A sea going barge anchors in a Saudi port and pumps thousands of gallons of water through long pipes into shoreline storage tanks. From there, truck tanks and helicopters deliver the precious cargo inland to American troops.
That is only one facet of the diverse military effort to provide water for troops in the intense desert heat - where the minimum drinking requirements are four gallons per person per day. Washing, cooking, hospital use and other non-drinking functions increase that average use to 20 gallons per person.
Meeting these needs is a huge and expensive undertaking. The Army and Marine Corps have spent more than $432 million during the past ten years on the problem. Instead of trying to build a high-tech water system for deployment, however, they modified existing commercial equipment for special uses.
In addition to the water barges, the system includes:
- Rigs to drill deep enough into the desert floor to strike water near areas where troops will be located;
- Reverse osmosis water purification units to filter salt from seawater and mud from swamp water;
- Ten-mile lengths of 6” diameter hose to take water from tanks in rear areas to forward outposts;
- Bladder bags that can be filled with water and delivered to remote outposts by helicopter;
- Cooling machines attached to mobile tanks to reduce water temperature from 120 to 60 degrees.
- Bottled water for use while traveling between locations. The old adage that “The Army travels on its stomach” still holds true, but today's Army might add the words “…and canteen.”