Joint Chiefs Chairman Lends Support to DoD Energy-Saving Program
The nation’s top military officer threw his weight behind the Pentagon’s energy-saving efforts, and vowed to support Defense Department plans to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
“We know fundamentally that saving energy saves lives,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, said Oct. 18 at aPentagon forum.
“Improving our energy security directly translates into improving our national security,” said Dempsey.
Dempsey couched the military’s energy problem as one that disproportionately affects troops at war who are fighting in remote areas of Afghanistan far off the grid, for months on end.
Troops require a lot of energy to survive in combat, Dempsey said. In World War II, a soldier only needed a gallon of fuel per day. Today, it’s 22 gallons. An infantry platoon of about 30 soldiers for a 72-hour mission carries 400 pounds of batteries.
“We need to lighten the energy load,” said Dempsey.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Brooks L. Bash, director for logistics on the Joint Staff, has been assigned as Dempsey's point man for energy issues. A study that the Joint Staff is overseeing about the future of the U.S. military, called “Joint Force 2020,” will include “energy efficiency and energy availability” as an item that must be considered in defense strategy, Dempsey said. He added that he would support “investment in energy and technology” that help to “increase capability” and, if possible, can save money, too.
The Defense Department spends about $15 billion a year on energy — a pittance in the context of a nearly $700 billion annual budget. But more than the financial cost, the Pentagon is concerned with the price that is paid in lives. Fuel supplies bound for U.S. bases in Afghanistan are under constant threat of roadside bombs. Securing roads to ensure fuel trucks can arrive at combat outposts has become a huge drain on commanders who must provide troops and equipment for resupply missions that usually would be considered non-combat logistics efforts.
Over the past year, discussions of energy problems in the “tactical edge” have gained a sense of urgency, said Army Col. Peter Newell, director of the Rapid Equipping Force. The REF is an Army organization that was created to acquire and deliver equipment to deployed forces outside the traditional, and usually slow, military procurement process.
“The challenges of delivering water and fuel are the hardest,” Newell said at the Pentagon forum. “And the burden falls on the soldiers themselves.” The same soldiers who are there to fight Taliban insurgents also have to help secure the supply routes so they can receive fuel and water, Newell said. “In many cases delivering those resources to those units comes at the detriment of force protection and operations.”
Newell recently returned from Afghanistan, where he visited seven different combat brigades. Almost every unit commander and command sergeant major mentioned “sustainment” as a serious problem, he said. One company, for instance, was located 10 hours away from the nearest supply base. That meant that for 10 hours, soldiers would have to clear and secure the road so the supply truck can get to them, Newell said. “That takes quite a bit of combat power.” One outpost Newell visited is populated by 14 soldiers who rotate on seven to 10-day cycles. Although their energy needs were minimal — just enough power for their radios, sensors and basic hygiene — they were desperate enough that they managed to carry a 5-kilowatt generator to the top of the mountain. To their chagrin, they found out it didn’t work. Most of the time, these outposts rely on helicopter drops of bulk fuel and water. “For these kids, winter is four weeks away. And they are relying on a old 5-kilowatt broken down heavy generator to survive.”