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US military oil pains

As of September 30, 2005 the US Air Force had 5,986 aircraft in service. (1)

At the beginning of 2006 the US Navy had 285 combat and support ships, and around 4,000 operational aircraft (planes and helicopters). (2)

At the end of 2005, the US Army had a combat vehicle fleet of approximately 28,000 armored vehicles (tracked vehicles such as Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles)(3). Besides those the Army and the Marine corps have tactical wheeled vehicles such as 140,000 High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles. The US Army has also over 4,000 combat helicopters and several hundred fixed wing aircraft.

Add all those also 187,493 fleet vehicles (4) (passenger cars, busses, light trucks etc) the US Department of Defense (DOD) uses.

The issue is that except for 80 nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, almost all military fleet (including the ones that will be joining in the next decade) run on oil.

Yes, the US military is completely addicted to oil. Unsurprisingly, its oil consumption for aircraft, ships, ground vehicles and facilities makes the Pentagon the single largest oil consumer in the world. By the way, according to the 2006 CIA World Factbook rankings there are only 35 countries (out of 210) in the world that consume more oil per day than the Pentagon.

An interesting point is that even though there are only a few data sources, how much oil the Pentagon really consumes is still kind of puzzle, at least to me.(5)

According to recently released “Annual Energy Management Report”, in Fiscal Year 2006 the Pentagon consumed 320,000 barrels per day of site delivered oil, compared to about 360,000 barrels per day in 2005. Note that these and all other official figures do not include fuel obtained at no cost overseas(6), fuel consumed by contractors(7), fuel consumed in some leased and privatized facilities, and not last but least oil consumed by certain leased and rented fleet vehicles.

While the official figures for military oil consumption went down in 2006, the costs went to the sky. In 2005 DoD had spent slightly over $8.5 billion for oil but this figure reached $17 billion in 2006. Note that oil accounts for 85% of the DoD’s $20 billion energy consumption costs in 2006.

Figure 1: The US military oil consumption and costs
Figure: The US military oil consumption and costs

Source: DESC Fact book (several issues), EIA Annual Energy Review (several issues), Federal Energy Management Program Annual Report to Congress FY2005 and FY2006, General Services Administration Federal Fleet Report for Fiscal Year 2006, DoD Annual Energy Management Report for Fiscal Year 2006. Note that cost figures are converted into 2006 constant prices by using the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI index.


Fortunately at least the cost part of US military oil consumption has recently been getting attention. For example, Senator Dick Lugar’s website contains a section on “Oil and the Military.”(8) In there it is stated that “Some of the energy related costs to the military include protecting shipping lanes, ports, and fuel delivery convoys, as well as transporting the fuel that provides power at military bases. In total, the Department of Defense estimates that each $10 per barrel increase in oil prices costs the U.S. military an additional $1.3 billion dollars.”

I don’t know what that $1.3 billion really contains but certainly not the items listed. Because a) “every 10 dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil costs the United States Air Force $600 million” (9) only, b) the US military [in 2003] “allocated $49.1 billion annually to maintaining the capability to assure the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf,” (10), & c) DESC alone spends $1 million per day just for transporting the fuel to delivery point (11), among others.

Since oil is a vital strategic commodity and since “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.”(12) However, once the global peak is reached things will get a bit complicated. In best case oil costs will bite the military budget harder.

The good news is that the Pentagon is getting aware of its energy problem and working towards finding solutions. For instance, the Department of Defense is committed to achieving the energy reduction goals set forth in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Executive Order 13123 “Greening the Government through Efficient Energy Management,” and the new (January 2007) Executive Order 13423 “Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management.” To that end several efforts are underway in an increasing pace and aggressiveness.

The bad news is that most of those efforts concentrate mostly on reducing energy use in buildings and facilities, whose share in total DOD energy consumption is 25%, whereas mobility energy use accounts for 75%.

Figure 2: Fuel shares in DOD buildings and facilities, and in total energy consumption


Source: DoD Annual Energy management Report FY 2006, GSA Federal Fleet Report FY 2006. Figures include exempt facilities and fleet vehicles.

In buildings and facilities it is electricity that accounts for almost half of the total energy use. Oil accounts for only 12%. Overall, however, with its 77% share oil is the major fuel consumed by DOD in 2006. Amongst the oil types, jet fuel followed by distillate and heavy fuel oil make up the majority.

Figure 3: US military oil consumption by type


Source: DESC Fact book (several issues), EIA Annual Energy Review (several issues), Federal Energy Management Program Annual Report to Congress FY2005 and FY2006, General Services Administration Federal Fleet Report for Fiscal Year 2006, DoD Annual Energy Management Report for Fiscal Year 2006.

Searching for solutions, developing alternative fuels, working towards mitigation, reducing energy costs, increasing renewable power supplies, researching new power transmission, advanced battery as well as propulsion technologies, decreasing energy dependency, and increasing energy security etc are surely nice objectives that should be pursued and promoted. But with moderation and by not forgetting the most effective tools such as efficiency, conservation and change in habits.

More importantly, DoD should get its priorities right for its energy strategy (if there exists any) and should concentrate its efforts more on where the biggest pain is. That pain is oil. The time has come to wake up because Peak Oil is around the corner and now time is oil.


Footnotes

1 2006 US Air Force Almanac.

2 2006 US Navy Almanac.

3 The Army’s Future Combat Systems Program and Alternatives. Congressional Budget Office, the United States Congress. August 2006.

4 Including commercially and GSA leased vehicles, but excluding vehicles leased less than 60 days. General Services Administration, Federal Fleet Report – Fiscal Year 2006.

5 The core official data sources are: Department of Defense’s annual energy management report; Federal Energy Management Program’s annual report to Congress; EIA/DOE’s Annual Energy Review; and DoD Defense Energy Support Center’s Factbook. The former three publications are more or less consistent with each other (after some modifications such as adding fleet vehicle oil consumption to non-fleet vehicles etc). But the latter publication is the most important one, not an easy read though.

6 For example Kuwait supplied US military in Iraq with “fuel at no cost. Later, the Kuwaitis sought nominal payment for fuel supplied to US forces remaining in Iraq after Saddam’s ouster.” Agence France Presse, “Kuwait and U.S. Locked in Dispute Over Fuel Payment,” Arab News, March 17, 2005.

7 Note that there are 100,000 contractors working for the Pentagon in Iraq.

8 The charts on Senator’s site need an update.

9 Major Gen Frank R. Faykes, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, for Financial Management, Comptroller, "Inside the Air Force Budget", Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition, Washington, D.C., September 26, 2006.

10 Testimony of Milton R. Copulos, President of National Defense Council Foundation, before the Senate Foreign relations Committee, March 30, 2006.

11 Defense Energy Support Center, Fact Book FY2005.

12 More Capable Warfighting Through Reduced Fuel Burden, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, The Defense Science Board Task Force on Improving Fuel Efficiency of Weapons Platforms, January 2001.

Editorial Notes: See also the 6 February post of Sohbet’s blog Fill up the B-52 with Synthetic Fuel, about the progress of US Air Force trials with synthetic aviation fuel – and no, its not cheaper. -LJ

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