By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2012 – The Defense Department is developing an energy strategy that will carry it forward for decades, Sharon E. Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs said today at the Naval Energy Forum.
The challenge is to build a force that will serve the U.S. well into the 21st century -- a future that isn’t easy to foresee, Burke said.
Taking the long view is a “tough business,” she said, but this is an especially interesting time for the nation and the Defense Department as policymakers figure out how they want to build the future force.
“It all comes down to mission and money,” she said. That means determining whether energy plans can help accomplish a mission better and more reliably, and whether they can save money.
Afghanistan is the source of several lessons for energy planning, Burke said.
“The lessons that we’re learning there have resonance for the future,” she said.
DOD uses 50 million gallons of fuel in Afghanistan every month, Burke said, noting that the department can do better.
“Efficiency is not a dirty word,” Burke said. “Efficiency and effectiveness can go together. ... I know warfighters need what they need to get the job done.” But it takes a huge amount of fuel to field a modern military force, in addition to what’s expended to protect the movement of that fuel.
And while contested environments are inherently risky, Burke said, the U.S. doesn’t yet do enough to control the way it uses fuel -- something that’s changing.
Increasingly, the military is taking fuel off the battlefield through more energy-conscious operational planning, concepts of operation, specifications and requirements of major platforms and the way equipment is used, Burke said.
The military is extremely reliant on petroleum-based fuels and lubricants and batteries, Burke said.
Alternative fuels receive a lot of attention, she noted, but new technologies like propeller coatings, solid-state lighting and gas turbine refinements are contributing to the efficiency of the force.
The U.S. can have a more effective force when it needs less fuel in the first place, Burke said, due to lowered risk provided by transporting less fuel and reduced operational costs.
Economy of force is going to matter in the long view, because Afghanistan has been just a small taste of what anti-access/area denial requires of the military. And that was against a relatively ill-equipped foe, she said. “It’s not going to get any easier.”
Energy considerations are becoming part of the acquisition process, she said, noting “the supply side matters.”
“When you’re talking about the tactical edge,” she said, “with these small combat outposts, moving the fuel to that last tactical mile is the most dangerous, the most difficult, and sometimes, the most tactically operationally significant.”
Finding ways to make those outposts less dependent on the supply line, while ensuring forward-deployed personnel still have the energy they need to operate, is a very worthy effort, Burke said. Solar power, she added, is one method being tested to give troops a way to operate without the burden of having to maintain fuel supply lines.
Efficiency and supply line concerns are important, Burke said, but building capability into the future force is essential.
“Once we field a force, our ability to improve it, to make it fundamentally better … is limited,” she said. DOD can do some very important things, like rapid fielding of new equipment and refurbishing older equipment, but that isn’t the most efficient means of solving problems.
“We have to get into how we actually plan, require and acquire,” Burke said. “We have to get to a point where we’re not making convenient assumptions that we’ll have perfect access and perfect allies and perfect supplies and everything will arrive where we need it, when we need it … because that’s not the world that we live in now, and it’s not the world that we’re going to be living in for the long view.
“I think we need to be challenging ourselves more,” she added. “We need to see energy as the enabler that it is -- as a critical enabler that you can’t take for granted.”