Military Water Supply

Dando Watertec 12.8 Truck Mounted Well Driller (TMWD)

Whilst we all eagerly await the anti-climax that will be PR12 I think it is about time there was a post that was vaguely ISO container related.


Water is essential to life, a blindingly obvious thing to say of course but military operations rely on a constant supply of potable (suitable for drinking) water not only for those personnel involved bu potentially, civilians and prisoners of war also.

In most armed forces the responsibility for supplying this water is rested with engineer units, in the UK’s case, the Royal Engineers.

Water supply is thus a fundamental Sapper task although some equipment can be operated at unit level and is designated all arms.

There is a great document that covers the history of water purification at HVF, click here to read. This includes information on the Water Carriage pack which is versatile plastic container that can be mounted inside Land Rovers and standard lightweight trailers. This allows any GS vehicle to be used for water transport instead of specialist vehicles, as the author says in the document, a logistic masterstroke!

Water supply is part of the wider subject area of military hydrology that also covers the influence of water on mobility, contamination of water sources from by military activity and water as a source of conflict.

Going back many centuries the siting of fortifications would be influenced by the proximity to water supplies, in the 18th Century the provision of fresh water in the London estuary area was carried out primarily to improve the defence of London. Fort Regent in Jersey is a good example where water supply was intimately involved with the siting and defensive strength of a fortification.

Read more here, here and here, fascinating stuff, especially if one is interested in the history of the Royal Engineers. The Palmerstone Forts were mostly provided with their own wells and storage tanks so they could be self-sufficient in water for 14 days.

Our old friend from the Bridging series, General Sir Charles Pasley, introduced the percussion drilling rig for artesian well sinking into the Royal Engineers in 1835.

Individual water consumption is variable depending on many factors but in Afghanistan, as one might imagine, it is very high, 10 litres per day for drinking only in some cases. Vehicles and equipment will also consume considerable quantities of water.  In the Gallipoli campaign in WWI Australian forces had to make do with 1.5L per man per day resulting in obvious hardship. It is also important to understand that in hot environments where sweat loss is high, consuming large volumes of water without salts can also cause problems.

In later conflicts geologists and hydrologists would form an integral, if small, part of military operations. It is not widely known but planning for D Day, particularly the locations and routes, were influenced by water availability, 20 boreholes were ultimately dug in Northern France and Belgium. The Wehrmacht in particular, had a very advanced and developed field geology and hydrology capability that was used to great effect to support operations.


Biological contaminants cause waterborne disease, many of which are debilitating and often fatal, bacteria, worms, protozoa and viruses can all be present in contaminated water. Salts, metals, pesticides, hydrocarbons, plastics and industrial chemicals are other considerations. In a military context, radioactivity and other weapon contaminants are also possible.

The location and source of untreated water will influence the presence or relative concentrations of contaminants.

The standard method of water purification has been to allow particulates to settle as much as possible then filter and then treat to kill any micro-organisms. Desalination in portable units generally uses reverse osmosis to remove the salts in sea water and brackish water.

Natural sedimentation takes too long so additives are used to speed the process up, coagulants and flocculants such as aluminium sulphate, ferric chloride, sodium carbonate and calcium carbonate.

Modern developments in ceramics have produced filtration media that are much more efficient and able to remove smaller particles, down to the micro-organism level, reducing or eliminating the need for chemical treatment.

It is a complex subject!



In Iraq, only 4 boreholes were needed because surface water provided the majority of supply but in Afghanistan more boreholes have been needed. The initial development of Camp Bastion needed local contractors to drill eleven to a depth of over 100m and many FOB’s now have boreholes.

At one stage in operations in Afghanistan over 60% of air freight between Bastion and the Forward Operating Bases (FOB’s) was for bottled water. Given the cost in fuel, maintenance and manpower this was clearly not sustainable and so a number of studies were undertaken to reduce the need for transporting water.

Water is heavy and costly to transport so the centralised production and bottling of water, however efficient it may be.

So in 2008 2 Troop (Drilling) Troop 521 Specialist Team Royal Engineers (Water Development) deployed to Afghanistan with a T60 Drill Light and HE175 Drill Heavy to develop the water infrastructure in 6 Forward Operating Bases. Each drill was manned by a 4 man section with a 4 man HQ section providing coordination and support.

