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A Look at the DOD's Operation Energy Strategy

US soldiers run on water, batteries and fuel. The latter two are becoming quite a challenge for the armed forces as they require a reliable and assured supply of operational energy.

As indicated in the Fiscal Year 2012 Operational Energy Budget Certification Report released by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs in January 2011, “growing operational energy demands are having an impact on military effectiveness, raising the risks and costs for U.S. forces. On the battlefield, large fuel supply lines are challenging to route, vulnerable to attack, and consume significant combat and monetary resources. At home, installations supporting military operations draw significant amounts of power from the civilian electricity grid, which is vulnerable to a range of disruptions. In the longer term, growing global demand for oil and the concentration of supplies will mean continued price volatility, potential supply disruptions, and geostrategic consequences.”

Facts point to similar pains. In 2010, the DOD spent $15 billion on energy. It consumed nearly 5 billion gallons of fuel in military operations, costing $13.2 billion. Air delivery of fuel to Afghanistan is 10 times as expensive as ground delivery. By the end of 2010 some 40 million gallons of fuel per month was delivered into Afghanistan.

The challenge is to adjust to worsening fiscal and budgetary circumstances due to high and volatile energy prices and at the same time sustain military effectiveness.

On 14 June 2001 the Department of Defense (DoD) has published a document Energy for the Warfighter: Operational Energy Strategy, by the newly established Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs. In a DOD News Briefing, Deputy Secretary Lynn and Assistant Secretary Burke presented the main points of the DOD Operational Energy Strategy.

The DOD’s energy portfolio includes the energy used at military installations in the United States and overseas as well as the energy used by military forces in execution of their day-to-day missions, or operational energy. This strategy focuses on the latter, the energy used to move, train and sustain weapons, forces and equipment for military operations.
The goal of the “Operational Energy Strategy” (OES) is to ensure that the armed forces will have the energy resources they require to meet 21st century challenges. This strategy will guide the DOD in how to better use energy resources to support the Department’s goals and the Nation’s energy security goals while lowering risks to warfighters and saving money for American taxpayers.

OES outlines three principal ways to improve DoD energy policy and energy security for the warfighter: reduce, diversify and plan for the future.

• More fight, less fuel: Reduce the demand for energy in military operations by taking steps to improve the efficiency energy use, both through technological innovation and nonmaterial changes.

• More options, less risk: Expand and secure the supply of energy to military operations, i.e, diversifying energy sources and giving deployed forces a range of supply options.

• More capability, less cost: Build energy security into the future force, by incorporating operational energy security into all stages of strategic planning on “force structure, posture and strategy” and force development.

Some of the key messages of Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn are:

As conflicts become longer in duration and more expeditionary in nature, the amount of fuel it takes to keep forces in the field has become a significant vulnerability. The less of it we need, the more operationally resilient we will be.

DOD needs to address energy needs as a broad military challenge. With the changing nature of war, our current energy technology is not optimized for the battlefield of today or tomorrow.

By reducing demand, expanding and securing supply, and integrating energy security into our future force, we will not only increase our military effectiveness, but we will lower our costs.

Some of the key messages of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs Sharon Burke are:

Our fixed installations will be resilient to power outages, regardless of the reason or the duration. Petroleum will no longer be such a burden on our budget and our strategic choices.

This strategy is a true strategy in that it tells the department, here’s the direction we’re going, here are the strategic goals and the ways you’re going to get there. The implementation plan will have some more specific timelines and some more specific policy targets to meet.

My thoughts

First of all, the term “strategy” should be taken out of the title of the document simply because what is inside is not a strategy. What the document does in its current form is to lay out the problems and needs. However, any strategy should discuss at minimum the ends, ways and means. This is mostly lacking. I guess because the people who prepared it are not well acquainted with the meaning of strategy.

The “strategy” addresses energy needs as a broad, military challenge and calls for reducing demand, improving efficiency and lowering costs. This is in fact a problem definition, not a roadmap.

True that an energy analysis can help DOD planners better understand the energy footprint of deployed forces and the human and financial costs of moving fuel into a theater of war. But without having sufficient data there is no way to do that. Mrs Burke correctly and rightly mentioned on several occasions that the DOD lacks sufficient data on and analysis of operational energy use to manage consumption effectively. The DOD Services need better statistics on how much energy is being consumed, where, and for what purposes in order to tackle the problem and then improve operational energy security. In my opinion, the DOD must first know how much energy it consumes in the continental US and overseas. They it should try to break it down to installations and operations.

In releasing the strategy, Lynn and Burke said the plan will reduce costs, and also improve military capabilities. Lynn said “Every dollar spent on energy use is a dollar not spent on other warfighting priorities.” But he should be reminded that the same is true for every dollar wasted. If “This strategy is good for the taxpayers and the warfighters,” as Lynn proclaimed then he should have given a DOD wide tangible action instead of showing a few micro examples.

The DOD is said to be an early investor and adopter. I can understand this. But should the DOD play a seminal role in stimulating the clean energy revolution? Under current fiscal difficulties why should the DOD installations be treated as an ideal test bed for next-generation energy technologies?

Promote research, development, testing, evaluation, and fielding of alternative energy sources that can be generated locally or regionally near deployments is a key motto at the DOD. The Services have already taken steps to certify aircraft, ships, tactical vehicles, and support equipment to use alternative liquid fuels. What is the result as of today? Still certifying and testing. This is the problem with the DoD, trying to do all at once with no clear priority.

It is quite logical that where possible the installations should make use of alternative and renewable energy technologies. These are good examples already in operation. But pushing them blindly just because civilian infrastructure may fail is a wrong thing to do. If some installations need permanent and assured supply of electricity then such installations should use small nuclear power plants, not solar or wind.

Before going ahead with spaghetti policies, the DOD should harmonize, unify and coordinate already fragmented energy policies across the services. Each branch of the military has established energy visions that may or may not compatible, compatible, or synchronized. This new strategy will not be much useful for removing the duplications and priorities. Note that operational energy is only one part of the problem.

In my opinion, the DOD must first know how much energy it consumes in the continental US and overseas. They it should try to break it down to installations and operations.

By. Sohbet karbuz

You can see more of Sohbet’s work at his blog below.

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Leave a comment
  • Anonymous on August 10 2011 said:
    Why not go to the bottom line here. The war in Afghanistan is a stupid war, and the US should withdraw immediately. The money saved on things like energy for 'warfighting' can be used in the US. Used how? Used to finance the energy investments that the Wall Street dummies are not prepared to finance.In case you have forgotten, the war was won but dumb Bush started talking about freedom and democracy, and now we have what we dont want or need.

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