“Wet” Works!

Patrick D. Brown
Test Officer, Force Projection and Watercraft Branch, Warfighter Directorate


USMC Lightweight Water Purification System testing at Petroleum and Water Systems site.

“The wars of the 21st century will be fought over water.” --Ismail Serageldin, Advisory Committee of the World Social Science Report

ATC tests for the ultimate weapon, and the ultimate weapon runs on water.

Clean, potable water is an absolute necessity during wartime. Without it, everything else – both literally and figuratively – dries up. That’s what makes Aberdeen Test Center’s (ATC) Petroleum and Water Systems (PAWS) work so important: the testing of water purification units to provide military personnel with clean, drinkable water for long-term use.

Daily, more than five gallons of water, per person, are required by military personnel for drinking, cooking and cleaning. The convenience and familiarity of bottled water are preferred, but it is both expensive and a logistical burden. During the recent conflict in Afghanistan, the cost of water was more than $5.00 per gallon. Transporting the water created a significant logistical burden and put many lives at risk from ambushes and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on the convoys.

To reduce the risks and logistical issues, the Army purifies water on-site using the Lightweight Water Purifier (LWP) and the Tactical Water Purification System (TWPS). The systems can purify up to 3,000 and 36,000 gallons per day, respectively. Both systems use reverse osmosis technology to produce potable water from fresh, brackish and seawater sources of up to 60,000 mg/liter salinity, almost double the salinity of average seawater. The systems can also purify nuclear, chemical, biological-contaminated water.

Typically, 20- to 30-percent of the water entering the reverse osmosis filters ends up as product water; the rest is discarded as brine. The product water has lower total dissolved solid levels than bottled water. The only downside is convenience, since the product water ends up in a large tank instead of individual bottles.

ATC’s PAWS team tested both of these systems before they were sent to military personnel in the field; more recently, the team tested man-portable units. For the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) and the U.S. Navy, PAWS also tested the Lightweight Water Purification System (LWPS) that is used during wartime and disaster relief. Working alongside the U.S. Army Public Health Command, ATC ensures these systems meet the DOD Tri-Service Water Quality Standards for long-term use (i.e., longer than seven days. In addition to water purifiers, the PAWS team is experienced in testing water pumps as well as water from air, water packaging, water storage and water chilling systems.

The PAWs test site has direct access to the Chesapeake Bay for freshwater testing, and is permitted to withdraw a daily average of 410,000 gallons on an annual basis, with a maximum daily withdrawal of 3,500,000 gallons. Seawater locations are within easy driving distance. Seawater with up to 60,000 mg/liter salinity at temperatures of 32oF to 95oF can also be created to push the reverse osmosis systems to their limits.

Our military personnel are our ultimate weapon, and the ultimate weapon runs on water. ATC continues to prime the pump.