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Stringent New Rules Keep U.S. Military From Buying Fuel Guzzlers
By Sandra I. Erwin

The war in Afghanistan threw into sharp relief the consequences of the U.S. military’s heavy reliance on liquid fuels. With that vulnerability exposed, fuel convoys became the enemies’ preferred target, and forced the Pentagon to expend extraordinary resources to protect supply routes.

Those lessons in mind, the Pentagon in 2011 launched a comprehensive “energy security” strategy to encourage fuel efficiency across all military activities.

With the end of heavy fighting in sight, military energy experts worry about a return to the pre-war culture where fuel is plentiful and relatively cheap.

The Pentagon’s energy office, meanwhile, is determined to keep all branches of the military motivated to make energy efficiency part of their day-to-day business.

One way to ensure less fuel is consumed in the future is to restrict purchases of fuel-hogging equipment. During the past decade of war, commanders in the field specifically asked for fuel-efficient vehicles and generators. But the Pentagon’s traditional procurement system has not necessarily considered the “fully burdened cost of energy” in the design or acquisition of new equipment.

FBCE is Pentagon-speak for the cost of not just buying fuel but also of transporting it to the battlefield and protecting it from enemy attacks.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs Sharon Burke unveiled in July an updated FBCE policy that applies to all new Pentagon acquisitions of weapon systems that demand fuel or electric power.

“The policy provides a common framework for calculating costs associated with moving and protecting fuel, to help inform the design process for tomorrow's military equipment,” Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan said in a statement.

The updated FBCE guidance is “meant to give acquisition decision makers insights about the energy performance of various system design choices,” Morgan said. “The military services will use that information to better understand the tradeoffs associated with high energy use in operations, and ultimately give our forces better, more sustainable capabilities in combat.”

Despite the war experience, the culture of military procurement tends to emphasize performance and sticker price over other considerations such as energy use. It will be a challenge for Burke’s office to institutionalize the FBCE guidance, at least until the military services change their doctrine and the way they write “requirements” for new weapon systems, said Dan Nolan, a 26-year Army veteran and former advisor to the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force.

The sense of urgency from war operations gradually is eroding, and this could make it tougher to bring energy efficiency into mainstream Defense Department procurement, Nolan said. “When DoD was engaged in the heat of battle, rapid equipping (not acquisition) was used to rush new technology into the field.” The traditional acquisition model still has to adapt, he said. This could take time, but it will happen, Dolan predicted. “The wheel grinds slowly, but exceedingly fine.”

In the near term, the concept of FBCE faces resistance, Nolan said. “The services [especially the Air Force and the Marine Corps] do not appear to be convinced,” he said. “The argument appears to be that cost, performance and schedule are the drivers in the acquisition world and efficiency does not rank high enough to warrant consideration.”

Similar concerns emerged from an August 2012 energy security conference hosted by the National Defense University. According to an NDU report written by conference participants, “Among the biggest hurdles to effective use of energy innovations are the bureaucratic snags which slow down forward progress.”

The Defense Department has made “significant progress in terms of considering energy in acquisitions, but the processes associated with design, testing, budget and acquisition are complex and painfully slow,” the report said. A significant obstacle to reducing fuel use is that buyers focus on the upfront cost of a weapon system more so than on the long-term energy costs that accrue over decades. “Although lifecycle cost analysis must consider energy, it is difficult to predict future energy prices or the full burden of efforts required to supply that energy,” the NDU report said. “Moreover, as budgets shrink to peacetime levels, pressure will grow to minimize ‘per item’ prices in acquisition.”

The Pentagon’s energy office recognizes that change will not happen overnight.

Burke expects “wider implementation in the acquisition process in the months and years ahead,” said Morgan. “As an advisor to the Defense Acquisition Board, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs participates in OSD [office of the secretary of defense] oversight of major defense acquisition programs and is working collaboratively across the department to ensure the proper consideration of energy and energy delivery as both an enabler and a liability in operations.”

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, additionally, introduced a mandatory “energy key performance parameter” to the military procurement manual in January 2012. “The KPP informs the requirements process by adding consideration of threats and limits on fuel resupply to the weight, power plant efficiency, electric power demands, thermal management and signature” of weapon systems, Morgan said.

Both the KPP and FBCE policies, she said, should “inform energy smart design decisions for our future planes, ships and combat vehicles.”

Air Force spokeswoman Tonya A. Racasner said the service already has followed FBCE guidelines in recent major procurements such as the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker and the Space Surveillance System. In the latter, she said, the radar will be an energy-efficient design. “The Air Force is working to incorporate a common methodology of calculating scenario-specific fully burdened cost of energy."

Photo Credit: Air Force


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