Despite the success of this deployment it was clear that the equipment was not adequate and replacements needed.

The Royal Engineers now operate a small number of new drilling rigs, 5 of. The Dando Watertec 12.8 rigs are carried on the Iveco Trakker 6×6 trucks supplied under the C Vehicle PFI by ALC.

The video below shows a Dando 12.8 on a self-propelled tracked chassis, the version in use by the Royal Engineers is a modified version of this, and of course mounted on a 6×6 truck.

These have been successfully used in Afghanistan where the first unit was trialled; the other 4 units were subsequently modified following a number of lessons learned. 521 STRE will deploy to Afghanistan later this year.

Dando Watertec 12.8 Truck Mounted Well Driller (TMWD)
Dando Watertec 12.8 Truck Mounted Well Driller (TMWD)
Dando Watertec 12.8 Truck Mounted Well Driller (TMWD)
Dando Watertec 12.8 Truck Mounted Well Driller (TMWD)
Dando Watertec 12.8 Truck Mounted Well Driller (TMWD)
Dando Watertec 12.8 Truck Mounted Well Driller (TMWD)
Dando Watertec 12.8 Truck Mounted Well Driller (TMWD)
Dando Watertec 12.8 Truck Mounted Well Driller (TMWD)
Dando Watertec 12.8 Truck Mounted Well Driller (TMWD)
Dando Watertec 12.8 Truck Mounted Well Driller (TMWD)

Officially called the Truck Mounted Well Driller (TMWD) they can drill a 300mm diameter borehole to a depth of 300m or deeper with a narrower borehole diameter and is A400 and C17 air portable, this being one of the major modifications to the off the shelf equipment.

From the ALC description;

The drilling system incorporates various, state of the art integrated units including a mud pump, water/foam pump, a Mosa Electrical Welder/Generator, CAT Hydraulic Power Pack. The drilling rig is also designed to work in conjunction with a drilling mud recycling system called a Mud Puppy, which is transported on a support vehicle

The Dando rigs have now replaced the three Edeco Truck Mounted Well Drills and three Edeco Truck Mounted Site Investigation Drills.

This consolidation has delivered a reduction in spares holding, training and documentation.

Also available is the Comacchio MC450, designated the Drill Rotary EOD, it is designed for soil investigations, core drilling and water well drilling. We have 5 of these as well (ho, ho, no pun intended)

Drill Rotary EOD - Comacchio MC450
Drill Rotary EOD – Comacchio MC450

These have replaced the two Howden T30 drills.

As a tangential subject, water infrastructure is equally as important such irrigation, flood control and longer term geological surveys. The Royal Engineers work with a number of civilian and reserve personnel and organisations, 170 (Infrastructure Support) Engineer Group started Operation Tethys in Afghanistan in 2010 to improve irrigation and water supply in the Helmand Valley.

A good write up on Operation Tethys at the Geological Society, here


At the smallest scale; simple filter straws, Millbank bags, boiling and water purification tablets may be enough but this is not sustainable and highly inefficient.

The Army traditionally relied on centralised water supply, specifically from Royal Engineers units but as technology has progressed, especially with highly efficient filtration membranes a number of systems are now available that push the ability to generate potable water down to sub unit and individual level.

A couple of interesting systems are worth highlighting.

The Seldon Waterbox (available in the UK from BCB International)

The British company Lifesaver Systems have developed a number of interesting and innovative systems. The basic concept of the Lifesaver Bottle (in service) has been extended to fit in a Jerry Can sized system and a man portable system designed to be integrated with existing load carrying backpacks.

There are a number of videos here but I like this TED Talk from the company founder Michael Pritchard.

A Lifesaver Jerrycan can hold 18.5 litres and is good for 20,000 litres before being unusable, read the manual here

Using the same filtration technology, the Hydrocarry is designed to integrate with a standard daysack and a neat trick is that the delivery tube has a nozzle that can also produce a fine mist for cooling.

