Marine Corps Using Portable Flexible Solar Panels in Afghanistan

The Marine Corps is exploring expanding it’s use of flexible solar panels that fit in a Marine’s pack and recharge batteries, the service’s top combat developer said. The portable solar panels would be modeled after technology that 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, deployed with last year to Sangin, Afghanistan, said Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, deputy commandant for combat development. Known as Solar Portable Alternative Communication Energy Systems, or SPACES, it was used by the unit to cut down on the number of batteries needed and to lighten an infantryman’s load.

No request to the defense industry has been issued, but the general praised the portable solar gear, which consists of flexible panels, input and output cables and adapters, and a box about the size of a video game console.

“That’s exactly the kind of portable solar gear we’re looking for,” Mills told Marine Corps Times during a recent interview in his office here. “We’re pushing it. It’s expeditionary in nature. It’s lightweight and it’s not a burden, and yet it solves the local commander’s biggest problem, which is moving that heavy supply of batteries around the battlefield.”

The system could be one of the first big successes of the Corps’ push to use green technology in combat. The service has tested different kinds of portable solar technology in combat as part of its Experimental Forward Operating Base program, including others that could reduce the amount of fuel needed for electric generators. Less fossil fuel means more safety since there is much less need to resupply batteries.

Mills, the two-star commander of Marine forces in Afghanistan last year, said he was concerned when 3/5 deployed that it would be weighed down by the new gear, but that wasn’t the case.

“One of my guiding principles, having been a commander in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that I don’t want to burden a lot of Marines in the field with science projects,” he said. “They were going into Sangin, my toughest fight. I was concerned that in addition to giving them this very, very difficult tactical mission, we were giving them a whole bunch of time-consuming stuff they’d have to worry about.

“It turned out, I was completely wrong,” he said. “They found portable solar was a combat multiplier.”

Source Marine Corps News By Dan Lamothe