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DARPA: DROP THE WATER, DRINK THE AIR

As much as bullets or body armor, rations or radios, an army needs water to survive -- especially when it's fighting in the blistering heat of an Iraqi summer. But hauling a soldier's daily requirement of three to four gallons of water has become a gargantuan burden to U.S. armed forces. So Darpa, the Pentagon's mad science division, has come up with a plan for thirsty GIs: Cut the amount of the water they're carrying in half, and pluck the rest from out of thin air.Even in the parched Mesopotamian desert, the air holds plenty of water. The trick is getting it out. Machines have been around for years that can cool the air down to the point where water droplets will condense like dew beading on an oak leaf. But they're energy hogs, using almost 650 watt/hours just to get a single quart of H20. The goal of Darpa's Water Harvesting program is to extract that water without using up so much power.That would make a huge difference to troops stationed in the Middle East. "With the temperatures in August soaring well above 125 degrees (Fahrenheit)," writes Chief Warrant Officer Gordon Cimoli, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot who served 10 months in Iraq, " water is life."My Wired News article has details.THERE'S MORE: Several military bloggers who are currently on duty in Iraq (or who served there recently) weighed in for this story."I know myself during July, the hottest month here, I drank about 10 liters a water a day. I got so sick of water I asked family and friends to send Koolaid or lemon-aid drink mix so I stand to drink that much water," says Cpl. Michael Whitney. "If you didn't start drinking water first thing in the morning you would start feeling symptoms of dehydration by 11 am."But for Whitney and his fellow soldiers at Camp Cooke, there's some relief: "a swimming pool that opened up in June, which was a welcome activity for a lot of us wanting to escape the heat of the day."Pools or no, Sgt. Chris Missick notes, "this is an extremely hot region though and hydration is essential, it really can be life or death. Any device that would make it possible to endure less of a burden in transporting liquids and yet enable soldiers to retain the necessary levels of hydration would be invaluable."But Marine reservist Daniel Amster is skeptical. "The last thing I want to do is to carry that amount of weight on me, and depend on it for water, and have the thing not work. If that happens, then the supposed 'gain' of not carrying as much water for the operation is lost because now I do not have enough water.""The Darpa experiment should be tried but in conjunction with present water sources as to not bring the supply down," agrees Spc. Ernesto Haibi, a medic serving in Mosul."We didn't have a tremendous number of heat casualties this summer," observes one blogger currently in Iraq. "[But] the ones we did have were mostly due to soldiers not drinking the water they had, rather than not having enough water. Which just proves the old axiom 'You can give a soldier water but you can't make him drink.'"

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