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Energy and military force transformation

The 3rd Quarter 2006 issue of Joint Force Quarterly (published for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by National Defense University), contains an article entitled “Energy and Force Transformation.” (Available online as a 1.3-MB PDF)

The article discusses how and why military could shift from oil and oil-based infrastructure to new systems.

Here are some important quotes:

“The U.S. Department of Defense can learn from the Royal Navy’s pre–World War I energy transformation. Like the Royal Navy a century ago, DOD is faced with the problem of limited resources due in large part to our energy infrastructure. Fuel represents more than half of the DOD logistics tonnage and over 70 percent of the tonnage required to put the U.S. Army into position for battle. The Navy uses millions of gallons of fuel every day to operate around the globe, and the Air Force, the largest daily DOD consumer of fuel, uses even more.”

“Depending upon which view one chooses to accept, the global oil supply will either last no more than a few decades or will perhaps last a century. On one side of the debate, experts argue that because of the limited supply of oil, it will increase in expense as it depletes in availability or production (referred to as Hubbert’s peak). Market analysts, on the other hand, argue that the market will force a correction of the oil demand, thereby stemming the flow of oil and prolonging the inevitable. Both arguments underscore that oil is an increasingly scarce commodity. Clayton Christensen has argued that “markets that don’t exist can’t be analyzed.” Until a market correction takes hold, or there is a global shift toward alternative sources of fuel, oil demand will continue and, perhaps increasingly, will influence the global security environment. DOD has the opportunity to take action to shape this future to our advantage.”

“Historically, the Department of Defense has invested in transformational technologies— such as nuclear power, missile defense initiatives, and intercontinental ballistic missiles— with the potential to alter the strategic balance. DOD should do the same now to balance its scarce energy resources. New technologies to improve fuel efficiency (weight, drag, engine efficiency, system efficiency, and auxiliary power needs) and to develop alternative energy sources have the potential to transform the force, remove operational limits that are built into our plans, and provide the capabilities that forces need. The business case for investing in new technologies, however, is difficult to build because current costing methods do not make the actual end-to-end costs of fueling the force visible to decision makers.”

“This much is clear: so long as DOD systems and associated logistics are wed to an oil infrastructure, meaningful advances in adaptability and agility and overall force transformation will likely be superficial at best.”

The author makes several suggestions for a DoD energy strategy as well.

In fact, already in May 2006 a Defense Science Board Task Force on DoD Energy Strategy was formed by the request of the Undersecretary of DoD and their report is expected to come out soon. (See Memo from May 2, 2005.)

According to Defense Science Board Newsletter in May 2006 The Task Force on DoD Energy Strategy (co-chairs: Dr. Jim Schlesinger and General Mike Carns) will re-examine DoD’s energy usage practices and will recommend technologies, strategies and policy to achieve an assured energy supply for a broad range of military functions while simultaneously improving energy reliability and security, reducing system vulnerability and risk, reducing demand, and where feasible, stimulating commercially viable enterprises for possible incorporation into a national energy plan designed to achieve a meaningful level of energy independence nationwide. The scope of this assessment will include both supply and demand sides of the energy equation for operations during peacetime and wartime, and for emerging defense missions in the homeland. (See May 2006 DSB Newsletter - PDF.)

National Defense University is one of the best places where you can find high quality research articles and reports but I still have not understood why it lists Al-Zawahiri’s Letter to Al-Zarqawi and Bin Laden's Fatwah under “Great Speeches on Contemporary National Security Issues.“

Editorial Notes: An Energy Bulletin article by Sohbet Karbuz (The US Military Oil Consumption") appears in the list of sources for the article. In addition to that article, Korbuz has written related articles on the subject, most recently: "Military Oil Consumption in Afghanistan and Iraq" on his blog. -BA

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