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The Changing Face of Fuel Management

Many of the products which create a modern standard of living are only the physical incorporations of ideas—not only the ideas of an Edison or a Ford but the ideas of innumerable anonymous people who figure out the design of supermarkets, the location of gasoline stations, and the million mundane things on which our material well-being depends. Societies which have more people carrying out physical acts and fewer people supplying ideas do not have higher standards of living. Quite the contrary.

— Thomas Sowell
American economist,
political writer, and commentator

In October 2005, my unit, the 16th Corps Support Group (CSG), deployed from Hanau, Germany, to Tallil, Iraq, to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 05–07. Our mission included providing fuel from the Cedar fuel farm, a general support (GS) site in our area of responsibility, to other fuel sites in southern Iraq. Effective management of fuel in the Iraqi theater of operations is critical because fuel convoys constitute approximately 70 percent of the vehicular traffic that braves the attack-prone main supply routes. Our mission and location on the battlefield gave us the opportunity to improve the fuel support process. The field commanders would have been even better served if we could have emplaced a vertical fuel support network that built on the existing support. Although we knew of no missions that had failed because of a lack of fuel support, we knew that complacency is calcifying. We needed to do more to improve the direct support (DS) fuel management process.

Fuel Flow

Fuel support through southern Iraq began when the operational Army in Kuwait requested a 14-day supply of fuel from the Defense Logistics Agency’s Defense Energy Support Center. The operation ended when fuel was pushed from the Cedar fuel farm in response to a projected 96-hour fuel requirement generated by the tactical Army. Army fuel supply channels responded very well to this routine. However, emergency surges in fuel requirements sent frantic waves through the support channels.

Each day, the 475th Petroleum Group in Kuwait sent a 4-day nearly static fuel delivery forecast to the Cedar fuel farm. Similarly, the 3d Corps Distribution Center (CDC) provided a 96-hour fuel push directive. The 16th CSG followed up by generating a push matrix that showed local-draw and CDC-directed fuel pushes to other GS and DS fuel sites in the Iraqi theater of operations. The 16th CSG’s daily fuel-support matrix was the basis for fuel-delivery missions by the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contractor, Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), and the tasking of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (BCT) to provide combat patrol platform (CPP) escorts for the fuel convoys. The 16th CSG coordinated all activities in order to ensure responsive fuel support. The Unclassified but Sensitive Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet) was the common, accessible mode of communication among the key players, so coordination relied heavily on email instructions.

Various commands participated in the actual movement of a tanker of fuel in the Iraqi theater of operations. The 48th Infantry BCT provided gun trucks or other CPPs to serve as escort vehicles, the 16th CSG managed the fuel, and the 3d CDC oversaw fuel operations. KBR conducted fuel-site operations and fuel deliveries. The 3d Quartermaster Detachment, a forward-deployed theater petroleum unit from Fort Lee, Virginia, assisted with control at the Cedar fuel farm.

Although unity of effort was not exactly the watchword during much of the operation, the fuel support operations staff came together to accomplish the common goal—supporting the forces. Occasionally, when a mission was cancelled or a backhaul of fuel tankers was delayed because of the unavailability of CPPs, it was difficult to synchronize command and control. Inaccurate fuel-site data sometimes triggered premature fuel resupply to sites that did not need fuel, which held up fuel tankers and increased fuel download time.

Command and control that vertically penetrates the key players’ communication nodes is necessary to achieve unity of effort and effectiveness in DS fuel support. I believe that fuel support would have been better synchronized if the CSG had had operational control of the key players in its area of responsibility.


KBR plays a dominant role in fuel and base support operations, an indication of a shift that needs to be captured doctrinally to assist in phased support planning. KBR is supposed to be augmenting combat service support (CSS) units; however, during OIF 05–07, the reverse was the case. CSS Soldiers increasingly became the augmentation force to KBR. Many units faced the reality that actual mission performance differed from their doctrinally assigned wartime mission.

KBR has helped to reduce the footprint of CSS units by using third-country nationals or sub-contractor employees to do many jobs, which has freed up Soldiers who are sorely needed elsewhere. This practice has been a boon for all involved. The third-country nationals have an opportunity to make better wages than they could make in their home countries. Salaries for U.S. civilians employed by KBR are lucrative; many receive double or triple the income they received before being employed by KBR.

