A full 80 percent of all U.S./ISAF ground convoys moving through Afghanistan are dedicated to shipping fuel to forward operating bases—and 1,100 of them were attacked in 2010 alone.
That’s according to Deputy Secretary for Defense William Lynn, by way of introducing the latest Pentagon strategy paper, “Energy for the Warfighter: Operational Energy Strategy” that for the first time outlines a way to cut down the Pentagon’s $15 billion a year energy bill. More importantly, it actually kickstarts a serious discussion about alternative fuels and fuel use in order to reduce the DoD’s dependence on oil. And that's important, since the DoD accounts for a whopping 80 percent of the federal government's total energy use, and about one percent of total consumption nationwide.
Right now, the DoD is spending 225 percent more on fuel than it did just a decade ago. While that's some sobering stuff, the strategy paper goes even further in making a refreshingly reality-based assessment of the future, concluding that “the realities of global oil markets mean a disruption of oil supplies is plausible and increasingly likely in the coming decades."
Deployed U.S. Army and Marine forces in Afghanistan have been taking this operational energy idea seriously for some time now, as I’ve reported recently, and the Pentagon has been trying to seriously curtail its energy use at domestic installations, where according to officials, it doesn’t even use energy meters at many buildings, and doesn’t have a good grip on how much energy it uses. While a full 75 percent of all DoD energy spending comes from operations, the department also spends $4 billion a year to light, heat, cool, etc. 300,000 buildings around the world.
But what the Army and Marines are doing downrange has mostly been an ad hoc, on-the-fly effort to reduce fuel and battery usage, and it’s been done without much coordination with other services or the Pentagon in general. Up until now, the Department of Defense has had no overall strategy for fuel and energy use, and it shows in the lack of guidelines and metrics of daily use. According to officials, the department knows how much it spends on energy per year, but it doesn’t really know where that money is going.
But it’s Sharon E. Burke’s job to change all that. As assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs, Burke’s shop put together the new strategy, and on Tuesday, she said that the Pentagon needs to fundamentally “change the way we build the future force,” in order to be more energy efficient. The DoD needs to start thinking of energy “as a warfighting capability” and future strategic documents “need to build energy security into the future force.”
The plan is to drive these energy-saving requirements down into the acquisition process in future technology buys, Lynn said. “We can write energy efficiency into the requirements for weapons systems and thereby ensure that we are able to develop those things,” he explained. “Industry just responds to the requirements we put out in terms of the systems that we buy. So I think we can use all three of those mechanisms to influence the market.” To be clear, the new paper simply lays out the broad-based goals of Burke’s office. But within the next 90 days, the paper says, “the Department will release an implementation plan, which will include specific targets and timelines for achieving this strategy in the near-, mid-, and long-term.”
Once that paper comes out, the real test begins: getting the entrenched Pentagon bureaucracy to buy into the plan.