DoD to treat energy as a critical military capability

By Jared Serbu
Federal News Radio

The Pentagon sent its first-ever operational energy strategy to Congress Tuesday, laying out the military’s intent to begin treating energy as a critical military capability.

The goal is to stop focusing on energy as merely a market commodity that must be purchased in order to sustain the department’s various missions.

Defense leaders think that change in thought processes could ultimately reduce the military’s demand for petroleum and promote the development of energy alternatives, with the Pentagon as a new leader in the market.


“It is a policy approach that increases the energy efficiency of our operations, limits the risks our forces face as they use, transport and store energy, and minimizes the amount of Defense dollars we spend consuming energy,” said Defense Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn at a Pentagon briefing announcing the document’s release. “This strategy is good for both taxpayers and warfighters, and it is long overdue.”

Congress mandated the strategy in the 2009 Defense authorization bill. Defense leaders said their new approach to energy was spurred by several factors, including a growing number of military casualties from attacks on fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan, the budgetary impacts of volatile petroleum prices, and a mismatch between DoD’s growing fuel use and federal policy initiatives toward energy efficiency. DoD’s spending on fuel has grown 225 percent over the past decade, Lynn said.

To attack those costs and move beyond its petroleum dependency, DoD lays out three overarching objectives:

  • Ensuring more efficient uses of the petroleum they buy now
  • Funding and finding more diverse alternatives to its current fuels
  • Building energy considerations into every other element of planning the department does.

Sharon Burke, DoD’s assistant secretary for operational energy plans and programs, said the notion of considering energy use in every aspect of the military’s planning, from the Quadrennial Defense Review to individual operational plans, was a novel idea.

“It is new for the department to consider energy as a warfighting capability,” she said. “That’s something we can change for strategic advantage, rather than just provide. It’s also new to give all Defense components a common direction to follow on energy.”

Some of those directions include orders for the military components to integrate energy efficiency into the plans for contingency bases overseas. The Pentagon also wants components to promote research and development on alternative fuel sources that can be generated locally wherever military forces are deployed, and to incorporate energy analysis into military doctrine, training and operational planning.

Additionally, service combatant commands will designate an official to lead efforts to collect data on how DoD is actually using the fuel it buys.

Burke said the department has very good data on how much fuel it’s purchasing and how much it spends on it. Where that fuel is going is another matter.

“So far, we have mostly anecdotal evidence,” she said. “One example is an Army major who just came back from running a forward operating base on a Stryker mission. A Stryker vehicle consumes a great deal of energy, but he told us that 80 percent of his delivered fuel was going to generators. We’re looking to collect that kind of data. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so we want a better sense of where to target our efforts.”

One area in which the department will be targeting its efforts right away is toward the large logistics support contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. She said up until now, the cost-plus LOGCAP contracts have given industry little incentive to manage energy use.

“We’ve been working very hard to change that, and as of June 15, some of the terms of those LOGCAP contracts will be changing so there will be incentives to have better efficiency and also to measure energy use,” she said. “A lot of times, these are the people who have access to the equipment and already have the data.”

In the short term, Burke said DoD should start to see energy efficiency improvements and cost savings in deployed military units in a matter of months.

In Afghanistan, Gen. David Petreaus has just issued a memo telling all commanders they are accountable for their own individual unit’s fuel consumption, and ordering rudimentary measures such powering down equipment when it’s not in use, and not running heating, air conditioning or lights in buildings when they’re not occupied.

He also instructed lower level commanders to make energy considerations a part of their oversight of contracts, and to quickly push proven alternative energy options into the field.

In the longer term, the military will need to rely on federal laboratories and the private sector to develop drop-in replacements for energy sources such as diesel and jet fuel. Lynn said that objective is achievable given DoD’s size.

“We are a significant part of the R&D budget, and so to the extent that we invest in technologies, we can bring them to fruition,” he said. “And given the scale of the department, we have enormous power as an early adopter of technologies that ultimately may have broader commercial use. And in the more traditional area of the acquisition process, we can write energy efficiency into the requirements for weapons systems. Industry just responds to the requirements we put out. So I think we can use all three of those mechanisms to influence the market.”

DoD will develop an implementation plan with more specific instructions for military components within 90 days, Burke said. In January 2012, her office will prepare a memo either certifying or decertifying that next year’s budget is in line with DoD’s new energy strategy.

(Copyright 2011 by All Rights Reserved.)

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