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Energy strategy improves capabilities, savings, DoD says

The Defense Department’s new operational energy strategy challenges assumptions about battlefield energy usage, paving the way for a more secure, agile and flexible fighting force, according to the Pentagon official who oversees the strategy.

Sharon E. Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs, said during a June 9 interview that the strategy, included in the last Quadrennial Defense Review and required by Congress for the first time this year, is a new way of thinking about energy as a strategic capability that will reap benefits for years to come.

“Energy is almost an assumption -- that we’ll have all the energy we need, whenever we need it, wherever we need it -- and we have wonderful logistics capability that makes that true,” Burke said. “But we make it much harder than it needs to be, and we’re putting our forces at much higher risks, and with much higher costs, and we’re not giving them all the capability they could have because of the amount of energy we use.

“We’ve never looked at it as something we could do differently to make our military missions better,” she added, “and there’s no question that we can do better.”

About 75 percent of the department’s energy usage comes from operations, rather than fixed installations, Burke said. While operations to supply fuel downrange has been a target as long as fuel has been used, she said, what has changed is “the unprecedented volume of fuel” now used to supply the military, and geopolitics that make the United States reliant on unfriendly nations for its energy usage.

Fuel convoys have been high-profile targets of insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said, and service members’ increasing need for batteries now has them carrying 10-to-18 pounds extra for each three-day patrol.

Under the new strategy, military equipment, as well as military members, will use less energy and more alternative forms of energy, such as solar and biological ingredients rather than fossil fuels, Burke said. She noted that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, sent a June 7 memo to troops in his command that says service members must make it their personal mission to use less energy, which he called critical to mission success.

“The way we use energy can either hurt our military operations, or it can help,” Burke said. “We want to look at energy as a strategic good that can make our military operations better.”

Burke noted that the services already are practicing energy efficiency, from Marines and soldiers using solar and microgrid technology, respectively, in Afghanistan, to Air Mobility Command saving hundreds of millions of gallons of fuel with changes to the loading and routing of planes, and the Navy requiring energy efficiencies in its fleet.

Such innovations weren’t used in the past, Burke said, simply because the services never asked for it. “If we now ask for options to use energy better, we’ll get it,” she said. “And we’ll get it without giving up the other things we need. We can make a trade here and get all the things we need.”

In the long term, Burke said, if the military incorporates the lessons learned from the energy strategy, “in 20 to 30 years, we will have a military where energy is a strategic advantage.”

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