WASHINGTON, July 22, 2010 — When Sharon E. Burke was sworn in earlier this month as the Pentagon’s first director of operational energy plans and programs, her mission was clear: reduce the amount of energy needed in war zones, and decrease the risk to troops that transport and guard the military’s fuel.
Burke isn’t asking troops to do without the fuel, generators, and batteries needed for wartime operations or even for creature comforts, she said yesterday in an interview with American Forces Press Service. Instead, she hopes to find energy alternatives and efficiencies to meet the military’s needs.
“The job of this office is to make sure the troops get the energy they need to do their jobs,” she said. “Our top priority is to give our deployed forces more options, more mission effectiveness.”
Maintaining current energy levels in environments like Iraq and Afghanistan is unsustainable, Burke and other Pentagon leaders say. Besides the obvious environmental impact, the current levels come with tremendous financial and security costs, they say.
The Defense Department uses some 300,000 barrels of oil each day, 70 percent of which goes to overseas operations, and 30 percent to stateside bases, Burke said. The department’s energy consumption accounts for 80 percent of the federal government’s usage, officials have said.
The Defense Logistics Agency delivers more than 170,000 barrels of oil each day to the war theaters, at a cost of $9.6 billion last year, Burke said. The department, overall, spent $13.4 billion on energy last year, she said.
President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have said that America’s demand for oil is a national security issue by making the United States dependent on imports from foreign nations that are not allies. Gates identified energy as one of the department’s top 25 transformational priorities, and this year’s Quadrennial Defense Review addresses energy for the first time as a strategic issue. Congress approved the creation of Burke’s position last year as part of the Defense budget in what she said is another example of the administration’s efforts on environmental issues.
The fact that energy is a wartime operational and strategic issue isn’t new, Burke said, but it has become more so as more and more fuel is needed and transports must travel through open areas at high risk of insurgent attacks.
A tremendous amount of military manpower is used to protect such convoys, Burke said. As one military police officer told her in Iraq, she said, “‘You only have to watch a fuel truck blow up once to see the irony of the job you’re doing here.’”
Burke said getting enough energy in theater has become a challenge. “We’ve assumed we’ll always be able to get what we need,” she said. “But we can’t assume that anymore. We need to plan for it.”
Of the financial cost, Burke said, “We’re using a tremendous amount of money that we could be spending on our troops and their equipment.” She added that the price of fuel in a war zone – when transportation and security are added in – is significantly higher than what regular consumers pay at the gas pump. When the average American is paying $3 per gallon of gas, she said, the price can soar to more than $20 per gallon in places like Helmand province, Afghanistan, when support costs are added in.
Burke said she will initiate a “consistent dialogue” with the services about their energy needs.
Some services already are working on alternative energy sources and fuel efficiencies. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said earlier this year that Marines in Afghanistan are using solar-powered water purification systems to reduce the use of fossil fuels and the need to haul water. The Marines also are using spray-on insulation to keep tents warm in winter and cool in summer.
Burke said she’ll also discuss with the services other alternatives to lighten transport loads or buy goods locally to reduce the number of transports.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)