USMC Energy: Extending the Corps’ Reach


A conversation with the Director of the USMC’s Expeditionary Energy Office

Colonel Jim Caley served in a number of logistics leadership roles during the 1990s, including deployments to Somalia and the Republic of Korea. After serving as the Operations Officer and Executive Officer for Brigade Service Support Group-1 at Camp Pendleton, Col. Caley deployed as the Executive Officer of Combat Service Support Group-11 to Kuwait and Iraq. After attending the School of Advanced Warfare and serving again in Korea, in June 2006 Col. Caley became the Commanding Officer, Combat Logistics Battalion 13, and deployed to Iraq with 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He then spent a year at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and was assigned to the Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell on the Joint Staff. In July of 2011, Col. Caley took command of Combat Logistics Regiment 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group at Camp Pendleton. In July of 2013, he was reassigned to Marine Corps headquarters as the Director of Expeditionary Energy.

Interview by DoD P&E Editor George Jagels

DoD P&E: In broad terms, what is the purpose of the Expeditionary Energy Office (E2O)? 

Col. Caley: Our job is to lead the Marine Corps’ energy innovation. The USMC has a great history of innovation—whether it’s the development of amphibious operations or close air support. The Corps has been really good at transforming itself when we needed to. E2O finds really cool innovations that give our forces more operational reach and make our Marines more effective. That may be an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platform that doesn’t take any gas, hybrid power systems that require half the fuel of current versions, or guiding the development of fuel-efficient armored vehicles.

In the past, the focus of our office was to reduce the number of casualties we’re taking in Afghanistan and Iraq, and if you could reduce the number of fuel convoys being sent up Afghanistan’s Sangin Valley, for example, you could reduce the casualties [associated with convoy protection]. Coming out of those two theaters, what we’re doing here at E2O remains extremely relevant.

Sometimes, we are reactive—we know the Marine Corps is going to buy system X, and we need to find out how to make that system more fuel efficient, which is what we’ve done with the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR), [but] our job is to reach out in front of the Marine Corps and try to get ahead. Other times it’s about seeing what technologies industry is developing that can make our Marines more effective on the battlefield, [and we have] to reach out far enough so that we can get this into a system in the future.

We’re finally seeing [that forward thinking] come to fruition today: E2O has worked on hybrid power systems for years. Now we’re seeing those systems become programs of record.

DoD P&E: What are some of E2O’s current focus areas?

Col. Caley: What we focus on today is extending the operational reach of our deployed forces. This doesn’t mean that we are saving gas for its own sake, but rather trying to go further with the amount of fuel we use on the battlefield. For example, if the fuel-efficient MTVR can go between 25 and 40 percent further than current medium tactical vehicles, then that means we can prosecute 40 percent more targets or go 25 percent further with our artillery units.

Improving force readiness in the continental United States (CONUS) [is another focus area]. A unit that uses less fuel in CONUS can go to the field and accomplish more training objectives with that fuel. Fundamentally, it [is a matter of] changing the Marine Corps’ mindset. For example, I was the regimental commander of Combat Logistics Regiment 1 (CLR-1) at Camp Pendleton. About 16 months ago, I was at Twentynine Palms, CA, for a large exercise with the 1st Marine Division and CLR-1. About four hours after the final attack kicked off, I decided to drive up one of the axes of approach … and as I drove up this road there were trucks idling along both sides of the road for between 38 and 45 kilometers. That’s a lot of trucks, [and] I wasn’t really paying attention to it at the time because I was worried about lots of things that one worries about when running a large organization: injuries, positioning, and so forth.

What I would like to move the Marine Corps toward is to think about energy in the same way that we think about ammunition. If you were to approach a Marine in Afghanistan today in the middle of his or her patrol, that Marine would tell you exactly how many rounds they have and how many they can get. Every single Marine out there pays attention to their ammunition, regardless of occupational specialty. We’re trying to change the Marine Corps so that they think about energy that same way.

Frankly, the systems we’ve been procuring since 2001 are more energy intensive than the previous iterations of those systems. And naturally so, because they come with more armor and more firepower. But the point I would make is: As your systems require more energy, you need to make sure that operators—whether of tanks, trucks, helicopters, or F-18s—are paying attention to how that energy is being used so that we can go as far or farther than we did with a previous equivalent asset.

DoD P&E: How does E2O attack USMC energy issues?

Col. Caley: At Experimental Forward Operating Base (ExFOB) demonstrations, we’ve examined new ways to get at the energy problem. This year we looked at warrior power and infantry power systems as well as unmanned systems.

We also integrate in with our force developers at Combat Development and Integration (CD&I), and we work with them on the new weapons systems—such as the new Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) the Marine Corps is buying—to make sure that new weapons systems go further on the fuel that we put into them so that we can prosecute more targets and put more effects on target as we move forward.

And the other piece that we’ve been really focused on in the last year is the behavioral side of it. Marines won’t waste fuel if they are told by someone, “Hey, pay attention to this kind of thing.” In the personal example I gave earlier, [at the time] I wasn’t thinking about wasting that fuel … but no one had focused me on the problem.

Last year, we launched a new effort, the Commander’s Energy Readiness Program (CERP), to get Marines thinking about how much fuel they’re using. During the integrated training exercises (ITX) at Twentynine Palms, we’ve worked to change Marines’ behavior, like stop idling trucks … Whether by unit, military occupational specialty, or warfighting function, we are focusing the Marines on their energy consumption so that they’re paying attention to how far they go on energy.

