Pentagon Unveils Campaign Plan to Reduce Fuel Use
The effort is aimed, in the near term, at reducing casualties in war zones, where thousands of U.S. and allied troops and contractors have been killed moving and guarding fuel supplies. The Pentagon’s strategy also sets long-term goals to reduce the Defense Department’s dependence on fossil fuels and to require that all future weapon systems be more energy efficient.
In response to the rising U.S. death toll in Afghanistan, top U.S. commander Army Gen. David H. Petraeus issued across-the-board energy conservation guidelines in a June 7 memorandum.
The Pentagon’s energy blueprint and Petraeus’ new energy policies reflect built-up frustration over the vulnerabilities that dependence on fuel has created for U.S. forces. The Defense Department now consumes 225 percent more fuel than it did a decade ago.
U.S. forces deployed in remote bases in Afghanistan require nearly daily deliveries of fuel to power generators, ground vehicles and airplanes. U.S. enemies have exploited that Achilles' heel by targeting fuel convoys with bombs and other weapons.
“We have lost many lives delivering fuel to bases around Afghanistan,” Petraeus wrote in the memo, where he announced the creation of a new office under his command that will focus on how coalition forces use energy. “Commanders will make energy-informed, risk-based decisions on aviation operations, vehicle operations, base camp design, power and water generation and distribution,” Petraeus said. Commanders also will push for “rapid technology insertion of new fuel-saving methods” and will take energy considerations into account in the oversight of contracts.
Petraeus also is asking military leaders to instill a culture of conservation among troops. “This includes turning off unused equipment, repairing faulty equipment and avoiding use of heating, air conditioning and lighting in unused or unoccupied structures.”
The Pentagon’s energy strategy calls for reducing fuel consumption, diversify sources of energy and pursue innovation for the future. The majority of those efforts will focus on the fuel that deployed forces consume. Last year, of the Pentagon’s $15 billion energy billion, $13 billion was for “operational” energy, said Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn at a June 14 news conference. The problem is not just Afghanistan, he said. Energy is “always going to present a vulnerability to our forces.”
Pentagon strategists predict that energy “will continue to offer a target for our adversaries,” said Sharon E. Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs. “Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach. You might say our military marches on batteries and fuel tanks,” she said at the news conference.
Part of the immediate push to cut fuel in Afghanistan also will involve renegotiating contracts with suppliers, and to offer financial incentives to reduce energy consumption, said Burke. “As of June 15, some of the terms of those LOGCAP [logistics support] contracts will be changing,” she said.
The next step following the release of the strategy is an “implementation plan” that Burke’s office will complete over the next 90 days, she said. By January 2012, she will have to certify that the military services’ budget provide sufficient resources for fuel-efficiency and renewable energy programs.
Energy industry experts havepraised the Pentagon for finally developing a long-term energy campaign, but question whether it will have any real teeth.
“You can put out all the bumper stickers you want. But unless you are going to dig down and allocate resources, it won’t have real impact,” saidDan Nolan, a retired Army officer and energy consultant at Sabot 6 Inc. The problem with most of these green-energy efforts is that they are overly reliant on long-term research and development, instead of focusing on rapid acquisition of off-the-shelf products that already exist. “We don’t need to design a better mousetrap,” he said. “Everyone wants solar panels, wind turbines, biomass products, while we really need to focus on energy efficiency and conservation … but that’s just not really sexy,” he said. “The safest, cleanest, most secure electron is the one you don’t use.”
The private sector, meanwhile, is looking to the Defense Department to be a catalyst of innovation in green energy and to spur greater investments across the U.S. government and in industry. According to a new report fromPike Research, military spending on renewable energy technologies will continue to rise rapidly over the next two decades, growing from $1.8 billion per year in 2010 to $26.8 billion by 2030. The majority of this spending will be for “mobility applications,” including portable soldier power as well as land, air, and sea vehicles, the Pike report said. “Energy for facilities operations will represent a significant portion of the market as well.”