Energy Strategy Improves Capabilities, Savings, Official Says

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department’s new oper­a­tional ener­gy strat­e­gy chal­lenges assump­tions about bat­tle­field ener­gy usage, paving the way for a more secure, agile and flex­i­ble fight­ing force, accord­ing to the Pen­ta­gon offi­cial who over­sees the strat­e­gy.

Sharon E. Burke, assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for oper­a­tional ener­gy plans and pro­grams, said dur­ing a June 9 inter­view that the strat­e­gy, includ­ed in the last Qua­dren­ni­al Defense Review and required by Con­gress for the first time this year, is a new way of think­ing about ener­gy as a strate­gic capa­bil­i­ty that will reap ben­e­fits for years to come. 

“Ener­gy is almost an assump­tion — that we’ll have all the ener­gy we need, when­ev­er we need it, wher­ev­er we need it — and we have won­der­ful logis­tics capa­bil­i­ty that makes that true,” Burke said. “But we make it much hard­er than it needs to be, and we’re putting our forces at much high­er risks, and with much high­er costs, and we’re not giv­ing them all the capa­bil­i­ty they could have because of the amount of ener­gy we use. 

“We’ve nev­er looked at it as some­thing we could do dif­fer­ent­ly to make our mil­i­tary mis­sions bet­ter,” she added, “and there’s no ques­tion that we can do better.” 

About 75 per­cent of the department’s ener­gy usage comes from oper­a­tions, rather than fixed instal­la­tions, Burke said. While oper­a­tions to sup­ply fuel down­range has been a tar­get as long as fuel has been used, she said, what has changed is “the unprece­dent­ed vol­ume of fuel” now used to sup­ply the mil­i­tary, and geopol­i­tics that make the Unit­ed States reliant on unfriend­ly nations for its ener­gy usage. 

Fuel con­voys have been high-pro­file tar­gets of insur­gents in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said, and ser­vice mem­bers’ increas­ing need for bat­ter­ies now has them car­ry­ing 10-to-18 pounds extra for each three-day patrol. 

Under the new strat­e­gy, mil­i­tary equip­ment, as well as mil­i­tary mem­bers, will use less ener­gy and more alter­na­tive forms of ener­gy, such as solar and bio­log­i­cal ingre­di­ents rather than fos­sil fuels, Burke said. She not­ed that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, com­man­der of U.S. and coali­tion forces in Afghanistan, sent a June 7 memo to troops in his com­mand that says ser­vice mem­bers must make it their per­son­al mis­sion to use less ener­gy, which he called crit­i­cal to mis­sion success. 

“The way we use ener­gy can either hurt our mil­i­tary oper­a­tions, or it can help,” Burke said. “We want to look at ener­gy as a strate­gic good that can make our mil­i­tary oper­a­tions better.” 

Burke not­ed that the ser­vices already are prac­tic­ing ener­gy effi­cien­cy, from Marines and sol­diers using solar and micro­grid tech­nol­o­gy, respec­tive­ly, in Afghanistan, to Air Mobil­i­ty Com­mand sav­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of gal­lons of fuel with changes to the load­ing and rout­ing of planes, and the Navy requir­ing ener­gy effi­cien­cies in its fleet. 

Such inno­va­tions weren’t used in the past, Burke said, sim­ply because the ser­vices nev­er asked for it. “If we now ask for options to use ener­gy bet­ter, we’ll get it,” she said. “And we’ll get it with­out giv­ing up the oth­er things we need. We can make a trade here and get all the things we need.” 

In the long term, Burke said, if the mil­i­tary incor­po­rates the lessons learned from the ener­gy strat­e­gy, “in 20 to 30 years, we will have a mil­i­tary where ener­gy is a strate­gic advantage.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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