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Fueling the Force at the JRTC

Fueling the force challenges many of the rotational units at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana, as they conduct operations on Cortina, the mythical island on which units at the JRTC fight. If not done correctly, fueling can severely distract the forward support battalion support operations officer and the brigade combat team S–4 and can consume most of their time, adversely affecting their ability to complete other mission-related tasks. The fuel challenge begins before the unit enters the training area and continues until the end of the rotation. A JRTC rotation is therefore an excellent training opportunity for the brigade combat team (BCT) fuel supply specialists—one not always available at the home station.

Fuel Forecast

Each unit must establish a fuel account and submit a fuel forecast during the planning phase of its JRTC rotation. To open a fuel account, the unit must provide the Fort Polk Directorate of Logistics (DOL) with an accounting processing code (APC), a Department of Defense activity address code (DODAAC), a signature card, and assumption of command orders.

The unit must submit its fuel forecast to the JRTC G–4 planner and to the DOL planner by D–60 (60 days before the operation begins). This forecast must include the needs of the BCT, the exercise support group (ESG), the logistics task force (LTF), the medical task force, any attached mechanized elements, and the aviation task force (AVN TF). The forecast must include a day-by-day total of the unit’s fuel needs, starting with its first fuel draw and ending with its final draw before departing for home station. When forecasting the first fuel requirements, the unit must consider how its equipment will be transported to the JRTC—by rail, line haul, barge, or convoy. Unit logisticians must carefully coordinate with the AVN TF to estimate the number of hours the AVN TF will fly before entering the training area. Failure to anticipate these AVN TF fuel requirements can result in the consumption of thousands of gallons of unforecasted fuel.

Most units headed for the JRTC have historical data on the amount of fuel that their type of brigade has used during previous rotations. A unit that does not have such data on record can contact the JRTC Plans Division and Exercise Maneuver Control Logistics Plans Office for help in obtaining historical data from previous rotations. A review of the historical data is a good starting point for forecasting fuel needs. Once a unit receives the operation order from its higher headquarters, it can adjust its requirements on the logistics estimate.

The BCT must adjust its fuel forecast as the situation changes. Since Fort Polk’s DOL keeps a limited amount of bulk class III on hand, units must notify DOL of changes to the forecast to allow DOL time to order additional fuel or decrease the amount ordered from the contractor. Failure to adjust the fuel forecast is a systemic problem that often occurs within a rotation. This problem may develop if the AVN TF is not monitored and synchronized. After several days of limited or no flying because of vehicle maintenance, safety down days, or adverse weather, a unit must adjust its fuel forecast with the ESG class III manager, who then will adjust it with the DOL. The need to adjust the fuel forecast should be stressed at logistics synchronization meetings.

At the end of the rotation, a unit must carefully balance fuel requirements against its on-hand stocks to ensure it is not left with thousands of gallons of excess fuel when it leaves Fort Polk.


Required Testing

Units must test their fuel filters before deploying into the training area. Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, will conduct these tests free of charge. At the D–90 logistics meeting between unit and JRTC representatives, the rotational unit will sign a memorandum of agreement with Barksdale Air Force Base to conduct the tests, which will include analyzing fuel samples from the ESG, LTF, AVN TF tankers, and forward support battalion (FSB). Test results on fuel samples delivered by 0700 will be available by 1300. The unit must submit a copy of the test results to the JRTC Plans Division and Exercise Maneuver Control Logistics Plans Office.

Fuel Types

All fuel available from Fort Polk’s South Fort class III (bulk) storage point is JP8, which is certified for use in Army rotary-wing aircraft. Although most of the fuel used by units during a rotation will be JP8, a limited supply of gasoline or diesel fuel may be required. The needed quantities will depend on the type of equipment the unit deploys, such as generators, unmanned aerial vehicles, refrigerated vans, M-Gators, or commercial equipment. Once the fuel estimate is developed for these items, the unit must coordinate with the LTF or ESG to establish how the fuel will be delivered and in what type of container. This may become a challenge for units, particularly when the resupply must be accomplished aerially.

Proper planning and
coordination of fuel operations is key to the success of a
JRTC operation.

Delivery Means

By D–3, the BCT must submit its fuel resupply plan to the 21st Infantry Division G–4. This plan must show the requested delivery times, dates, and locations. Bulk fuel will be delivered to the BCT by truck from the LTF, by AVN TF rotary-wing slingload operations, or by Air Force fixed-wing flights. [The 21st Infantry Division is the fictional division that the BCT falls under during a rotation. It is made up of the Plans and Exercise Maneuver Control element of the JRTC Operations Group.]

Truck delivery will be used when the ground lines of communication (GLOCs) are open. When they are closed, bulk fuel will be delivered to the FSB by Air Force fixed-wing C–130 or C–17 aircraft to one of the JRTC’s operational flight landing strips (FLSs). During the initial flow into the maneuver area, the BCT will receive a predetermined number of C–130 or C–17 sorties. In the past, units have used some of these sorties to deliver fuel blivets with the forward area refuel equipment.

Units must plan their fixed-wing fuel deliveries to be conducted by one of two methods—the Aerial Bulk Fuel Delivery System (ABFDS, or “bladder bird”) or the wet-wing method. When the ABFDS is used, the bladders for the system are loaded into the cargo space of an aircraft. During this operation, no other cargo can be transported by the aircraft. Units should plan for the first bladder bird—on a fixed-wing aircraft or a replicated aircraft—to arrive on D+1. (A replicated aircraft is a fuel tanker from either the LTF or the ESG that is escorted by observer-controllers to the FLS.)