The principle behind the Lifesaver concept is that water is carried dirty and topped up little and often with purification taking place on demand to avoid recontamination and shelf life issues. It also dramatically reduces resupply transportation needs because an infantry patrol for example, would top up from any convenient river, canal or irrigation ditch. At a small unit level, the Lifesaver systems have a potential transformative impact, saving significant quantities of fuel and reducing the security and logistic overhead associated with water supply.

Another great British manufacturer


The Royal Engineers have a number of Water Purification Units (WPU) and one for use in NBC contaminated environments for deployed units.

The WPU SGU (Small Groups Units) is designed provide water to company sized groups up to 30 days for example.

WPU SGU (Small Groups Units)
WPU SGU (Small Groups Units)

The Stella Meta WPU (NBC) is mounted on a dedicated 2.5 tonne trailer and can provide 164,000 litres per day in a non NBC environment and 45,000 litres per day in one. Different techniques are used for the two environments, reverse osmosis for the NBC environment and Kieselguhr filtration with calcium hypochlorite injection for non NBC environments. Other components include a Gilkes J30 pump, Godwin Model 6 pump, hoses, rubber tanks (S and pillow) and a range of ancillaries.

Stella Meta WPU (NBC) site layout
Stella Meta WPU (NBC) site layout
Stella Meta WPU (NBC)
Stella Meta WPU (NBC)
Stella Meta WPU (NBC)
Stella Meta WPU (NBC)

To provide non-pumped pressure for filling containers the output tank is often elevated using a Cuplock scaffold tower from Advanced Scaffolding that can support a tank carrying 25,00 litres of water. Cuplock towers are also used extensively for defensive works, the ubiquitous Cuplock sangar as shown below

Cuplock Sangar
Cuplock Sangar

In 2010 Stella Meta delivered the first WPU (NBC) simulator to provide cost effective training.


Stella Meta WPU (NBC) simulator
Stella Meta WPU (NBC) simulator


For large operations and especially in a sustained deployment it is likely that some contractor support will be required with suitably large scale equipment. This assumes of course that the civilian water infrastructure is not able to cope or secure enough.

As a result of acute need for water in Iraq in 2003 ACWA delivered five mobile reverse osmosis systems to the British Army as an Urgent Operational Requirement.

ACWA Reverse Osmosis UOR - Iraq 2003
ACWA Reverse Osmosis UOR – Iraq 2003

Each system consisted of two 20 foot ISO containers and the first was delivered in less than 7 weeks with the final one being ready in 10 weeks. The first container carried the pre-treatment and cleaning equipment and the second held the Reverse Osmosis treatment system

The benefit of this equipment was its flexibility and throughput; it could use fresh or sea water and a range of contamination. Depending on the quality of the feed water up to 550 tonnes per day could be produced. If a municipal source was used that had relatively high quality water, the first container could be bypassed and reverse osmosis only used for final treatment.

In Afghanistan, KBR operate a water treatment and bottling plant at Camp Bastion that produces about 40,000 litres per day, enough for all the sites inhabitants and to use for deployed forces.

KBR Bastion Water Plant
KBR Bastion Water Plant

The £11million plant, started production in February 2008,samples the water for contaminants every 20 minutes and produces huge quantities of both potable and palatable water. The water complies with all relevant UK legislation including the Water Supply (Water Quality Regulations) 2000 and Natural Mineral Water, Spring Water and Bottled Water (England) Regulations 2007, just so you know!

KBR Bastion Water Plant
KBR Bastion Water Plant

Samples are also regularly sent to the Institute of Naval Medicine in the UK for additional checking.

The bottles are square to prevent them rolling in vehicle interiors and thicker than commercial bottles to prevent bursting and leakage.

KBR Bastion Water Plant
KBR Bastion Water Plant

The bottles themselves are made from 33g PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) preforms, small pre moulded pieces of plastic that are ‘blown’ to produce the full size bottle using special equipment and hot air. A pallet of pre forms makes 11 pallets of bottles, reducing transport needs.

The equipment used in the treatment and bottling plant was supplied by Karcher Futuretech and uses two WT1600 purification and two WBP700 bottling systems.

