WASHINGTON — A hard push by the Defense Department and the military services to reduce dependence on fossil fuels will shrink risks on the battlefield along with the Pentagon’s carbon footprint, a DOD official said yesterday.
Oliver Fritz is deputy director for policy in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs.
He joined energy experts from each service here in a panel discussion during the 12th National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment about how DOD can drive clean energy innovation.
“Historically, energy has been a decisive factor in warfighting, … most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq, where you see fuel not only being needed in increasing quantities, but being moved over a battlefield without front lines,” Fritz said. Many American lives have been lost on such convoys, he added, moving fuel or protecting it.
Substituting solar energy, biofuel and other technologies can pay off in warfighting capability, Fritz said.
“Those technologies are cleaner and do have a lower carbon footprint,” he said, “and in a way, that carbon footprint is a metaphor for some of the logistics risks that we’re trying to reduce.”
The Defense Department released its first operational energy strategy in June to improve energy efficiency and costs, and to support strategic goals and lower risks to warfighters.
Broad strategic changes that include the decline of front lines and the emergence of anti-access technologies like missiles and roadside bombs “designed to disrupt our ability to freely maneuver, whether that’s around Afghanistan or around the globe, are forcing us to rethink how we are going to project and sustain power if our logistics are under attack,” Fritz said.
The strategy urged more fight with less fuel, more options with less risk and more capability with less cost, he added, and clean technologies can help to make those things happen.
“The strategy was issued last year, and we’re in the process of implementing that. … But in addition to having meetings at the Pentagon, we’re actually trying to make a difference on the battlefield,” Fritz said.
In Afghanistan, this means a new suite of more efficient generators and centralized power.
“Our current approach to base camps often uses a lot of decentralized spot-power generation,” he said. “So we’re trying to improve the efficiency of those generators, and at some bases where we can have larger power plants with [electric] grids, which are much more efficient.”
The Navy and Marine Corps are developing experimental forward operating bases called exFOBs, testing them in the United States and deploying them to Afghanistan. The bases use small-scale water purification, energy-efficient lighting and photovoltaic, or solar-based, energy harvesting to reduce the need to transport fuel and water over long distances.
“The Marines with their exFOB and a series of Army initiatives are deploying a host of energy-efficient technologies,” Fritz said. “Whether it’s shelters and tent shades or solar power generation, there’s a range of material solutions that both ground components are pushing into the field.”
The Air Force, the department’s largest consumer of energy, has been modifying how it flies its aircraft, changing aircraft altitudes and routes and optimizing aircraft loading.
“That alone is slated to save over $500 million in fuel,” the deputy director said.
“That’s not a revolutionary change in reducing our energy, but it’s a solid first step. If you start doing those incrementally across the force, they add up,” Fritz added.
“We use about 2.5 billion gallons of fuel every year. Our energy bill is about $9 billion, … and 84 percent of that is for aviation fuel,” said Kevin Geiss, deputy secretary of the Air Force for energy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Installations, Environment and Logistics.
The Air Force is reducing demand, increasing supply and changing the culture across the service, he added, “to make energy a consideration in everything we do.”
The Navy is executing a range of initiatives in ship coatings, propulsion options, a hybrid-electric drive and a new amphibious ship that is dramatically more efficient.
This year off the Hawaiian coast, an exercise will demonstrate a green strike group of Navy ships, and by 2016 the Navy plans to deploy a “Great Green Fleet” powered entirely by alternative fuels, said Chris Tindal, director of operational energy in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy.
For the Hawaii exercise, “we’ve got a carrier and a submarine on nuclear power, but then we also will have the air wing on the carrier using biofuels, along with two destroyers and a cruiser,” he said. “That’s going to be a big opportunity for us to show that it really can happen.”
In the Army, installation energy programs include efforts to reduce energy consumption on bases, find ways to lower environmental impact, and bring in innovative approaches to reducing energy consumption, said Army Col. Paul Roege, chief of the Operational Energy Office assigned to the director of Army logistics.
On the operational side, the Army focuses on operating capabilities, especially at the squad and small-unit level — what the Army calls the tactical edge.
“They’re on a fairly small energy budget, but every BTU, every kilowatt hour, every milowatt hour is something they carry on their backs,” Roege said.
“If we get the people out there who are in the operations to understand and think about what they’re trying to do, and their systems and procedures relate to that … , then we can have the whole Army coming up with better ways to do business,” he added.
“These are things that are happening today,” Fritz said.
“The strategy is as much about how we organize, train and equip our force back here in the States and develop those capabilities,” he added, “but we’re also deploying those today.”
“We in the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Army and our counterparts in the Office of the Secretary of Defense have a mission and that mission is national defense,” Geiss said.
“I don’t believe the country will accept failure in that mission for the sake of saving a gallon of fuel,” he added, “but our job is to figure out how we can accomplish that mission while we save a gallon of fuel or that kilowatt hour of energy. That’s the job [we’re all] focused on, day in and day out.”
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