Why does the modern US military use plastic bottled water?

Random thought while watching Generation Kill, why does the modern US military use plastic bottled water? It’s not just a thing they do in Hollywood images,of US troops drinking bottled water are pretty common.

Not for any environmental reasons, but why would they use plastic water bottles? They seem like an incredibly inefficient way to transport enough water for 100s of thousands of troops. Surely transporting a water in a big tank would be way more efficient, as opposed than 100s of water bottles?

The same reason you do. It’s cheap, efficient, easily transportable, no wasted space, no prep time, no effort, hard to destroy in transit.

And that one tank is easier to ruin than all those bottles. There are a variety of unsanitary conditions the military finds itself in and all those little caps keep it out for as long as they can.

The containers add weight, but the bottles are ridiculously light. I don’t see them adding much to fuel costs. Also, as mentioned, it’s a lot easier for a water tank to be contaminated, or shot through for that matter.

Maybe so, but then the logistics of getting it to the individual soldiers when and where they needed it would be supremely challenging and/or inefficient.

how would it be harder than getting them food or underwear? The army has logistics experts to deal with that sort of problem, it always has.

Plastic water bottles make that easier to deal with.

A litre of water weighs a kilo regardless whether it’s in its own bottle, or in a big tank. The individual bottles add volume to the water as a cargo (because of packing efficiencies) but not weight.

A 1000 litre tank weighs (empty) about 50kg (cite) - probably a fair bit more than that if you want it for military-grade use, but let’s run with 50kg

That’s 50g of tank for every litre of water.

An individual PET water bottle with a capacity of 1 litre weighs around 35g - so 35kg for the 1000 litre total. Probably back up to 50kg when you add the pallet and wrap - so pretty much a wash, if the 50kg tank figure is not too conservative.

But there are other advantages to individual bottles - they can be handed out very fast - and the shipment of water is not so vulnerable to total loss - if the pallet is pierced by a forklift, or a fast moving piece of metal such as the military sometimes has to deal with, a tank can lose its entire contents - a pallet of bottles may remain mostly intact.

And the food is transported in individual packages, not in tankers of stew.

OK, so say I’m an army quartermaster, and my soldiers are going on a hike (training or exercise, doesn’t matter). I need to give each of fifty soldiers water for the hike. With the current method, I just toss each of them a bottle. If I had a big tank, though, what would I do? Fill up a container for each soldier? Now I’ve got to spend time filling, and I still need the individual containers.

In short, what advantage are you seeing for the big tank? Nobody drinks out of a big tank directly (or if they do, it’s via a very wasteful drinking fountain).

The military puts a lot of emphasis on ease of use rather than cost efficiency that requires fiddling.
When something broke in my helmet, they didn’t fiddle with it before giving it back to me. They just gave me another one. Maybe someone fixed it at some point and it got reused but at that money, they just swapped it. If the military could ship ammo already loaded in magazines without messing up the springs, they would.

Those logistics experts have so much to deal with, especially in wartime, that they strive to simplify operations. With bottled water, you just dump the pack and people grab however many sealed bottles they want whenever they get around to it.

Also keep in mind that even if the cash wage of US military personnel is low, US military labor costs are high. Even if it weren’t for ease of use, it might not make sense in pure financial terms to pay people to use a system that would avoid water bottles.

Add to that, that bottled water is a standard off-the-shelf item. There are many manufacturers, so you can put the contract out to a lot of bidders, and any one of them can supply your order without needing to retool for it. Big tanks are more of a niche item, though, and the military’s consumption of water would probably put a significant dent in the supplies of them, if they did it that way.

The way it used to work is that each squad would send a runner or two with all the squad canteens to fill them up at a ‘water buffalo’, which was a large towable water tank. The canteens and the holders for them were standard issue and attached to your web gear. The water always tasted like shit, and I sure would have preferred bottled water.

We trained out in the woods with big tanks of potable water, and they worked just fine. But in Iraq we got pallets of bottled water instead. The reasons listed in this thread make sense, but I’m fairly certain the decision had just as much to do with distributing pork barrel contracts to Nestle and the like as any prosaic logistical concerns.

This is how the Army worked for 230 years. “Spend time filling”? Soldiers are used to hurrying up and waiting. It’s not like you have to pay them overtime to come in early and fill their canteens. There are far more wastes of time to worry about than time spent filling canteens.

And by the way, even before Iraq most of us were either buying or getting issued camelbacks, which most soldiers preferred to a canteen. In Iraq, a good chunk of time was spent transferring bottled water to a camelback, which eliminates any supposed time savings from the bottles.

Because many times, the military can buy bottled water locally “on the economy” Not so much filling a water tank with potable water from local sources.

Do you imagine that the DoD issues contracts for the purchase of pallets of bottled water? I would assume it just buys pallets of bottled water on the open market.

What makes you think those are two different things? Whenever you’re buying anything many pallets at a time, you’re writing contracts for it, and that’s true whether you’re the DoD or a supermarket.

A water tanker can only carry water. A flatbed truck can carry anything strapped down on shipping pallets, including bottled water.

Why are you “fairly certain?” Do you really think that the O-5 back at CENTCOM is really getting a kickback from the water guy?

I think some one else could look at it the other way:

“There the military is, wasting my money again. Instead of buying bottles of water that they can probably get for $0.25 a piece, they buy a water buffalo for a quarter of a million dollars! And they pay Soldiers to wait around with their thumbs up their ass for half an hour to get the water to boot! I guess only time is money in the civilian world.”