Karcher Futuretech WB700 Bottling System
Karcher Futuretech WB700 Bottling System

Pallets are wrapped three times using a Robopac Rotaplat 506 wrapping machine to ensure if the pallets are air dropped they don’t burst open.

Packaging is an interesting subject, no, honest!

Even though using PET preforms is relatively space efficient they still have to be transported and some of that is fresh air.

PET Preforms
PET Preforms

The packaging industry has a number of innovative products that might be utilised to reduce consumable volume.

Flexible plastic bags can be filled and sealed in situ, rather than pre forms this system uses rolls of plastic and as can be appreciated is much more space efficient than bottles. Recipients gain access to the water by tearing the bag or using straws.

Karcher Futuretech produce a transportable bagging system called the WPS 1600 GT, click here for a brochure

Pre printed pouches, made with stiffer materials, with an integral resealable drinking spout could be used;

The external surface could be printed with survival instructions, locations of distribution points, emergency broadcast radio frequencies and other useful information although some of this would need to be overprinted in situ. These occupy more space than bags (in an unfilled state) but are still more space efficient PET pre forms.

Water Packaging - Pouch
Water Packaging – Pouch
Water Packaging - Bag in a Box
Water Packaging – Bag in a Box

Rapak and Scholl are global leaders in packaging solutions and their familiar ‘wine box’ may be a practical addition to the packaging mix.  Scholl have an integrated solution called the JerriBox (no sniggering at the back) and again, pre-printing could be used to disseminate relevant information.

Palletised liquid containers
Palletised liquid containers

Butyl Products in the UKsupply many military and civilian organisations with flexible tanks and storage bladders and there are many similar manufacturers.

A bladder tank could be filled directly whilst loaded on to a flat bed truck and water dispensed from there with a simple tap stand, no pumping at the dispensing point would be needed, gravity would do the job.

Rubberised water tank
Rubberised water tank

If forklift trucks are available then IBC containers become a very practical option. Again, extracting suitable products from the civilian packaging and transportation market allows the prevalent civilian infrastructure to be used.

A sample of manufacturers includes Rapak, Bulk Handling Australia, Fluid Bag, Greiff and Arlington Packaging but what characterises them is a common need for space and cost efficiency, exactly what is needed for this application.


The Water Carriage Pack is a neat solution that allows GS trailers and vehicles to be used for water carriage.

Moving bottled water over large distances is not efficient but sometimes there are no options and bottled water is ideally suited for replenishment in the field, air dropping or helicopter delivery for example.

Palletising the bottles means they can be easily transported using a wide variety of vehicles.

The ubiquitous 20L black polythene jerrycan will be familiar to most but to move bulk fuel and water the Royal Logistics Corps operates a fleet of Oshkosh Close Support Tankers, the water variant can carry 18,000 litres, 57 were purchased as part of the wider programme.

These use the tractor variant of the MTVR truck.

From the Army website;

The Wheeled Tanker is a highly mobile vehicle that is deployed in the Logistic Support Regiments and Transport Regiments and forms the backbone of the British Army’s bulk fuel and water transportation. It has deployed on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and can be fitted with enhanced blast-proof armour for driver and crew protection.

Some more pictures from my good friends at Plain Military;

Close Support Tanker
Close Support Tanker
Close Support Tanker
Close Support Tanker

Hooklift, DROPS style tank containers can be used.

The examples below are in German Army service manufactured by WEW.

Demountable water ISO Container
Demountable water ISO Container
Demountable water ISO Container
Demountable water ISO Container

Rubber compound Pillow Tanks are also commonly used to transport bulk water.


Water supply remains a core Royal Engineer competency although we seem to have made the decision to rely on greater contractor support for sustained and large scale operations.

Materials technology and applying that to water supply is advancing a pace and no doubt novel technologies will be introduced in due course.

Although the large, centralised, purification and bottling plants might offer a great deal of production efficiency, security and a high quality product the sheer logistical effort of getting this to the point of use means that this may only be used in limited circumstances and the more conventional concept of water purification and generation in situ used more often, even if this might involve some of the newer concepts like those from Lifesaver Systems.

As ever, it is a balancing act.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments