Service Leaders Discuss Way Forward on Energy
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2010 Military and civilian service leaders gathered at the Pentagon today discussed their plans for energy conservation that include leading the nation and the world into a more sustainable environmental future.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus put it simply: “Our military and our country rely too much on fossil fuels … [and] too much of our oil comes from volatile places.”
America’s dependence on oil from other, sometimes hostile, nations, Mabus said, “gives them some say in whether our ships sail and whether our planes fly.
“Make no mistake: energy policy can be used as a weapon,” he added.
The Obama administration, the Defense Department, and the military services are striving toward policies that focus on conservation, and renewable and alternative energy sources, as outlined at the department’s first energy security forum held this week at the Pentagon.
Mabus, as well as Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff, and Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, said the services already have taken great strides in being environmental leaders. The Navy is on track to cut non-tactical petroleum use in half by 2015; the Air Force is reducing demand and increasing renewable and alternative fuels; Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., deployed to Afghanistan with solar-powered generators; and soldiers from Fort Irwin, Calif., recently deployed with insulated-foam tents that save millions of dollars per month in air conditioning costs.
“The heritage and legacy of bold thinkers permeates every service,” Mabus said. “We figured out how to put a nuclear reactor on a submarine. We figured out how to shoot down a ballistic missile in flight. We can do energy.”
As the world’s largest consumer of hydrocarbons, the Air Force increasingly is moving toward conservation and renewable energy as a “long-term imperative with near-term urgency,” Schwartz said.
Transporting fuel to areas like Afghanistan has proven expensive and dangerous, Schwartz noted. “We need to foster a culture that is aware that each gallon saved is a gallon not transported, and that leaves us clearly better off,” he said.
Six Marines have been wounded while guarding fuel convoys in the past three months, Mabus said. And, for every 24 convoys traveling through a war zone, a soldier is killed, according to a September 2009 Army report, he said.
“That is too high a price to pay for energy,” Mabus said. “We’ve got to change the way we do business.”
But the military consumes more than 80 percent of the federal government’s energy needs, and it will always require fuel, the leaders said. More than 70 percent of the services’ fuel usage goes to operations, they said.
“Without energy, the Army stands still and quiet,” Chiarelli said, noting that the Army utilizes 21 percent of DOD’s annual energy consumption.
Aneesh P. Chopra, the administration’s chief technology officer, also attended the forum. Improvements in technology and data distribution are critical to meeting energy goals, he said.
The science of research and development, coupled with policies that elicit innovation, will allow the government to meet its goals, Chopra said.
Schwartz agreed, saying it would be “foolish” for the services to move ahead with energy efficiency programs without taking advantage of the latest technologies.
Products are commercially available to reduce energy consumption, but the department’s procurement process is too cumbersome to bring them on board in a reasonable time frame, Schwartz and Chiarelli said.
The Army has saved millions of dollars on air conditioning costs by adding foam insulation to tents it deploys overseas, Chiarelli said. The savings have only been possible, he said, because the insulation was commercially available, saving the Army years of procurement wrangling.
“If we had developed it, it probably would have taken 20 years” to field it, Chiarelli added.
The Army could realize much more savings and conservation if it could easily retrofit the latest engines and other parts to older vehicles and weapons systems, Chiarelli said. The problem, he said, is tied to both design difficulties and the procurement process.
Chiarelli said another area where commercial innovations are available for tremendous energy savings is in construction, although it currently takes about 14 years to reap the full benefits.
The reality for the military services, Schwartz said, is that they can’t let their environmental efforts add to their budgets, or increase consumption of natural resources.
“We’ve not been the most cost-conscious culture,” he said. “And there are times in our business that it doesn’t matter what it costs, but that’s not all the time.”