With Great Military Power Comes the Need for Great Energy Efficiency

Two Democratic lawmakers have introduced new legislation to push military operations to be more energy efficient and rely less on fossil fuels. Their goal, they say, is not only to save money for spending elsewhere in the Pentagon's budget, but to reduce the need for fuel convoys and reduce troops' exposure to harm.

The bill, called the Department of Defense Energy Security Act of 2014, was announced yesterday by Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) and Representative Scott Peters (D-CA), who said that, "Military reliance on fossil fuels is a national security issue." Since 2001, more than 3,000 men and women in uniform have been killed or wounded in attacks on fuel convoys in Afghanistan.

The idea of a more energy-efficient military has support in defense circles. In 2010, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen delivered a speech, in which he declared that, "Saving energy saves lives."

"Simply put, we cannot think about energy after we get there – wherever there may be. Energy security needs to be one the first things we think about before we deploy another soldier, before we build another ship or plane and before we buy or fill another rucksack. And the demand for energy is not going to ease anytime soon."

Indeed, the U.S. military is the largest institutional consumer of energy in the world. Last year alone, the Defense Department spent $14.8 billion on fuel for operational missions. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon encouraged the military services to equip units with solar-powered generators and other renewable energy to help reduce the demand for conventional fuel.

But, with U.S. forces withdrawing from Afghanistan, why the renewed push for energy efficiency? Stacy Closson, an analyst at the Center for National Policy, a non-partisan think tank, says that it's important that the Defense Department transition energy lessons from war to peacetime. According to a report in National Defense Magazine: "In conversations with Pentagon officials, Closson saw great enthusiasm for continuing to make the military greener. 'They seem to be as committed as ever to displacing as much petroleum based fuel as possible,' she said."

Closson argues that America's strategic pivot toward Asia makes energy efficiency more essential than ever. In a recent report she co-authored on the topic, she writes:

These lessons provide a backdrop against which we acknowledge and assess the U.S. Department of Defense's (DoD) plan to substantially increase U.S. forces in the Asia Pacific, a resource poor region with the world's two fastest growing energy consumers, China and India.

Distances within the Asia Pacific region are long, suggesting that efforts to get energy to troops when and where it is needed will be challenging. As opposed to wars in the Middle East, potential adversaries in the Asia Pacific region will have more sophisticated weapons, and full spectrum operations will use more energy over longer distances.

As we rebalance to this part of the world, extracting the maximum capability out of every gallon of fuel, creating more options to fuel our forces, and minimizing the risk of supply disruptions to our warfighters will require a sustained and unified effort from DoD and the military services.

Closson's study,"The Rebalance to Asia: Implications for U.S. Military Energy Use," is available online at the Center for National Policy.