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The fuel card scheduled to replace coupons for U.S. military customers in Germany next year has passed its first test runs, Army officials said.

If more tests prove successful, the Army can present the results to the German government, which has the final say on whether the fuel card program is allowed to proceed.

Military officials expect to start issuing the pre-paid fuel cards in phases starting in July if things go smoothly. Users would then be able to pay for fuel at Esso stations using the card.

By the end of 2008, all eligible users would have been issued the cards, to be called the AAFES ESSO Fuel Ration Card. Users would be able to “charge up” their personal, prepaid fuel card over the Internet or at certain Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores.

The tests, if they continue to be glitch-free, mark an important benchmark in the yearslong development of the concept and system, according to Dave Mattingly, coordinator of fuel-card development for Installation Management Command Europe.

“It’s critical because you can’t have soldiers having faulty transactions going on at the cashier when several people are waiting in line to pay, and it’s only because our system doesn’t work,” Mattingly said.

It’s also critical, he said, because the German government will not allow the program to move forward until it receives sufficient proof that it will work properly.

There are approximately 1,200 Esso stations in Germany. All of their credit-card readers must be fitted with software so receipts can be printed displaying how much money remains on a fuel card and how much gasoline is left of the 400 liters most vehicles are rationed per month.

Each card would bear the corresponding vehicle’s license-plate number. It would come with two signature strips on the back, so two drivers such as a husband and wife could share it.

A total of 29 requirements are being made by the German government of AAFES, customs units, the military and Esso. Each requirement needs to be proven satisfied in order for the program to be approved, Mattingly said.

The tests run through November. They are being performed at five AAFES gas station on U.S. installations and six Esso stations on the German economy. Participating stations are in Mainz-Castel, Wiesbaden, Kaiserslautern and Ramstein.

The customers testing the system are AAFES employees who would be eligible to use the card, as well as their family members. Family members are being used to check scenarios in which a single card is used by different drivers in the same family.

Mattingly said numerous scenarios have been tested, such as a customer accidentally pumps more fuel than remains on their prepaid card, or tries to pay with a diesel-fuel card after pumping unleaded.

The faulty transactions were successfully denied by the test network system, and required the customer to instead pay the pump price, which in Germany is about twice as much as the U.S.-based prices available to eligible Defense Department customers.

Prepaid fuel would be purchased in dollar amounts, not in liters as it is under the current coupon system. Mattingly said that is to ensure users would pay the current U.S.-based price.

Users would therefore no longer be able to “buy low” in advance when fuel prices were lower, as is currently possible with the coupon system.

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