines to how to properly load equipment to cut down on the number of vehicles needed in convoys and transport. They also must learn about selecting the appropriate equipment for the task at hand, officials said. For example, it would be more appropriate to move 10 cases of field rations using a Humvee rather than an armored vehicle that weighs more than 12 tons.

There are selective hardware changes the services can make here and there short of overhauling an entire vehicle or replacing its engine: low-rolling resistant tires, polished gears in the drive train, improved fuel injector systems and lightweight materials such as aluminum for some components. The Army is putting a Fuel Efficiency Demonstrator through tests at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. Using the Humvee as an example, the Army is trying different approaches and changing out parts on the demonstrator in an attempt to gain a 30-percent increase in fuel economy. Officials have found that every decision matters when seeking more miles per gallon.

“Simple things like tire selection gave us an 8.5-percent increase in our fuel efficiency,” Grace Bochenek, director of Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, said at a “green” government conference last year.

But experts say that good driving is just as important, if not more.

“Technology is a good solution, but the near-term solution is operating more efficiently,” Karcher said. “Driving better is broader and better and faster to get at than buying a new vehicle.”

The reaction on the MRAP is the same whether the fuel pedal is stomped to the floor or just pushed halfway down. However, many Marines flatten the pedal when they drive it, even in training, Karcher said.

“But we’re changing some things to show them how to efficiently drive it,” he said.
Most of what the military needs for fuel efficiency is similar to what is on the commercial market, officials said. The Marine Corps is looking for small improvements that will add up over time.

“There is no Big Bang to get us where we want to go,” Karcher said.

Industry is concentrating on technologies such as intelligent cruise control and driver feedback systems, said Ron Storm, director of military market development at Ricardo, a provider of technology and consulting services that has done extensive work with the Defense Department. Such functions can be made into smartphone applications where an icon changes colors, grows or shrinks based on a driving profile. A handheld or tablet computer can be mounted in a vehicle to tell a driver how they are performing.

“Are they accelerating too fast or are they not? Are they breaking too hard? Getting someone to follow that, well, that’s training,” Storm said. “From my point of view, that’s where I see a lot of quick turnaround happening … It has to be simple and easy and rapidly deployable to make a difference.”

It should be about “where can I make the biggest impact without ‘re-engining’ every Humvee in the fleet? And small changes add up,” Storm said.

“Little things like training a driver make a difference,” he said. “What I don’t know is how the military quantifies it. Because the long-haul trucker, his drive is a little bit different than someone looking for an IED.”

The Marine Corps has not performed any formal driver profile studies, but it is beginning to reach into the commercial sector for ideas. MRAP simulators are being outfitted with feedback mechanisms that tell a driver what kind of fuel mileage he would be getting if he were in the real thing.

Still, the military and commercial sectors remain worlds apart.

The mission profile for tactical vehicles says that they go off road about 70 percent of the time, which has a drastic effect on fuel consumption. Also, military vehicles increasingly have been bogged down with armor to shield them from IEDs. Efforts in fuel efficiency often are simply to counteract the additional pounds that have been added to vehicles over the past decade, experts said.

Technology will continue to advance. In the meantime, the focus is in the driver’s seat.

“The best fuel efficiency to be gained from a vehicle is from a driver who maintains it properly and drives it efficiently,” Karcher said.

Exactly how much fuel can be saved in this manner, though, is another story. That is much harder to pin down, he said.

Topics: Land Forces

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