KBR is a force multiplier that also has become the core of fuel operations in the Iraqi theater of operations. During OIF 05–07, a Kuwaiti contractor, Jassim Transport and Stevedoring Company, pushed fuel from the Kuwaiti Oil Refinery to the Cedar fuel farm, and KBR received, operated, dispensed, and distributed the fuel to 13 forward operating bases (FOBs) in the Iraqi theater of operations. KBR used commercial fuel tankers and Government-furnished equipment to deliver the fuel.

Fuel Discrepancies

The KBR-Jassim arrangement worked well while I was there—most of the time. However, Jassim’s 8,000-gallon fuel tankers sometimes arrived at the Cedar fuel farm with a fuel meter reading 1,500 gallons less than the tanker’s capacity. How could that be? Fuel expansion and contraction do not logically account for such a large discrepancy. Perhaps a faulty meter was the culprit. Or perhaps some of the fuel that was seeping out of the tankers was lining the pockets of pilferers.

There are several ways to get a handle on the fuel accountability problem. If a faulty fuel meter is to blame for the discrepancies, it should be replaced with a fuel meter designed to withstand rough terrain, harsh weather conditions, and the rigors of a combat zone. If pilferage is a problem, contracts for fuel delivery should stipulate that payment will be based on the number of gallons of fuel delivered to a destination.

KBR’s fuel tankers, like Jassim’s, have a capacity of 8,000 gallons. The capacity of most Army fuel tankers is 5,000 gallons. This means that it takes two Army fuel tankers to haul the same quantity of fuel moved by one KBR fuel tanker. The Army should consider equipping its petroleum truck companies with 8,000-gallon fuel tankers (or 7,500-gallon M1062 tankers) to reduce the number of trucks needed to transport fuel on the hazardous main supply routes in Iraq. The 5,000-gallon fuel tankers should be used only at the organizational support level.


The enemy exploited the vulnerability of CSS convoys until the emergence of the CPPs and other convoy-protection devices. Fuel convoys hauling fuel from the Cedar fuel farm were composed of tankers, recovery tractors, and accompanying CPPs. The ratio of CPPs to cargo trucks was 1 to 10. That ratio sometimes changed, depending on the prevailing threat level. During line hauls, the CPPs dropped off tankers at their destination and then escorted waiting backhauls on the return trip. The dropped-off tankers downloaded and waited for the arrival of the next CPP for their backhaul trip.

Occasionally, the lengthy waiting time for a returning convoy drew command attention, and CPPs were detailed to the backhaul. The logical question is, “Why didn’t each convoy have dedicated CPPs?” The answer is that there were not enough CPPs to go around. Maybe the Army needs to resource and develop CPP platoons and task-organize fuel tanker companies with CPP platoons. An alternative solution might be to have each CSG exercise operational control of a battalion-sized CPP organization. The 48th BCT, which provided CPPs for convoy missions, was under the operational control of the 3d Corps Support Command and lacked the flexibility to satisfy the 16th CSG’s CPP daily fuel movement requirements. The 16th CSG, like other CSGs, improvised to bridge the CPP support gap by cross-leveling Soldiers from other military occupational specialties to perform the CPP mission.

In Iraq, hauling fuel by road will remain the norm for the foreseeable future, which means that convoys will continue to be targets. Therefore, the time to make changes and incorporate CPP elements into the CSG formation is now.

Fuel Forecast Tool

A locally developed, Excel-based fuel chart served as the 16th CSG’s 96-hour fuel forecasting tool. The forecast was based simply on the sum of the quantity of fuel on hand plus the projected quantity of fuel to be received minus consumption (using the previous quarter’s 96-hour average). The Excel chart was helpful, but its utility diminished over time because of the following factors—

  • The reality of inherent discrepancies in programmed versus actual fuel issues or receipts.
  • A stale quarterly consumption factor that did not reflect recent surges in demand or near-term events.
  • Erratic arrival of fuel on the programmed date because of the unavailability of CPPs, border-crossing issues, or vehicle mechanical problems.
  • Murky procedures for accounting for fuel tankers uploaded at the Cedar fuel farm. KBR tankers uploaded fuel 24 hours before mission date, while the Army tankers uploaded fuel after receiving the mission to keep tankers in ready status.
  • “Missing” tankers. When the Jassim trucks scheduled to transport the Kuwait-to-Cedar fuel push failed to make the mission, they were annotated as “missing” on the Excel chart. Missing tankers had 4 days to complete the mission. After 4 days, another fuel tanker was tasked with transporting the undelivered fuel. The focus of the fuel accounting was on the programmed delivery date, so failed deliveries or follow-up deliveries skewed the accounting for daily fuel receipts.
  • Fuel meter deviation. The standard fuel meter deviation allowed was .005 percent of fuel received, which meant that an overage or shortage of one half of 1 percent of the programmed fuel receipt was within tolerance. However, the actual meter deviation was in the range of plus or minus 19 percent. The impact of the excessive meter deviation was not factored in when tabulating projected fuel receipts.