Based on the BCT fuel resupply plan, either the LTF or the ESG transports the fuel from Fort Polk to the aircraft staging airfield at the intermediate staging base in Alexandria, Louisiana, where it is transloaded into the ABFDS. The loaded aircraft then fly to the BCT area of operations, where the rotational unit has 20 minutes to download the 2,200 gallons of fuel from each aircraft. Once the fuel is downloaded, observer-controllers escort the tanker out of the area of operations. Units can expect two actual bladder bird missions per rotation. The remaining missions will be conducted using replicated aircraft until the GLOCs are open. No special equipment is required for the FSB or AVN TF to download the fuel when using the ABFDS.

The wet-wing defuel operation is another method for delivering fuel to a forward area when the GLOCs are not open for convoy operations. During this operation, fuel is transferred from C–130 or C–17 fuel tanks into the rotational unit’s tankers. The amount of fuel that can be transferred depends on several factors, including the amount of fuel in the aircraft when it lands, the plane’s follow-on mission, and the distance the plane will have to travel to refuel.

The advantage of wet-wing defueling is that additional cargo can be placed in the cargo space of the aircraft. During a May 2003 JRTC rotation, a C–130 that arrived with replacement personnel for the BCT conducted the wet-wing operation and left carrying casualties out of the BCT’s area of operations. For many years, wet-wing operations were conducted primarily by Special Operations Forces; but, with recent requirements to move fuel forward without GLOCs, conventional forces have begun to use this method of fuel delivery.

The Petroleum and Water Department of the Army Quartermaster Center and School at Fort Lee, Virginia, published the “Joint Petroleum Logistics Planning Guide” that provides excellent information on the layouts and equipment required to conduct a wet-wing operation. Units planning wet-wing operations at the JRTC should practice conducting them beforehand.

If this is not possible, they should discuss the operation with airlift planners from the Air Mobility Warfare Center at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. These airlift planners arrange the airlift operations conducted during JRTC rotations and are a good source of information on how to arrange this type of training.


Fuel Synchronization

The BCT must address and synchronize fuel requirements at the daily logistics synchronization meeting. Needed adjustments to the fuel resupply plan must then be made with the 21st Infantry Division G–4 so that he can adjust the requirements he sends to the LTF. When the BCT does not know exactly how much fuel is on hand at the FSB, it may draw only a fraction of what was requested from the LTF tankers when they arrive at the FLS or brigade support area (BSA).

Synchronization is also an issue when the fuel tankers of the FSB leave the BSA to refuel elements of the BCT. If the fuel resupply is not synchronized, fuel may arrive from the LTF when the FSB tankers are not available to transfer it. This causes the backhaul of thousands of gallons of fuel by the LTF tankers, places a valuable asset at risk of enemy contact, and wastes assets needed to support other brigades that actually need the fuel.

Assuming positive control of fuel resupply is another area units must plan for in the daily synchronization meeting. The fuel resupply that arrives at the FLS at 0600 on D+3 may be intended for the AVN TF. However, if fuel resupply is not coordinated correctly, it becomes a first-come, first-served operation. For example, the S–4 and the support operations officer may think that the AVN TF received their fuel resupply when the fuel tankers of the heavy task force actually received the fuel. The bottom line is that the support operations officer should be the single point of contact, and all requirements should go through the Support Operations Section.

LTF Roles and Responsibilities

The LTF that deploys to the JRTC in support of the BCT is responsible for delivering bulk fuel to the brigade and supporting the medical task force. Before it deploys, the LTF must know what is expected of it and what equipment it will need to support the BCT. The LTF, BCT S–4, and FSB support operations officer must discuss this subject before they arrive at the JRTC. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) Regulation 350–50–2, Training at the JRTC, authorizes the LTF to deploy with a petroleum, oils, and lubricants (POL) truck platoon. The success of the operation depends on units deploying with the equipment authorized for this function. The pre-positioned equipment fleet at the JRTC offers tank pump units and M967 tankers but no M978 or M969 tankers.

Units should continue to take advantage of the multiple training opportunities in fuel operations that become available during a rotation. If a unit has specific training objectives in mind, such as setting up and operating their fuel system supply point or providing multiple wet-wing opportunities, it should address them with the JRTC Plans Division at the D–210 logistics meeting between unit and JRTC representatives. This will give both the rotational unit and the JRTC Operations Group time to fit the training objective into the rotation.

Proper planning and coordination of fuel operations is key to the success of a JRTC rotation. Starting early in the planning process and keeping fuel requirements updated and synchronized throughout the exercise will help ensure that the BCT has the fuel it needs when it needs it. Ensuring that the BCT is fully fueled for the fight will remain an important aspect of the logistics battle, whether the unit is at the JRTC or deployed in support of an actual combat operation. ALOG

Major Stephen R. Davis is the Senior Support Operations Officer Observer-Controller at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He has a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Vermont and is a graduate of the Chemical Officer Basic Course, the Quartermaster Transition Course, the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, the Support Operations Course, and the Command and General Staff Officer Course.

Captain Peter J. Crandall is the Senior Supply Company Observer-Controller at the JRTC at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, and the Combined Arms and Services Staff School.