USA — Military Must Reduce Its Use of Fossil Fuels

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2010 — The Defense Department’s cur­rent reliance on expen­sive, difficult–to-transport and finite fos­sil fuels affects cost-reduc­tion efforts as well as war-fight­ing oper­a­tions, a senior Pen­ta­gon offi­cial said.

“Cer­tain­ly, for cur­rent oper­a­tions and for the future, one of the things we’re real­ly focused on is reduc­ing demand, [which is] reduc­ing our con­sump­tion, because no mat­ter what kind of ener­gy we’re using, the amount of ener­gy we’re using caus­es us prob­lems in prac­tice — par­tic­u­lar­ly in the kinds of fights we’re fight­ing today where so much of our logis­tics train is in the bat­tle­field,” Sharon Burke, direc­tor of the department’s oper­a­tional ener­gy plans and pro­grams, said in a recent “DoDLive” Blog­gers round­table.

Oper­a­tional ener­gy is the ener­gy used to move, train and sus­tain weapons, forces and equip­ment for mil­i­tary oper­a­tions, said Burke, who dis­cussed the Pentagon’s plans to reduce and reform oper­a­tional ener­gy con­sump­tion.

In her recent­ly cre­at­ed posi­tion, Burke’s job, she said, is to look into cur­rent oper­a­tional ener­gy usage and find ways to low­er total fos­sil fuel con­sump­tion, and to work toward incor­po­rat­ing alter­na­tive and renew­able ener­gy sources into the fight­ing force.

Sec­re­tary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, she not­ed, have said that fail­ure to find new, sus­tain­able ener­gy sources will soon pose a threat to nation­al secu­ri­ty.

As mil­i­tary instal­la­tions have worked to become more “green” over the past few years by incor­po­rat­ing alter­na­tive pow­er sources and elec­tric vehi­cles, Burke said, the con­flicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have renewed inter­est in reduc­ing fos­sil fuel usage for mil­i­tary oper­a­tions.

For exam­ple, recent insur­gent attacks on NATO fuel con­voys near the Afghanistan-Pak­istan bor­der have rein­forced the military’s con­cern that alter­na­tives to using fos­sil fuels must be devel­oped, she said.

“I think the recent NATO sup­ply con­voy attacks real­ly got people’s atten­tion and brought home to peo­ple what the risks are, and what … a worst-case sce­nario is,” Burke said. “And I think it also illus­trat­ed the range of pos­si­bil­i­ty here — that if we improve the way we use ener­gy on the bat­tle­field — and of course, 70 per­cent of the ener­gy the depart­ment uses is oper­a­tional ener­gy — it’ll allow us to shift some resources from tail to tooth.”

The first order of busi­ness, she said, is curb­ing the demand for fos­sil-based fuels. At a recent DOD-spon­sored ener­gy forum, Mullen described the “old” mil­i­tary men­tal­i­ty when it came to fuel as “burn it if you got it.” Burke said that men­tal­i­ty has to be changed before any real oper­a­tional reform can hap­pen.

For exam­ple, Burke said, use of bio­fu­el-blend­ed JP‑8 jet fuel will be part of the solu­tion because of its preva­lence in war zones. How­ev­er, she added, the solu­tion is wider rang­ing.

“Whether we’re putting it [jet or diesel fuel] in gen­er­a­tors to turn it into elec­tric­i­ty to pow­er com­put­ers and com­mu­ni­ca­tions gear, or whether we’re putting it into vehi­cles, almost all the fuel we use on the bat­tle­field is petro­le­um-based,” she said. “So we have to focus on it. But no mat­ter what kind of ener­gy it is, we have to find a way to use less.”

Burke said a big part of her office’s role is to seek inno­v­a­tive ideas for bat­tle­field-ready prod­ucts. Marine Corps units, she said, have start­ed deploy­ing with solar-pow­ered gen­er­a­tors. Mean­while, she added, the Army is imple­ment­ing use of bet­ter-insu­lat­ed tents and water-recy­cling tech­nol­o­gy to save ener­gy, and the Air Force has worked for many years to incor­po­rate alter­na­tive and renew­able fuel sources into their oper­a­tions.

Burke said she wants to ensure the ser­vices don’t lose any vital tools as they pare down fuel con­sump­tion. It’s impor­tant to get usage lev­els — and there­fore, costs — down, she said, but not as impor­tant as pro­vid­ing enhanced capa­bil­i­ty to troops in the field, which new ener­gy tech­nol­o­gy can do.

“We’re cer­tain­ly mind­ful and respon­sive to the larg­er ener­gy secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion for the whole nation, but our job is the nation­al secu­ri­ty mis­sion of this depart­ment,” Burke said.

“How does ener­gy and the future for ener­gy make that pos­si­ble, or make that more com­pli­cat­ed? Our job is to look at that. Our job is to improve defense capa­bil­i­ties.”

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

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