The Marines are thirsty.
To best meet their hydration needs, Marine Corps Systems Command, MCSC, Combat Support Systems, is weighing readily available commercial technologies to bridge a capability gap in water purification.
That missing link exists between current programs of record at MCSC, the Marine Corps commandant’s agent for acquisition and sustainment of warfighting systems and equipment. The problem affects smaller units, up to 64 Marines.
“A gap has been identified between individual water purification systems and company- or battalion-level purification systems,” said Capt. Dan Hough, project officer for bulk water systems. “The platoon and squad are in limbo.”
One prototype of the small-unit water purifier, or SUWP, underwent testing at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in early May. Master Sgt. Kevin Morris, project officer for Marine Corps water systems at MCSC, was on hand to get user feedback from water support technicians.
“They were all receptive to the gear we’re looking at,” said Morris, whose military occupational specialty is also water support technician.
Marines with different MOSs will provide further user evaluations later this summer, including infantry Marines at the Warfighter Experiment in and around Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, in July.
Morris counts simplicity among the most important qualities of any future SUWP for that very reason.
“Most of the guys who could end up using this purifier won’t be trained in water purification or maintenance on systems like these,” he said. “So, everything has to be easy to use and maintain.”Hough and Morris are also aiming to keep the weight of the system low and its energy efficiency high.
“We’re talking about helping smaller units be more self-efficient,” Morris said. “It has to be light so small units can throw it in the back of a truck … and the more energy-efficient it is, the longer the system can run.”
According to Hough, smaller units have relied on bottled water on resupply convoys recently. But that solution creates another problem: a higher volume of resupply convoys needed to deliver water. More convoys mean greater fuel consumption, exposure to ambushes and improvised explosive devices along resupply routes, and more costly bottled water.
“We’ve fought with bottled water for the last 10 years,” Hough said. “The current aim is … to go back to being able to purify water and use the canteen and Camelbak you’re issued.”
The military guidelines for drinking water point to logistical problems drinking bottled water creates. Those guidelines also set the standards for water purification for measurables like pH, turbidity and the amount of impurities in the water.
To live up to these standards, the SUWP will likely use reverse osmosis after several filters to purify fresh, brackish and salt water.
“We’re looking to the future,” Hough said. “We operate from the sea, and we’re going to push forward with the understanding that we’re going to operate around saltwater sources. We don’t want to limit ourselves in what we can do with water purification.”