Take a hybrid car, for example. When you drive a hybrid, you find yourself competing with the energy gauge. In my personal car, which is not a hybrid, I am prone to getting to the freeway on ramp and pressing the gas pedal really hard to get to the speed limit as quickly as possible. I don’t really pay attention [to fuel efficiency]. If a gauge on the dashboard that indicates you’re getting two miles a gallon, you might ease up off the pedal. What we’re trying to do at ITX is show Marines units and battalion commanders where they’re using energy on the battlefield so they can make decisions about energy.Frankly, up to this point they haven’t known.

The other piece we’re focusing on is force development. We have a modeling effort for the 2024 Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which includes the Joint Strike Fighter, ACV, and new systems. We are modeling those forces and equipment so we understand where we’ll be using fuel on the future battlefield and where we can save it. [This will] make sure that the force can attain the greatest operational reach possible with the fire power and force protection that we demand for our Marines.

DoD P&E: Are there any specific systems you’re looking to fund and field in the next couple of years?

Col. Caley: On the fielding side, we are past the experimentation stage on the fuel-efficient MTVR, which the Office of Naval Research (ONR) helped us develop. For a fairly small amount of money and using a number of known technologies, we have made the vehicle between 25 and 40 percent more fuel efficient. I expect the USMC will buy a version of this truck—the most ubiquitous on the battlefield— going forward. The MTVR’s operational reach is the limiting factor for artillery; making the MTVR more fuel efficient makes an artillery unit 25 percent better.

That said, focusing on equipment procurement is not primarily our lane. What we’re trying to focus on is what cool things can be developed.

The MTVR, above, which is a crucial to battlefield mobility, will become much more fuel efficient in coming years. (USMC)

The MTVR, above, which is a crucial to battlefield mobility, will become much more fuel efficient in coming years. (USMC)

DoD P&E: What is the Experimental Forward Operating Base (ExFOB)? Why does your office participate?

Col. Caley: ExFOB is one hundred percent about refining ideas and is a great deal for everyone involved: We get to see the best that industry can provide, and big and small businesses can expose their technology to Marines. Some Marines will look at this and say, “That’s a bad idea.” Or “that’s a really good idea, but only if it had this.” The Marine Austere Patrolling System (MAPS) is a great example. ExFOB [provided a venue to explore integrating] kinetic harvesting into the system to cut down on the disposable batteries Marines carry.

DoD P&E: Please discuss the May 2014 edition of ExFOB and the technologies demonstrated. 

Col. Caley: We brought together as many kinetic energy harvesting systems as we could in an attempt to go forward with a larger version of MAPS. This would harvest the energy Marines are already using on the battlefield in order to lighten their load. This last event, we looked at shoes, knee braces, and backpacks that generated power, and a fantastic aspect of these technologies is you’re getting power for nothing: The Marine still has to walk that far, but some of these technologies also result in the lower energy use by the individual wearing them. So the Marine uses less energy, recharges his radio battery, and does the eight-hour hike he or she would be doing anyway.

DoD P&E: How does a company participate in ExFOB?

Col. Caley: We get the word out on our website, at speaking engagements, and by word of mouth. I go to business conferences throughout the country, such as the Defense Energy Summit and the Asia-Pacific Clean Energy Summit. Industry goes there thinking they might have a product for us, and I tell them where the Marine Corps needs help. That’s my job. [DoD labs] develop great technology, but if we ignore industry we ignore a whole bunch of smart guys trying to develop cool things to solve backpacking problems, for example. Backpackers problems are an awful lot like grunt problems. So why not work with them to help them provide solutions to us as well?

DoD P&E: Is E2O still working on hybrid energy? Are you pursuing energy storage technologies?

Col. Caley: E2O is still working in these areas. We want to take technology that has worked successfully in Afghanistan and try to make it better, not drop it after initial accomplishments. We are helping to fund research with partners to try to improve solar panel efficiency. We’re also working with the Army and other organizations to get better batteries as well.

Regarding storage, part of the hybrid car’s success is the battery. It can shut the engine off because the battery can run the hotel load systems for a limited period of time. If you can store the energy generated through kinetic harvesting or solar panels in a battery, then you suddenly don’t require fuel.

Storage is also essential for ISR. Next year, we’re funding a stud to look at “swarming” unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—when multiple UAVs travel in a pack and communicate to each other where the thermal updrafts in the atmosphere are—to give the Marine Corps a persistent ISR capability. A solar-powered UAV with a good battery can stay up in the air for a pretty long time, but at some point the sun goes down, the battery drains, and the vehicle has to land. At that point we lose the ISR capability. We’re looking at ways to extend the range of UAVs, including high energy density storage and swarming. These types of advances will dramatically extend UAV flight range to the point where we may be able to get “through the night” without burning fuel … I should stress that these are developmental, not something we’re definitely buying.


Colonel Caley discusses UAV swarming technology at ExFOB as a solar-powered drone rests in the foreground. (USMC)

DoD P&E: Are you confident energy issues will remain part of USMC culture?

Col. Caley: We’re the leading edge of the energy tech development that magazines and industry sees, but there are a lot of people in the Marine Corps working on this with us. There’s a slew of Marines and civilians at MARCORSYSCOM and CD&I that we coordinate with to solve problems. There are a whole bunch of civilians across warfighting labs and ONR participating as well. We’re at the point where we guide them and motivate the direction in which we want everyone to move and where we hope we can influence the culture of the Marine Corps to always be thinking about energy.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of DoD Power & Energy magazine.