June 16, 2011

Read this Now: “Energy for the Warfighter: Operational Energy Strategy”

On Tuesday, the Department of Defense released its operational energy
. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and
Programs Sharon Burke, former veep for Natural Security at CNAS, was sworn in
on August 8, 2010 and charged with leading DOD’s operational energy office and delivering
the strategy to Congress. 

Overall, the operational energy strategy is the broadest
effort yet to transform the way the military thinks about and utilizes energy.
Assistant Secretary of Defense Sharon Burke and her office deserve credit for
continuing to provide direction for U.S. military commanders, logisticians and
policymakers to address one of the most challenging questions facing the U.S.
military today: how can we safely and sustainably fuel the force?

In the next few months, the operational energy office will
follow up the strategy with an implementation plan that should provide some
concrete policy steps for enacting the vision laid out in the strategy on
Tuesday. For example, the strategy emphasizes the need for the military
services to generate data about their fuel consumption so that they can better
understand how they consume energy and more easily adopt common sense practices
that can have an immediate impact on reducing energy demand in combat theatres
in Iraq and Afghanistan. The implementation plan is said to provide the
military services with a set of targets and timelines to help generate that
much-needed data.

It is important to view the operational energy strategy as a
first step.  And now that the strategy is
in place, critical next steps must include urgency on liquid fuels. Though the
strategy emphasizes the need for the military to diversify its energy portfolio
in order to wean itself off its oil dependence, it seemed to lack the sense of
urgency required to address the looming challenges with liquid fuels. Indeed,
it is surprising when you consider that in the long term sustainable access to liquid
fuels is the real albatross for the Department of Defense – up to 77
percent of DOD’s energy needs
, including most of its aircraft, ground
vehicles, ships and weapons systems that DOD has or is purchasing today depend
on petroleum as the dominant fuel source. 
And given the current trends in the petroleum market – including price
volatility, increasing global demand and the fact that experts say that even if
demand does not increase, there
could be less than 50 years of oil left
– there is no longer assured access
to a sustainable supply of petroleum to meet the future needs of the U.S.

As Christine and John wrote in their September 2010 report, Fueling
the Future Force
, the Department of Defense must prepare now to
navigate this transitioning global energy economy to ensure that the military
has access to the energy it needs to fuel the future force. It will take
everything from a sustained investment in greener, alternative liquid fuels
development, using feedstocks such as algae, to coordinating with our
international partners to ensure that new fuels are compatible and accessible
abroad as we look to a future when we’ll likely see greater cooperation around
combined military operations with our allies. 
The benefits of tackling this challenge today will prove to be far
reaching and will prepare the Department of Defense and the United States to
navigate a world where access to petroleum-based fuels will become increasingly