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Long live the Pentagon

The US military oil consumption is generally regarded to be a small amount compared to the country’s gigantic consumption. Since oil is and will remain a strategic vital commodity, the Pentagon does not have a luxury of turning its back to oil.

Is the US Department of Defense an empire?

Consider the following points:

  1. The DoD is the only department that has departments within it: The Departments of the Navy, the Air Force, and the Army.

  2. The DoD is one of the world’s largest landlords. It owns or leases nearly 4,000 sites, on more than 30 million acres (half of the UK if you like), spread over 130 countries worldwide. If we include the unreported ones (for example the military bases overseas, which the DoD uses at no cost) that number would be even bigger. Is the US version of colonialism?
  3. The US Military Expenditures is over $500 billion a year, the largest in the world with its more than 50% share. As Martin Luther King once said “A nation that continues year and year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
  4. The DoD is the world’s largest employer directly employing more than three million people.
  5. The US is the world’s biggest arms supplier, with over 50% share, or almost $20 billion.
  6. The US has world’s largest nuclear warheads stockpile (10,104 warheads, of which 5,735 is operational). Indeed, I still do not understand why DoD does not change its name to its old name “Department of War”.
  7. The US military is the biggest purchaser and consumer of oil (as well as biodiesel) in the world. Also, the US Navy is the largest user of diesel fuel in the world.

If the US is an empire, then Department of Defense is an empire within an empire. And that empire runs on oil.

The US Military Oil Consumption

The US DoD consumes 365 thousand barrels of oil a day (kb/d) according to the official figures, equivalent to consumption of Greece, at a cost of almost $9 billion.

This, however, is not a complete picture because it excludes

  • the amount of fuels supplied by service contractors;
  • the amount of fuel used for delivery and its related cost;
  • the amount of unpaid oil

(Note that during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Saudi Arabia and the UAE supplied 1.5 billion gallons of fuel. By the way, the DoD does not pay the market price for fuels).

Therefore the US military oil consumption is bigger than officially stated. My calculations show that it is in fact around 500 kb/d, of which 350 kb/d is consumed abroad.


Energy use in FY2005 among the branches: Air Force 53%, Navy 32%, Army 12%, the rest 3%.

Fuel use by mode: Aviation fuel 89% (mobility 49%, fighter 25%, bomber 7%, trainer 3%, other 5%), ground fuel 3%, facility electricity 3%, other 5%.


Unfortunately, the DoD still does not know exactly (I have never seen anywhere even slightly) how much energy (domestic and overseas locations) by fuel type is used by mode (vehicles, jetfighters etc) and by service (army, navy etc), and how much of that energy is purchased, self-generated, and contracted. Also, how much fuel do the service providers use for the DoD.

And yet oil is a vital military commodity.

Today all moving military devices, except for nuclear submarines, run on oil and the US DESC has no easy life for bringing oil to users. Tomorrow will be the same too. [DESC = "Defense Energy Support Center"]

In fact, the Pentagon is more addicted to oil than President Bush imagines. That is why the Department of Defense is spending a lot of ink, time and money for efforts directed to reduce the US military oil consumption.

Recently, there is increasing number of articles in military publications about “transformation,” most of which foresee a business-as-usual trend as far as future military fleet is concerned: keep the gas-guzzlers running on oil.

This fact was indeed the subject of an article by Sandra Erwin (Energy Conservation Plans Overlook Military Realities) appeared in September 2006 issue of Defense Watch magazine. She underlines some problems with Pentagon’s energy policy.

Just two years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency gave the Pentagon a “national security exemption” so it can continue to drive trucks with old, energy-inefficient engines that don’t meet the emissions standards required for commercial trucks….

The Army once considered replacing the mother of all fuel-gorgers, the Abrams tank engine, with a more efficient diesel plant. But the Army leadership then reversed course because it was too expensive. Most recently, the Army cancelled a program to produce hybrid-diesel humvees, and has slowed down the development of other hybrid trucks in the medium and heavy fleets. ….

The Air Force has been contemplating the replacement of its surveillance, cargo and tanker aircraft engines, but the project was deemed too costly, and not worth any potential fuel savings.

Sure, Pentagon has started an “eager” program of research on alternative fuels, such as synthetic fuels, biofuels, hydrogen, fuel cells, wind, solar, nuclear etc.

How alternative are alternative fuels for military?

In the US military, oil has been the traditional fuel for mobility while natural gas and electric power supplied by a variety of land-based systems for installations.

