Cutting DoD's Fuel Addiction

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Federal Times
March 3, 2008
Pg. 1
New plan would impact weapons, battles, training
By Tim Kauffman
Imagine: Air Force bombers and tankers up to 10 times more fuel efficient than the heavy aircraft used today. Soldiers who generate energy from their own motion instead of energy-sucking batteries to charge electronic field gear. Buildings and facilities throughout the world operating entirely on renewable energy.
This is the bold vision laid out in a new report by the Defense Science Board that aims to wean the Pentagon off its insatiable appetite for fossil fuels and unreliable electricity sources.
The Pentagon is the largest single energy user in the country, accounting for about 1 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and 78 percent of the federal government’s energy use. And in May, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to lay out a new energy security strategy based on the vision outlined by the Defense Science Board.
Alan Shaffer, who heads the Pentagon task force drafting the energy security plan, said the DSB report will serve as a foundation for the department’s strategy.
“I can’t tell you we’re going to write the world’s greatest strategic plan,” Shaffer said. “I can tell you the energy security task force and the focus the secretary and deputy secretary have put on the task force have brought the right players to the table.”
James Schlesinger, co-chairman of the DSB task force that wrote the report, said a comprehensive new game plan is needed.
“Energy has not been the center of focus,” said Schlesinger, who was Defense secretary under Presidents Nixon and Ford and Energy secretary under President Carter.
The Defense Department’s dependence on fossil fuels and unreliable energy sources is compromising overseas operations and risks disrupting critical missions stateside, according to the Defense Science Board, an influential panel that advises Pentagon leaders. As oil prices have soared to historic highs, the department has had to shift large sums of money from other programs to fund operations.
The Pentagon is already developing new technologies for energy-efficient combat systems and investing in renewable energy solutions at many of its installations. Yet these efforts only scratch the surface of what must be done, the board said.
Incomplete fuel pricing
One of the board’s key recommendations is for the department to consider the full cost of fuel requirements — what it takes to acquire, deliver and protect fuel supplies — when designing future combat systems and planning military operations.
The Pentagon doesn’t view fuel costs in such a comprehensive way, and that suggests there’s a huge hidden cost to military operations and weapons programs. For instance, the full cost of transporting, storing and delivering fuel to battle begins at around $15 per gallon, not including the cost of protecting convoys that supply the fuel. Delivering fuel to an aircraft in flight costs about $42 per gallon, when accounting for the costs to maintain fleets of aerial tankers, according to the board’s report. Yet in its typical calculations, the department considers only actual fuel cost, say $2.50 a gallon.
Failing to consider the full costs of fuel makes it appear not cost-effective to invest in technologies that could reduce fuel demand, the board said.
“We do not design our equipment for how much it’s going to cost us, and we can do a better job of that,” Schlesinger said.
In April, the Pentagon issued a new policy requiring that such an analysis be made when making acquisition decisions for all tactical systems. The department is testing how to best do this through a pilot program that will evaluate the cost of fuel for three large acquisition programs: joint lightweight tactical vehicles, next-generation long-range strike aircraft, and the next generation of surface warships.
In addition, Shaffer said he’s directed Joint Forces Command to start factoring fuel availability and energy requirements into large-scale war games.
Shaffer said making acquisition and logistics decisions based on the total cost of fuel is complicated by operational and budget demands.
For instance, choosing an aircraft could mean deciding between a plane that costs 10 percent more than normal and goes 20 percent further without refueling or a plane that has slightly less range and is less expensive but would require an investment in refueling tankers.
Likewise, the department could reduce fuel use in vehicles by buying large batteries to power computers and other onboard electronics, but the batteries could add so much weight to the vehicle that any fuel savings are lost.
“It’s not quite as simple as it would seem because one of the tenets we have to have whenever we make a fuel trade is, we don’t want to give up operational capability,” Shaffer said.
Vulnerable electrical grid
One of the most startling findings in the 121-page report was that critical military and homeland defense missions are at high risk because of the department’s almost total reliance on the U.S. electrical grid.
The board said the nation’s power grid is more unreliable than the department assumes and is vulnerable to outages from four primary causes: overload, natural disasters, sabotage or terrorist activity, and supply interruptions at power plants.
“It did open some people’s eyes,” Shaffer said.
Pentagon facilities rely on diesel generators in the event of power failures, but these systems have only short-term utility. More troubling, the board found that many installations don’t distinguish between critical and noncritical loads when configuring these backup systems, leaving critical missions competing with nonessential activities for power during outages.
The board recommended that by August 2009 the department assess the mission risks to power failures at all installations and determine how to mitigate those risks, for example by reducing power demands, enhancing backup capability, and generating alternative power sources on site.
To help reduce traditional power consumption, the department is making significant investments in renewable energy technologies such as photovoltaic systems, geothermal plants and wind farms. Renewable energy accounted for about 12 percent of all electricity the department used in 2007, more than any other agency, and the department has an internal goal to reach 25 percent by 2025.
Nonetheless, the Defense Science Board said the department’s efforts are “modest compared to what can be technically and economically justified.”
The board said the department should factor in the consequences of outages on the national power grid when planning or investing in new installations. Such an analysis would provide the business case for pursuing higher levels of energy efficiency in buildings and protect such investments from budget cuts.
“When budget constraints create a need to find cost reductions, efficiency investments are among the first to be eliminated,” the board said.
Poorly coordinated efforts
Solving the department’s energy problems will take much more oversight and coordination of efforts by the department’s senior leaders than currently exists, the board said.
Individuals who are tasked with various energy management requirements don’t have enough control to make changes that would significantly help the department. For instance, the senior official responsible for energy use at installations oversees only about one-quarter of the department’s total energy usage.
“Decisions that affect DoD’s energy demand are scattered throughout the organization with little accountability or oversight,” Schlesinger and his co-chairman, retired Air Force Gen. Michael Carns, said in a memo to the chairman of the Defense Science Board accompanying their report.
Some of the recommendations in the board’s report, such as accounting for the full cost of fuel, were made in a 2001 report that Shaffer concedes was all but ignored by the department.
“The department didn’t do much with the 2001 report,” Shaffer said. “That report was issued, 9/11 came along, we got involved in the war. Just about the entire focus of the department went to the war effort.”
Rising oil costs and the impact on operations began to capture the department’s attention in 2005. Even though the department reduced its overall energy consumption by 5 percent between 2005 and 2007, it spent about $2.5 billion more for energy because of the higher costs.
Except for World War II, when the Germans were sinking American oil tankers off the East Coast, the Pentagon hasn’t had to worry about having enough energy to support its military operations, Schlesinger said.
Now it must worry: “This is particularly the case as we look at the situation in Iraq. You have forces within the country that are dependent on energy coming in and being escorted by supply trucks that are under attack by guerrilla forces,” Schlesinger said. “To the extent that we can reduce the requirements for those bases inside of Iraq or equivalent situations elsewhere, we can save lives as well as money.”