Typical generator and environmental control unit arrangement for a tent at a contingency base. Cobra Gold, Thailand. 2013
Temporary USMC base camp at Exercise Balikatan is typical of contingency basing. Balikatan, Philippines. 2013

About Contingency Bases

What is an expeditionary base camp?

TROPEC is focused on identifying, assessing, and facilitating the transition of innovations that save energy at expeditionary base camps, also known as contingency bases or forward operating bases, with a particular emphasis on tropical environments (defined as high vegetation, high mean temperature, high average rainfall, and/or high and persistent humidity).  Innovations of interest come from throughout the DOTMLPF-P spectrum. Expeditionary base camps are temporary sites from which military units conduct operations such as humanitarian assistance, disaster response, and expeditionary warfare.  These camps contain all of the necessary equipment to support the well-being of the troops (including provisions for sleeping, feeding, medical care, and hygiene) and the execution of the mission (including security, data processing, communications, and vehicle maintenance).  Generally, an expeditionary base camp might look like a “tent city” with temporary structures and portable equipment powered by portable generators.

No two expeditionary base camps are exactly alike.  They vary in size and can support anywhere from dozens to a few thousand troops.  They vary depending on location, mission they are supporting, and needs of the particular military service and unit.  Smaller bases typically are more austere and have fewer types of energy-consuming equipment.

Here are a few example types of expeditionary base camps and some of their characteristics:

Contingency Bases Table

What are the solution areas of interest for contingency bases?  (Back To Top)

What are the key general consideration for innovations’ applicability at expeditionary base camps?  (Back To Top)

These key considerations include

  1. Modifications to enable use of energy efficiency innovations originally designed for use in permanent buildings at an expeditionary base camp. Modifications may include ruggedization, all-weather operation, compactness, and other improvements.

  2. Approaches to reduce the weight or volume of base camp equipment. Since expeditionary base camps are temporary, the energy required to transport equipment is sometimes more significant than the energy used to operate the equipment, so associated logistical effort is a consideration. In addition, military doctrine is changing to require even greater mobility for troops, which puts even more of a premium on small, lightweight equipment.

  3. Innovations that reduce the amount of fuel that generators have to burn (especially by reducing load on the generators) or reduce the fuel consumed in logistics transport (especially the transport of fuel and water).

  4. Equipment that is highly reliable and easy for troops to operate, maintain, and repair in the field — expeditionary base camps must be self sufficient.

  5. Rugged and robust equipment, that can survive rough use and re-use in field environments.

  6. Equipment that does not introduce new vulnerabilities to the camp, either intended or unintended.

  7. Equipment that integrates well with existing equipment, as well as renewable energy systems, to take advantage of new energy production systems being fielded by the military. Examples include dc-powered devices and equipment that are able to scale their energy use according to the availability of renewable energy or improve the efficiency of the power generator.

What specific equipment is on an expeditionary base camp, and what types of energy saving innovations might be applicable?  (Back To Top)

Although no two expeditionary base camps are alike, some general types of equipment are found on most base camps. The equipment areas delineated below describe current state of equipment on base camps and offer some ideas for energy-efficiency improvements. Non-materiel approaches to achieve energy savings are also of interest to TROPEC.

Shelters and Structures

A variety of temporary structures are found on expeditionary base camps.  Structures are used for life support functions such as sleeping and for mission functions such as operations centers containing electronics.  Tents (soft structures) designed for quick setup are common on base camps.  Shelters typically include wiring for distributing power through the tent and ducts for connection to environmental control systems.

While structures do not consume energy themselves, energy is used to support the functions and operations within the space, including temperature control, lighting, communications, and so forth. Technologies and approaches to reduce the energy required to air-condition structures such as tent insulating liners, tent shades, and alternate shelter types are possible energy-saving innovations.

Heating and Cooling

Space heating and cooling are often the primary energy consumers on an expeditionary base camp.  In tropical environments, air-conditioning is often required to keep temperature and humidity within acceptable ranges for electronics equipment and for people.  Usually heating and cooling devices are combined in an integrated environmental control unit (ECU).  Current ECUs operate on electric power provided by a generator and vary in size from 6,000 Btu/h to 120,000 Btu/h.  The most common systems are sized at 36,000 Btu/h and 60,000 Btu/h, and utilize direct-expansion cooling and electric strip heating.

Structures containing command functions and electronics often have heating and cooling systems but sleeping tents in tropical environments frequently do not employ such systems.  Space heating and cooling is more prevalent at larger base camps and may not be present at some small camps.

Examples of innovations for reducing the energy consumed in the transport and operation of heating and cooling systems include energy-efficient ECUs, lightweight ECUs,variable-speed ECUs, ECUs that can separately control temperature and humidity, control systems for ECUs (based on temperature, humidity, occupancy, etc.), approaches for using “free cooling,” and approaches for reducing the amount of environmental control equipment that is needed.

Computers and Electronics

Computers and electronics support systems include items such as communication networks, radios, servers, and other electronics.  Computer and electronics equipment tend to be co-located in an operations hub.  Smaller camps may contain just a few laptops, while larger camps may contain servers for data processing and communications equipment such as Ethernet switches, in addition to personal computers. Electronics equipment in the operations center may be consolidated into trailer-mounted equipment racks or transit cases for ease of transportation.

Reducing energy required to operate electronics and to provide environmental control for electronics (such as making cooling more efficient or identifying electronic equipment that can operate in a wider range of environmental conditions so compressor-based cooling is not needed) is of interest.


Lighting is required both within shelters and outside.  For shelters, fluorescent or LED light units that can be strung together inside the shelter and connected to power cables are currently common, while flood-lights are used outside.

Efficient lighting, lighting controls, and lighting approaches that reduce the use of fuel to operate lights are of interest to TROPEC.



Power Generators

Satisfying energy requirements at expeditionary base camps is a growing challenge. Many current missions are situated lengthy distances from supply chains and may involve a sustained military presence, all requiring large and prolonged fuel demands.

Improving the efficiency, reliability and flexibility of power generation is imperative to reducing fuel demands, personnel risks, and costs for present and future military missions. Innovations in generator technologies are needed to reduce their fuel demands, size, and weight for greater portability while maintaining a high level of reliability for service across differing power loads.

In addition, new generator technologies that allow the use of various types of fuels, in addition to the standard JP8 fuel, could offer supply chain flexibility or redundancy in the expeditionary environment. Generators with the ability to use a variety of locally sourced fuels could offer significant logistics impact as their benefit multiplies over the supply chain, particularly over long-distance supply chains.


Water is critical to the sustainment of an expeditionary base camp.  At present, water may be purified at the base camp if a water supply is nearby (often using reverse osmosis), or bottled water may be shipped in.  Either way, water is a significant driver of energy consumption and logistics.  Water uses include drinking, showers, latrines, laundry, and cleaning; the smaller the camp, the fewer water-using activities that take place. 

Transporting water is often a fuel-intensive operation; local sourcing, generation, or reuse strategies can offer attractive energy savings. TROPEC is interested in approaches for reducing the energy required for transporting and purifying water, including energy-efficient water purification, on-site water generation, and water re-use systems.

Other Life Support

Other life support functions on an expeditionary base camp may include medical, latrines, showers, kitchen, and laundry.  The scope of these functions varies significantly between base camps and largely depends on the size of the camp (larger camps have more functions). 

TROPEC is interested in approaches for reducing the energy demand for operating other life support functions seen at base camps.

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