In effect, the Excel chart was not a very reliable fuel forecasting tool. Good judgment and common sense usually carried the day. The Army sorely needs a system that meshes algorithms to produce desired perspectives, including fuel forecasts and other much-needed data.

Instead of the current 96-hour forecast at the tactical level, perhaps we should mirror the near-term training plan model, which is: A 6-week training forecast, a 4-week lock-in, and weekly validation of requirements. The 96-hour forecast window did not prompt the field commanders to ask the right questions about fuel support nor did it influence the theater fuel stockage in the near term. In a combat zone, the requirements of the tactical Army should be the dominant feeder to the operational Army fuel forecast. Inasmuch as historical records are indispensable in forecasting fuel at operational and strategic levels, the frontline commanders’ desired fuel stockage should drive fuel flow. According to Colonel Victor Maccagnan, the 16th CSG commander, “We are at war, so effectiveness—not economy or efficiency—is the goal.” Nothing took away from that paradigm more than the near-rigid, 96-hour timeline for pushing fuel from the operational Army to the tactical-level DS fuel lines of operations.

Consumption Factor

The use of a quarterly consumption factor was the norm. The problem was that a quarterly figure swallowed the valleys and peaks in fuel consumption. It often predicted fuel demand surges inadequately, and supply fell significantly behind as a result. The monthly consumption factor was preferred to the quarterly consumption factor because the closer the average used was to the current date, the more realistic the forecast would be. The daily floating consumption factor rarely in use was even more accurate, particularly where road conditions and tactical requirements remained fluid as the insurgents’ tactics evolved and influenced the tactics, techniques, and procedures of the coalition forces. A daily floating consumption factor would have been the most realistic and progressive, but it was time-consuming to compute fuel consumption every day.

Different Kind of Support

The coalition forces’ nation-building efforts in Iraq called for unique support, such as providing emergency fuel supplies to the budding Iraqi Security Force’s (ISF’s) base camps. The Soldiers of the 406th Corps Support Battalion, a subordinate unit of the 16th CSG, showed amazing ingenuity when they built a fuel bridge to permit safe fuel transfer to skid-mounted open fuel tankers at the ISF bases. Skid-mounted tankers were used at a few retail fuel points at the forward operating bases (FOBs), which begs the question, “Why not have flatrack-mounted tankers at small fuel DS sites?” I believe that the benefits of using flatracks are undeniable.

Another significant adaptation was the reassignment of Soldiers who would otherwise redeploy when their functions were assumed by KBR employees. A troop-to-task analysis revealed that force-protection and transportation functions were the primary benefactors when fuel Soldiers were displaced by contract personnel. It was not surprising that a lot of the fuel Soldiers were performing jobs that were outside the parameters of their military occupational specialties.

Fuel Stockage

Standards. The 3d CDC used two fuel stockage standards: days of supply (DOS) and percentage of storage capacity. The CDC favored the DOS standard. At the DS level, the fuel stockage objective was 5 DOS—derived by multiplying the consumption factor by five, plus 5 percent of total storage capacity.

The DOS stockage standard did not command much support outside the CDC. Many supported units wanted the CDC to maintain the maximum safe storage capacity of fuel. Maintaining 5 DOS on-hand did not provide enough time to order replenishment shipments. As a matter of fact, there was no reorder point, and the use of just-in-time logistics was riddled with obstacles. The vagaries of weather, sectarian clashes, and minor labor disputes determined the fuel flow to a larger extent than did the dubious tactics of third-country fuel suppliers. Any of these obstacles could send shock waves through the supply system, and the status of the fuel DOS reading would glide from green to amber to red in a matter of a few days. Fuel was crucial to our battlefield mobility, and we undoubtedly would have used up all fuel that was available to us in a short time. The 5 DOS stockage standard was management intensive, and it undermined the field commander’s confidence in fuel sufficiency in the uncertain environment of Iraq.

