14 Weird Ways the US Military Is Becoming a Clean, Green Fighting Machine

Solar blankets, hybrid Humvees, and other green projects pushed by armed services—and the mad scientists of DARPA.

Illustration: Frank Stockton

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DARPA

Project Aquaman: The “Materials With Novel Transport Properties” (MANTRA) program seeks to create a 75-gallon-an-hour water desalination plant small enough to fit into a “man-portable backpack system…allowing decentralized water sustainment for increased troop agility and mobility.”
DARPA or Derpa? Pretty realistic, so long as you’re not fighting in a desert. Er…

The Butterfly Effect: Why load up live insects with backpacks that absorb the energy from their fluttering wings? To power the microscopic systems that turn them into “hopping and swimming” drone aircraft. Also under consideration: nuclear-powered cyborg insects and full-size robots powered on the grasses they eat.
DARPA or Derpa? Glenn Greenwald will never look at a mosquito the same way.

Pocket Rockets: Four words: handheld nuclear fusion reactor. What could go wrong?
DARPA or Derpa? Must invent fusion first.

Dirigible Deployment: The Walrus blimp could haul 2 million pounds of gear halfway across the world in about a week—doing the work of 50 C-130 cargo planes. Old is the new new!
DARPA or Derpa? Totally feasible, but sadly scrapped in 2006.
 

ARMY

Hybrid Humvee: “Fuel Efficiency Demonstrator-Alpha” burns 70 percent less fuel than the standard Humvee and is so cool-looking, Michael Bay could have designed it.
DARPA or Derpa? It’s gotten a lot further than the first hybrid tank design (scuttled in 2009).

Night Mission: The Army is testing an “Eco-Enhanced Mattress Unit” made of recycled material that is easily washable and could last four to five times as long as a standard mattress.
DARPA or Derpa? Low-tech but practical as hell. A half million soldiers use a lot of mattresses.

Waste? Not! At New York’s Ft. Drum, one of the Army’s largest bases, animal and plant waste could soon light up the parade grounds, and that’s no crap.
DARPA or Derpa?? If you can power a time-traveling DeLorean on garbage, why not a military base on tree trimmings?
 

AIR FORCE

Eat Your Heart Out, Solyndra: At Nevada’s Nellis AFB, the largest photovoltaic solar array in North America saves $1 million annually, and is equal to taking 185,000 cars off roadways.
DARPA or Derpa? Next up: solar drones?

Legalize the Draft: Surfing Aircraft Vortices for Energy, a.k.a. convoys of heavy aircraft drafting off each other in frighteningly close formations, could SAVE fuel use by 10 percent.
DARPA or Derpa? Autopiloting 290-ton cargo jets seconds away from each other? Eep!

Big Brother in Your Tank: 30,000 vehicles are being outfitted with gas cap rings that track fuel consumption and identify needed maintenance, saving more than a million man-hours needed to check odometers. (Wait, what?!)
DARPA or Derpa? I feel the need for speed…governors?
 

NAVY

Water World: “The US Navy is surrounded by seawater and the Navy needs jet fuel,” a Navy research scientist says. “In seawater you have CO2 and you have hydrogen. The question is how do you convert that into jet fuel?” The search for fuel cells continues.
DARPA or Derpa? Alchemy FTW!

Thar She Blows: The Navy boasts the world’s largest diesel/wind hybrid power plant…in Gitmo. It’s part of a broader initiative to green the prison base, including bicycle MPs and solar-powered floodlights.
DARPA or Derpa? Gray-waterboarding? (Sorry.)

 

MARINES

Experimental Bases (“ExFOBs“): Both the Army and the Marines want self-sufficient, net-energy-zero bases that use hybrid solar generators, solar fridges, and microgrids.
DARPA or Derpa? For the Army, a work in progress. The Marines have ExFOBS in Afghanistan.

Green Grunts: In Afghanistan, Marine bases use “ground renewable expeditionary energy systems” (GREENS), foldable solar panels. On patrol, solar “blankets” power communications gear, cutting 20 pounds of batteries per pack.
DARPA or Derpa? The Marines learned from the pros—at Burning Man.

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We have a considerable $390,000 gap in our online fundraising budget that we have to close by June 30. There is no wiggle room, we've already cut everything we can, and we urgently need more readers to pitch in—especially from this specific blurb you're reading right now.

We'll also be quite transparent and level-headed with you about this.

In "News Never Pays," our fearless CEO, Monika Bauerlein, connects the dots on several concerning media trends that, taken together, expose the fallacy behind the tragic state of journalism right now: That the marketplace will take care of providing the free and independent press citizens in a democracy need, and the Next New Thing to invest millions in will fix the problem. Bottom line: Journalism that serves the people needs the support of the people. That's the Next New Thing.

And it's what MoJo and our community of readers have been doing for 47 years now.

But staying afloat is harder than ever.

In "This Is Not a Crisis. It's The New Normal," we explain, as matter-of-factly as we can, what exactly our finances look like, why this moment is particularly urgent, and how we can best communicate that without screaming OMG PLEASE HELP over and over. We also touch on our history and how our nonprofit model makes Mother Jones different than most of the news out there: Letting us go deep, focus on underreported beats, and bring unique perspectives to the day's news.

You're here for reporting like that, not fundraising, but one cannot exist without the other, and it's vitally important that we hit our intimidating $390,000 number in online donations by June 30.

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