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Taking Oil Analysis to Southwest Asia

Oil analysis can improve equipment performance and save funds. Mobile laboratories allow the Army to bring this valuable capability to the field.

Since Operation Bright Star in Egypt in 1987, the Army Oil Analysis Program (AOAP) has responded to warfighters’ needs by deploying mobile laboratories. AOAP’s mobile laboratories provide continuous regional support for all deployed units and equipment in tactical environments.

As soon as the Logistics Support Activity’s (LOGSA’s) AOAP Program Management Office (PMO) at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is notified that a new laboratory is needed to support a contingency, the staff immediately gets to work. The labs are deployed on a very short timeline, leaving no room for mistakes. The most recent lab deployment—the deployment of a mobile containerized facility to Camp Marmal in northern Afghanistan last summer—provides a good example of how the AOAP PMO responds quickly and innovatively to support the Army’s needs in the field.

What Is Oil Analysis?
Oil analysis is the sampling and analysis of oil for various properties and materials that indicate wear or contamination in an engine, transmission, or hydraulic system. Sampling and analyzing on a regular basis establishes a baseline of normal wear and can indicate when abnormal wear or contamination occurs.

The AOAP was established and implemented by the Department of the Army to monitor component wear and the condition of oil. A detailed analysis of engine, transmission, and hydraulic oils enables the warfighter to avoid potential problems that may result in major repairs and equipment downtime. Oil analysis can reduce the frequency of oil changes and the consumption of oil, producing cost savings for tactical units and promoting conservation of lubrication products.

Performing oil analysis becomes even more critical in the desert environment, where equipment is exposed to much harsher operating conditions and increased operating tempo. The oil analysis, which is performed by certified evaluators, identifies if the drive systems are contaminated with sand or any other elements in the oil that will cause excessive wear on their internal parts.

Laboratories in Southwest Asia
The AOAP PMO supports the operation of 22 oil analysis laboratories around the globe. Five of these labs are currently operating in Southwest Asia supporting Operation New Dawn in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan. These laboratories are located at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait; Balad, Iraq; and Bagram, Kandahar, and Camp Marmal, Afghanistan. One lab, operating at Tikrit, Iraq, was deactivated on 30 October 2010 to align with Army drawdown operations in Iraq.

During the early phase of current Southwest Asia operations, oil analysis support was provided by two mobile laboratories configured inside M971 semitrailer vans deployed to the theater. As operations continued, the number of laboratories was increased to five fixed facilities in addition to two mobile units. The latest of these laboratories, at Camp Marmal, was stood up in August 2010 in response to “OEF Plus-up III” requirements.

Supporting Oil Analysis Operations
The oil analysis laboratories in Southwest Asia analyze more than 113,000 Army aviation and combat equipment fluid samples annually. Ensuring that the labs are operating at peak efficiency is critical and is the top priority of the AOAP PMO. The Southwest Asia laboratory site leader collects the readiness status for each lab and provides it to the AOAP PMO field operations staff daily. Major emphasis is placed on ensuring that the labs’ diagnostic equipment is well maintained and repaired quickly in the event of a malfunction.

The PMO ensures that the labs are resourced and stocked with enough laboratory supplies to maintain operations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Each analytical instrument operating in the laboratory requires chemicals and consumable items to run the required tests. The challenge is to ensure the continuous availability of these items.

The AOAP PMO has an established and efficient process for getting large quantities of lab supplies shipped out. For example, more than 2,500 items were shipped from Redstone Arsenal during a recent 60-day period. To accomplish this, the PMO relied heavily on the responsiveness of Redstone Arsenal’s supply and distribution and transportation organizations to process the AOAP shipments.

Working with these organizations, the PMO was the first at Redstone to implement radio frequency identification tag technology to track its shipments of supplies and equipment. The managers and team members working in these organizations understand the importance of getting AOAP shipments on the ground in Southwest Asia as quickly as possible and are very supportive of the AOAP mission.

Deploying the New Laboratory
The deployment of the new lab at Camp Marmal demonstrated once again the challenges of deploying a mobile laboratory to bring oil analysis to a theater and the AOAP PMO’s success in meeting the warfighter’s needs.

The process began when the commander of the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade in northern Afghanistan provided advance notice of the need for a new laboratory to support aviation and ground combat equipment analysis requirements for the OEF Plus-Up III buildup. The two AOAP labs that were already operating in Afghanistan could not meet this requirement because the mountainous terrain made it difficult for the brigade to reach them. The Army Materiel Command execution order required the new lab to be in place and fully operational no later than 30 August 2010.

The PMO’s first step was to determine the most expeditious and efficient approach to meet the requirement. The PMO worked with the Army Aviation and Missile Command, the National Guard Bureau theater aviation maintenance program, the Navy mobile facility program manager, and the Prototype Integration Facility at Redstone Arsenal to obtain and prepare a mobile containerized facility for deployment.

Getting a virtual “turn key” laboratory to meet the urgent lab requirement was a viable solution. Mobile containers were already configured to meet electrical power and environmental requirements and only needed the installation of analytical equipment and information technology interface wiring. Once the facilities were delivered on 15 July, all internal modifications were completed, diagnostics equipment was installed and tested, operating supplies were procured, and the lab was packed up and made ready for air transport to Southwest Asia.

The laboratory was picked up by a commercial air carrier on 9 August and arrived at Camp Marmal on 15 August. An AOAP fielding team also deployed in conjunction with the lab’s shipment. Soldiers from the 401st Army Field Support Brigade and the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade assisted the fielding team in standing up the lab at the Camp Marmal site. The new laboratory was operational and analyzing samples on 30 August. This was a great team effort, considering that the laboratory was procured, retrofitted for the AOAP mission, fully tested, shipped from the continental United States, and stood up in Afghanistan to successfully meet the Army’s execution order fielding date.

In addition to meeting the commander’s urgent need for a new laboratory in Afghanistan, the PMO discovered another very flexible, mobile, deployable option that can be used to satisfy future oil analysis operational needs. Today, the lab is meeting 100 percent of the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade commander’s oil sampling requirements and providing brigade personnel confidence in their equipment’s ability to successfully accomplish assigned missions.

“Our team is very experienced,” explains Joe Sanchez, LOGSA’s AOAP program manager. “However, it always requires an exceptional amount of team work and a very intense level of effort to prepare and deploy these mobile labs around the globe to support our military operations.” With nine successful global deployments of mobile laboratories over the past 23 years, including the Camp Marmal deployment, the AOAP PMO has established a solid track record for supporting warfighters’ needs.

Jackie E. Carney is an Army Oil Analysis Program specialist at the AOAP Program Management Office at the Logistics Support Activity at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.



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