In a conventional offensive setting, organic fuel lift capability influences the sustainable fuel stockage. But in the Iraqi war of attrition, fuel support is FOB centric, and the FOBs are as secure as a fortress. Other than the risk of receiving bad fuel because of recirculation problems or the possible loss of a fuel farm due to enemy attack, fuel stockage to the maximum safe storage capacity has advantages over the DOS standard. (Recirculating fuel removes water, dirt, and algae before it builds up and poses a threat to equipment.) Maintaining 5 DOS increases the already-high number of convoys on the attack-prone main supply routes.

The goal should be fuel stockage to the maximum safe storage capacity, which should be no less than 15 DOS. Resupply could be done biweekly to reduce the number of fuel convoys on the road. This would mean that more force-protection resources would be available to provide greater security to the reduced number of supply convoys on the road.

DS fuel sites. Questions asked repeatedly by new units when they rotated into an FOB were, “Why can’t there be preconfigured bulk fuel packages for FOBs?” “Why shouldn’t fuel stockage capacity be preconfigured into ‘plug-and-play modules’ to support FOBs?” “How do you determine initial fuel stockage capacity for a unit that will fall in on unidentified equipment when it arrives at the FOB?”

You may be surprised to learn that the initial planning for fuel stockage capacity still hinges on garrison equipment density and its canned consumption factor. Proposed “plug-and-play” DS and GS fuel modules are as follows—

  • DS­Fuel (F) Module (Mod) 1: Less than 100,000 gallons.
  • DS­F Mod 2: More than 100,000 gallons but less than 200,000 gallons.
  • DS­F Mod 3: More than 200,000 gallons but less than 300,000 gallons.
  • DS­F Mod 4: More than 300,000 gallons but less than 400,000 gallons.
  • DS­F Mod 5: More than 400,000 gallons but less than 500,000 gallons.
  • GS­F Mod 1: More than 500,000 gallons but less than 1 million gallons.
  • GS­F Mod 2: More than 1 million gallons but less than 2 million gallons.
  • GS­F Mod 3: More than 2 million gallons but less than 3 million gallons.
  • GS­F Mod 4: More than 3 million gallons but less than 4 million gallons.
  • GS­F Mod 5: More than 4 million gallons.

The observed ratio of fuel storage capacity in Iraq by fuel type was 16 gallons of JP8 to 3 gallons of DF2 to 1 gallon of MOGAS. In predominantly coalition-force FOBs, DF2 took the lion’s share of the storage capacity. The use of reconfigured fuel modules would greatly simplify fuel support planning, a fact that will be obvious when we build up forces, realign forces, or redeploy forces when hostilities subside.


DS supply information systems. Other than the Battle Command Sustainment Support System (BCS3), there were no Standard Army Management Information Systems (STAMIS) dedicated to fuel supply at the organizational and DS levels in Iraq during OIF 05–07. Other classes of supply had recognized the effectiveness of technology in supply management. For example, the Unit Level Logistics System–Ground (ULLS–G) and the Standard Army Retail Supply System (SARSS) are used to manage repair parts. Those dedicated STAMIS are not perfect, but they enhance management capabilities.

In Iraq, the fuel management processes at the organizational and DS levels were literally manual. The Fuels Automated System (FAS) was used only at the GS fuel sites. The need for STAMIS at DS fuel sites is acute. Perhaps a Rapid Fielding Initiative team could visit fuel sites in Iraq to capture and integrate the current fuel accounting essentials into a system that incorporates what we know about other commodity systems. Such efforts would be extremely beneficial in the long run.

Common user communications. The prevailing indifference to the disparities in communications systems between the Army and KBR cannot be ignored. Most of the DS fuel sites in Iraq were under the operational control of KBR. The 16th CSG directed fuel draws, influenced the stockage objective, facilitated fuel distribution, ensured KBR compliance with theater directives, and served as an information conduit for military forces at higher and lower echelons. Communication with KBR representatives was mostly by NIPRNet because Defense Switched Network (DSN) phones, in common use in the Army, were rarely available to KBR fuel site managers. KBR had a commercial phone system. The incompatibility of phone systems meant that it took hours, if not days, to get a response that should have taken minutes with a phone call. Sometimes, the old message runner approach was used to pass needed information.