While petroleum-based fuels seem to continue to be the major source for military mobility fleet, the gradual introduction of new materials, alternative fuels, systems, and capabilities and more efficient technology to improve energy usage and reduce energy dependency is gaining a momentum and popularity. In many talks it is also mentioned that use of alternative fuels will reduce the GHG [green house gases] but this issue misses a point.

But two years ago the EPA gave the DoD a “national security exemption” (licence to pollute) that allowed it to use trucks that did not meet emissions standards for commercial trucks.

In May/June 2006 issue of Defense Technology International, Michael Durniak (“Going Green”) draws a rather dark picture for hybrid (diesel-) electric armored vehicles. “After millions of dollars and years of research, the technology is not quite ready for prime time. There’s been more ink spilled over hybrid technology than fuel saved,” he says.

“Across the Defense Department, there are around 30 hybrid-electric demonstrator vehicles in some form of testing…But all have failed to achieve the combination of performance, toughness, price and utility that the military demands of its vehicles,” says David Axe, in another article in the same issue.

In addition, as Scott Buchanan reported in his article “Energy and Force Transformation” in the Joint Force Quarterly “of the top 10 battlefield guzzlers, only 2 are combat vehicles—the Abrams tank and the Apache helicopter. The others carry fuel and supplies.” He adds that “over half of the fuel transported to the battlefield is consumed by support vehicles, not vehicles engaged in frontline combat. “

The Air Force tested synthetic JP-8 derived from natural gas on B-52s (known as big ugly fat fellow in military circle). It guzzles 47,000 gallons (around $100,000 fill-up) in a single mission. Try to fill it up with synJP-8 which costs $23 a gallon to Pentagon.

I am in the same club with Colonel Fullerton (Airpower magazine April 2005) who do not think that Air Force will be able to go green. He argues that “Even if new technologies enable hydrogen- or nuclear-powered aircraft, they will remain small in number.” Because replace. Fifty years from now, the Air Force will probably do many things very differently, but if flying is still part of our mission, we will certainly notice the prominent smell of jet fuel around our hangars and runways.” (Oil, America, and the Air Force).

The Pentagon wants to keep its current fleet and add new technologically advanced ones. But what do we really know about the future technology aircrafts? We heard a lot about F-22A and F-35s but how about the ones (such as Polecat and Aurora) at the flight test center near Groom Lake, Nevada (known as Area 51)? Do those programs exist? If they exist, on which fuel those aircrafts of the future run? Hydrogen?

For the Navy, nuclear power is seen as a savior. It is already used for aircraft carriers and submarines — about 80 of the Navy's 286 ships.

But nuclear is not seen an economic fuel for destroyers, cruisers and smaller vessels until oil costs about $200 a barrel. (Armed Forces Journal, August 2006). ("Energy Gap).

In short, biofuels will not be a solution in the short- to mid-term. It is an illusion and maybe has some other motives behind it.

A Neo-Conservative Oil-Military-Industrial Complex

In his article (Hubbert’s Defense Department) Byron W. King argues that “you hardly ever see a reference to that “mobility fuel” as being the sine qua non of U.S. military power.”

In fact a 2001 report from Office of Under Secretary of Defense had already given a reason: “Because DOD’s consumption of oil represents the highest priority of all uses, there will be no fundamental limits to DOD’s fuel supply for many, many decades.”

Yes, America is “addicted to oil”. So is the US military. And the Pentagon has probably a Peak Oil strategy.

Meanwhile, as long as the Pentagon continues expanding with Bush’s “war on terror” the oil-military-industrial complex will be the major winner.

What is the US military-industrial complex without oil anyway?

As long as the US wants to remain a superpower, oil will continue to be a vital commodity not only for the “non-negotiable” American way of life but also for neo-Conservative Oil-Military-Industrial Complex.

Yes, this is a neo-COMIC situation!

Mussolini had put it in a context long time ago: “Fascism should rightly be called corporatism, as it is a merge of state and corporate power.” Well, just think of the number of executives from the rank of major or above employed by the neo-COMIC.

Editorial Notes: Related essay by Byron King: Hubbert's Defense Department. Dr. Sohbet Karbuz (a Turkish citizen), is former head of non-OECD energy statistics section of the International Energy Agency (Paris). Before joining the IEA he held academic positions in Germany and Austria. (His blog). He has written multiple articles for Energy Bulletin, including: Pentagon and Peak Oil: A Military Literature Review Energy and military force transformation The US military oil consumption -BA

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