July 21, 2010

The Future of the Force and DOD’s Energy Imperative

Last night, we hosted a top secret, off-the-record, “this didn’t happen” energy event with government and private sector experts who have a broad range of energy and national security expertise. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t as top secret as we’re making it out to be given the fact that we’re touting it on the blog this morning. But for the 42 of you reading this post this morning, certainly consider yourself in the know.

What follows below are some brief thoughts on the future of the military, the Department of Defense and our energy needs. We offer these points up as some food for thought as we take a step back from the event last night and go easy on the writing this morning:

We are all here because we care about energy security – finding reliably available, affordable, and sustainable supplies sufficient to meet our demand. DOD’s energy security is a more complex concept perhaps than that of the rest of the economy: our operations depend on global supply availability, adaptability for use in multiple platforms, and infrastructure resiliency. The ability of our soldiers, sailors and Marines to do their jobs is on the line. And as we were reminded last week by the news of refined fuel being smuggled from our allies in Iraq to Iran, in defiance of new U.S. sanctions, the geopolitical impacts of our current energy system often hit U.S. security and foreign policy interests particularly hard.

The Department of Defense accounts for about 80 percent of federal energy consumption, according to the Department of Energy. Of this, aviation fuel accounted for 56 percent of DOD’s energy use as of 2008, and about 80 percent of the Air Force’s energy needs. With this in mind, the future of DOD aviation and aviation fuel will play a major role in determining DOD’s energy future. Warfare 20, 30, and 40 years from now may not look like today’s wars. Likewise, the way we secure U.S. interests may not mirror today’s efforts. Preparing for this requires that we all be thinking today about how DOD will operate years down the line.

And while DOD’s energy demand is likely to change significantly over the next few decades as our defense needs change, we also face an uncertain future on the supply side. If you consider oil supplies from the United States, Canada and Mexico as reliable sources, we have a combined reserve-to-production ratio of just 15 years (PDF). Globally, it is about 46 years. Our good friends in Venezuela hold over 100 years of that reserve pool at current production rates. Obviously, the reserve part of the ratio may increase, but we can also be certain that the demand half of the ratio will increase, and likely at a faster pace. Transition beyond fossil fuels, however, may also present difficulties and require careful investments, as there are tradeoffs involved with any energy source.

This is just a teaser for our next report. That’s right folks. For our DOD Fuels project, we’ve done all of our site visits and research, and are now in heavy writing mode. This description is the landscape we see facing DOD, and it’s the foundation we’re using for our analysis. Keep your ideas rolling to us as we write, and we’ll keep giving you snapshots of our thoughts as well.