September 27, 2010

This Weekend’s News: We Prepared for the Release of Our New DOD Fuels Report

For the post today we’re taking a brief hiatus from assessing the weekend’s natural security news for you. Will collected some news stories for you and has posted them as we do normally Tuesdays through Fridays, so we hope that keeps you all up to speed.

But we spent our weekend preparing for today’s release of the natural security team’s new report, “Fueling the Future Force: Preparing the Department of Defense for a Post-Petroleum Era.”

I’ll cut to the chase: We are calling for DOD to ensure that it can meet all of its fuel needs without petroleum by 2040. The overarching energy goal we therefore recommend is for DOD to manage a smooth transition beyond petroleum over the next 30 years.

Interesting note: Not one of our internal or external reviewers – which included DOD representatives and non-governmental experts – questioned whether this transition was feasible or necessary. One suggested a shorter-term timeline for a DOD goal for moving off of petroleum, and a few people asked us to clarify better why we chose 30 years, rather than 20 or 40. (You can read our reasoning – a combination of feasibility, opportunity and necessity – in the report.) I fully expected reactions to include many variations on “WTF, we’ll be able to produce more oil for at least another century, right?” It was heartening to see a growing acceptance that DOD’s dependence on a single fuel, petroleum, for 77% of its energy consumption is an incredible vulnerability.

I’d like to also give a special shout out to CNAS President, Dr. John Nagl, for becoming a de facto member of the natural security team for part of this year. This report was my first time co-authoring with him, and it was a great experience. And I’m really glad I did not have to write about COIN to do it. If you see John on the street, feel free now to pepper him with energy questions.

I’m also very, very grateful for the internal CNAS red-teaming that helped sculpt this report, and to external reviewers who read early drafts of the report and did not hold back in their critiques and suggestions. Our process for rigorous review here at CNAS always feels like you’re getting kicked repeatedly in the gut, but it makes our work stronger and more implementable. More than a dozen brilliant minds helped us to refine our thinking for this report.

In fact, many of the suggestions we received were so smart – and so important to sparking a good debate over DOD’s energy future – that I asked several of our reviewers to let me post their critiques and ideas on the blog this week. Several accepted, though not all wish to be named. For the rest of this week, you can read on this blog excerpts from those who reviewed drafts of this report as they told us the ways in which we were wrong.

The report we’re releasing today is not the final word, but an opening bid. We hope that by airing alternative ideas we can generate a healthy debate on how DOD can best move into its post-petroleum future.