Aircraft Acquisition Process Must Take Fuel Consumption into Account
While the Air Force has made strides in increasing fuel efficiency for its aircraft and at its installations, new programs must take energy consumption into account during the acquisition process, said one of the service’s top energy officials.
Once an aircraft’s requirements such as range and payload have been set, commanders have already made most of the strategic decisions about how it will be used in operations, Kevin Geiss, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for energy, said at an Oct. 23 Air Force Association speech.
“Our primary focus is to ensure that energy is appropriately on the table," he said. "We are discussing with OSD [office of the secretary of defense] and the other services right now about the appropriate ways to do that."
More emphasis may needed on where a weapons system is based, where fuel is located, how logistics support is set up, and the ability of the Air Force to provide energy for the system in case of a natural disaster or fuel shortages, Geiss said. In some cases, those energy considerations might outweigh a marginal improvement in a weapon system’s capabilities.
The Air Force spent $9.2 billion on energy last year, which included costs for the 2 billion gallons of jet fuel consumed by its aircraft. Earlier this year, the service announced it had met its goal to reduce jet fuel consumption by 12 percent compared to fiscal year 2006.
The service in recent years has adopted biofuels to use alongside JP-8, the U.S. military’s fuel of choice. Because the Air Force recently decided to move toward the commercial Jet-A fuel, which is cheaper and more widely available, it no longer makes sense for it to certify alternate JP-8 fuels, Geiss said.
Alternate fuel sources hold interest to the Air Force only when they can demonstrate cost savings or help it more efficiently meet requirements, he said. Adopting greener energies is a priority only if it helps the service accomplish its missions, so biofuel companies need to demonstrate their fuel’s value to land the Air Force as a customer.
"We are not investing in production facilities. We believe that industry is going to have to work that out. If they see that this is something they really want to do, they've got to make a business case,” he said.
Geiss gave some examples of where more energy efficient strategies contributed to lower costs or a better way of accomplishing missions.
For instance, Air Mobility Command flies more than 600 flights a day and consumes 62 percent of all the fuel the Air Force uses, Geiss said. At one of its bases — McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan. — the 22nd Operations Group Fuel Efficiency Division saved $4.3 million even as sorties increased 42 percent.
The group lowered the KC-135 aerial refueling tanker’s landing fuel weight and changed the aircraft’s standard landing configuration. It also incorporated a software that optimizes speed, altitude and other factors so that aircraft flies more efficiently, he said.
“These folks proved that it’s a false choice to say we can either get the mission done or we can save energy, because these folks did both,” Geiss said.
Efforts to track energy use and optimize system functionality at Laughlin Air Force Base, Del Rio, Texas, reduced energy consumption by 27 percent and water use by 24 percent, netting a savings of $1.9 million, he said.