Pentagon study says oil reliance strains military
A new study ordered by the Pentagon warns that the rising cost and
dwindling supply of oil -- the lifeblood of fighter jets, warships, and
tanks -- will make the US military's ability to respond to hot spots around
the world "unsustainable in the long term."
The study, produced by a defence consulting firm, concludes that all four
branches of the military must "fundamentally transform" their assumptions
about energy, including taking immediate steps toward fielding weapons
systems and aircraft that run on alternative and renewable fuels. It is
"imperative" that the Department of Defence "apply new energy technologies
that address alternative supply sources and efficient consumption across all
aspects of military operations," according to the report.
Weaning the military from fossil fuels quickly, however, would be a
Herculean task -- especially because the bulk of the US arsenal, the world's
most advanced, is dependent on fossil fuels and many of those military
systems have been designed to remain in service for at least several
decades. Moving to alternative energy sources on a large scale would
"challenge some of the department's most deeply held assumptions, interests,
and processes," the report acknowledges.
Pentagon advisers believe the military's growing consumption of fossil fuels
-- an increasingly expensive and scarce commodity -- leaves Pentagon leaders
with little choice but to break with the past as soon as possible. Compared
with World War II, according to the report, the military in Iraq and
Afghanistan is using 16 times more fuel per soldier.
"We have to wake up," said Milton R. Copulos, National Defence Council
Foundation president and an authority on the military's energy needs.
"We are at the edge of a precipice and we have one foot over the edge. The
only way to avoid going over is to move forward and move forward
aggressively with initiatives to develop alternative fuels. Just cutting
back won't work."
The Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation and Resources,which is
responsible for addressing future security challenges, commissioned LMI, a
government -- consulting firm, to produce the report. Called "Transforming
the Way DoD Looks at Energy," the study is intended as a potential blueprint
for a new military energy strategy and includes a detailed survey of
potential alternatives to oil -- including synthetic fuels, renewable
biofuels, ethanol, and biodiesel fuel as well as solar and wind power, among
The military is considered a technology leader and how it decides to meet
future energy needs could influence broader national efforts to reduce
dependence on foreign oil. The report adds a powerful voice to the growing
chorus warning that, as oil supplies dwindle during the next half-century,
US reliance on fossil fuels poses a serious risk to national security.
"The Pentagon's efforts in this area would have a huge impact on the rest of
the country," said Copulos.
The Department of Defence is the largest single energy consumer in the
country. The Air Force spends about $ 5 bn a year on fuel, mostly to support
flight operations. The Navy and Army are close behind. Of all the cargo the
military transports, more than half consists of fuel. About 80 % of all
material transported on the battlefield is fuel.
The military's energy consumption has steadily grown as its arsenal has
become more mechanized and as US forces have had to travel farther
distances. In World War II, the United States consumed about a gallon of
fuel per soldier per day, according to the report. In the 1990-91 Persian
Gulf War, about 4 gallons of fuel per soldier was consumed per day. In 2006,
the US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan burned about 16 gallons of fuel
per soldier on average per day, almost twice as much as the year before.
Higher fuel consumption is a consequence of the US military's changing
posture in recent years. During the Cold War, US forces were deployed at
numerous bases across the world; since then, the United States has downsized
its force and closed many of its former bases in Asia and Europe.
The Pentagon's strategic planning has placed a premium on being able to
deploy forces quickly around the world from bases in the United States. The
National Defence Strategy, which lays out the Pentagon's anticipated
missions, calls for an increased US military presence around the globe to be
able to combat international terrorist groups and respond to humanitarian
and security crises. But aviation fuel consumption, for example, has
increased 6 % over the last decade. And the report predicts that trend will
"The US military will have to be even more energy intense, locate in more
regions of the world, employ new technologies, and manage a more complex
logistics system," according to the report. "Simply put, more miles will be
travelled, both by combat units and the supply units that sustain them,
which will result in increased energy consumption."
The costs of relying on oil to power the military are consuming an
increasing share of the military's budget, the report asserts. Energy costs
have doubled since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it says, and the
cost of conducting operations could become so expensive in the future that
the military will not be able to pay for some of its new weapon systems.
Ensuring access to dwindling oil supplies also carries a big price tag. The
United States, relying largely on military patrols, spends an average of $
44 bn per year safeguarding oil supplies in the Persian Gulf. And the United
States is often dependent on some of the same countries that pose the
greatest threats to US interests.
Achieving an energy transformation at the Department of Defence "will
require the commitment, personal involvement, and leadership of the
secretary of defence and his key subordinates," the report says.
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