Shawn Charchan | Technical Director of Energy Solutions
Adam Evans | Principal Operations Research Analyst
Take a deep dive into energy innovation and transformation. CANAers Lauren Dimberg and Kassie McRostie plumb the depths with Adam Evans and Shawn Charchan and talk about the military’s operational energy roadmap and what excites them about the future.
Kassie McRostie (KM): How did you become involved with the Department of the Navy Advanced Energy Research Toolkit (DON AERT) project?
Shawn Charchan (SC): I’ve been privileged to work next to some amazing analysts and the DON energy director is a supportive and trusting client. All I had to do was listen to all of them and this project emerged naturally. Adam Evans was the thought leader here.
Adam Evans (AE): It’s been a winding road for me, from Army sustainment studies to Marine logistics-over-the-shore (LOTS), finally to the DON energy client’s initial interest in Navy tanker sufficiency. We wanted to look at the problem in a different way, and he was happy to support that.
Lauren Dimberg (LD): What is the DON AERT project and how did it come about?
SC: DON AERT is a 50/50 split between building tools and performing analysis to support client questions. It is simply the next stage in a decade-old relationship.
AE: The genesis of AERT lies in the recent energy transformation we see in developments like electric vehicles, solar and wind farms, and advanced battery tech like the power wall. We recognized that the military needs to think differently about the potential of the technology and develop ways to incorporate energy considerations in combat, beyond the fuel-delivery paradigm of traditional energy analysis.
KM: How important is DON AERT to the advancement of energy efficiency?
SC: Efficiency is a term that I am unabashedly opinionated about. When I think about efficiency, I frame it through the lens of being able to more effectively put “steel on target” as our client says. It is a bonus if we reduce environmental impacts, but we are talking about warfare here.
AE: In the early days of the energy efficiency movement, it appeared that efficiency could handicap the mission, so military professionals exhibited skepticism over the prospects of real energy change. Recent developments in energy technology, however, are starting to show that energy efficiency and improved mission performance are becoming more correlated. DON AERT can evidence that correlation, giving power to the importance of energy efficiency.
LD: What does the future look like for DON AERT?
SC: Our government sponsor for this effort is an intellectual powerhouse and very driven. He has contributed to CANA, being viewed as a thought leader within the larger Operational Energy community. The future of AERT is that CANA will continue to build our tools and will not only serve as a thought leader, but will have a set of tools that enable us to provide the most well-developed energy models the Navy or the other services have.
KM: What role has AI played in the Operational Energy community and DON AERT?
SC: We have quite a way to go before we incorporate AI. It can enable us to generate novel ways of using emergent energy-related technologies to operate in new ways. Look up alpha go move 37. To get there we have to be pragmatic and practical, though. We will get there, but these things take time.
LD: What are the energy innovations you’re most excited about? What do you think is going to be a game-changer?
SC: What a great question! How does near-field and far-field wireless power transmission affect a destroyer with a cluster of unmanned air, surface, and subsurface systems? Should power be used for directed energy weapons or Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR)? Where precisely in the Philippine archipelago should a geothermal energy plant be placed?
AE: Coordinated drone operations facilitating logistics, communications hub operations, and smart ISR mapping, not to mention coordinated fires. While the nature of war will remain with us, unmanned systems are changing its conduct. I wonder what humans’ role in managing and coordinating these AI-informed drone swarms will be in the future? Energy advances brought us to this point.
KM: What are the main obstacles the military forces face in using emergent OE technologies?
SC: That’s an easy one to answer: the valley of death, as they say in the acquisition community. Getting from research of a technology to a product being delivered to the fielded forces is always very challenging.
AE: Acquisition is a tough challenge. My personal challenge in this field has always stemmed from data availability. Notional or surrogate data is great to a point, but eventually, you need real representative data to proceed with a study. The military has always been quick with ideas and funding, but slow to back that up with the effort and effective guidance needed to collect, clean, and make relevant data available.