The time has come for a tactical common access phone system that enhances the partnership between the Army and the LOGCAP contractors. Cell phones would work, but their use at the tactical level is not common. Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone links to KBR elements would be great. (A VoIP phone is a telephone device that looks like a traditional telephone, but, instead of connecting to the traditional telephone system network, it has an Ethernet port that is used to connect to a transmission control protocol/Internet protocol [TCP/IP] computer network.)

Some Department of Defense (DOD) civilians have stateside DSN phones with extensions that are linked to forward-deployed individuals; this may be a consideration for KBR-operated fuel sites. The concept of free download of antivirus software to all DOD employees for their personal computers may facilitate the transmission of common access Army communications with KBR.

Institutional Fuel Lapses

Bulk fuel draw. Allowing any Army unit to stop by a KBR fuel site and obtain bulk fuel with little or no questions asked impairs the ability of the site to forecast requirements, which further destabilizes the fuel management process. Imagine a unit showing up at an ammunition supply point unannounced to pull tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition or an Army unit showing up at a supply support activity to draw repair parts. Such unplanned support, if frequent, can unhinge the ability of the supply site to support programmed requirements. During OIF 05–07, there was no requirement to tie the aggregate monthly fuel draw to a particular unit. The situation was even dicier when coalition forces were configured into the equation. However, I did not witness any negative consequences resulting from violating acquisition cross-servicing agreements.

Bulk fuel issued is assumed to be bulk fuel consumed. A formal list should be drawn up of who can draw bulk fuel at designated fuel support sites. The 16th CSG instituted a number of local remedial actions; among them was a monthly validated draw list for FOBs in its area of responsibility.

Fuel school curriculum. The Petroleum Officers Course, which is taught by the Advanced Petroleum and Water Division of the Army Quartermaster School at Fort Lee, prepares company-grade officers for staff and supervisory petroleum and water operations assignments. Instruction includes joint operations, equipment operation, quality surveillance, and logistics planning. Lessons learned from recent operations are included as scenario-driven examples. The course teaches students “what right looks like.” However, reality places unique constraints or requirements on fuel operations. Because most students will be working in combat zones after completing the course, the course should offer students more thorough training in combat zone fuel operations. When warranted, doctrine should be updated to institutionalize lessons learned, because localized remedial actions are seldom passed along when units rotate out of the combat zone.

The DS management of the fuel flow in southern Iraq is crucial to the mobility of forces there. During OIF 05–07, the combined efforts of the 16th CSG, 3d CDC, 475th Petroleum Group, 48th Infantry BCT, and KBR ensured fuel support despite frequent insurgent attacks on fuel convoys.

Several remedial actions would enhance the effectiveness of DS fuel management in Iraq. Using a monthly rather than quarterly consumption factor would increase the accuracy of fuel forecasts. Field commanders would welcome the replacement of the current 96-hour fuel forecast with their near-term fuel forecasts. Currently, too many fuel convoys have to brave the attack-prone Iraqi main supply routes in order to maintain the 5 DOS stockage objective standard. Implementation of the maximum safe storage capacity of no less than 15 DOS could help to reduce the number of fuel convoys that are sent out.

The Army must use technology to achieve the maximum safe fuel stockage at DS fuel sites in Iraq. Developing and fielding DS fuel STAMIS will alleviate dependence on the current manual processes. Other classes of supply have dedicated STAMIS that enhance management effectiveness—fuel managers must follow their lead.

The use of tactical common access phones to facilitate the support network on the battlefield is overdue. This communications shortfall hinders progress in fuel support operations, particularly as KBR’s role becomes the centerpiece of DS fuel operations. LOGCAP systems must be cross-pollinated with Army systems to improve interoperability.

Finally, all elements responsible for fuel support in a CSG’s area of responsibility should be under the operational control of the CSG. CSG control of the CPP task force would promote unity of effort and increase the effectiveness of support.

These changes in the DS fuel management processes are necessary to optimize fuel support to the fighting forces in Iraq. Business as usual is not acceptable.

Major Vincent C. Nwafor is the S–4 of the 130th Engineer Brigade in Hanau, Germany. When he wrote this article, he was deployed to Iraq, where he served as the Support Operations Officer for the Corps Materiel Management Center, 3d Corps Support Command, and the officer in charge of the Supply Management Division, 16th Corps Support Group. He has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Southern University in New Orleans and a master’s degree in business administration from Southeastern Louisiana University. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College, the Logistics Executive Development Course, the Support Operations Course, and the Petroleum Officers Course.