USA — New Office Aims to Reduce Military’s Fuel Usage

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)