The U.S. Navy’s initiative could pave the way for a Department of Defense energy program that garners precious energy resources in peacetime and saves lives in war.
The Department of Defense (DOD) is the single largest consumer of petroleum in the United States. In 2011, it spent almost $17 billion on 114 million barrels of fuel—the operational energy required for training, moving, and sustaining military forces and weapon platforms for military operations.1 In July 2008, world oil prices peaked at an all-time high of $142 per barrel at the end of a meteoric rise from $39 per barrel in 2004. This 350 percent increase, followed by prices that remained between $80 and $120 per barrel until 2015, put sufficient strain on the fuel budgets of the military services to create a strong incentive for finding efficiencies and reducing consumption. Despite lessons learned from this and previous oil crises, DOD and the services struggle to find a long-term, sustainable strategy to maintain operational energy efficiency and reduce battlefield fuel demand.
DOD should embrace the Navy’s Great Green Fleet concept as an example of how technology, metrics, processes, tools, and organizational structures can combine to sustain an energy-cognizant warfighting culture.
Energy Efficiency Saves Lives
Following his experiences in Iraq in 2003, Lieutenant General James Mattis, then-commander of the 1st Marine Division, demanded the armed services work together to “unleash us from the tether of fuel.”2 For soldiers and Marines, energy efficiency saves lives. Increases in vehicle weights and in the number of radios, vehicles, computers, and air conditioning systems necessary for cooling computer equipment all combined to incrementally expand fuel demand per soldier and Marine in the field since Vietnam. The more than a decade of operations in Afghanistan highlighted the enemy’s willingness to exploit the U.S. requirement for fuel convoys in the country. Enemy attacks resulted in one Marine casualty for every 50 convoys and one Army casualty for every 24 convoys.3
Then-Marine Corps Commandant General James T. Conway, during an energy summit in 2011, identified fuel convoy security as one of his most pressing issues. An Army report in 2009 stated a 10 percent reduction in expeditionary fuel demand over five years could eliminate 35 fuel-related supply casualties.4 Army and Marine Corps collaboration identified energy savings that could reduce the logistical footprint needed to sustain the warfighter, further reducing the risk of casualties. Notable efforts include the application of foam insulation to tent structures, the development of more fuel-efficient generators and environmental control units, and research on alternative and renewable energy sources for potential use at forward-deployed locations.5
The Army and Marines Corps consume about 15 percent of DOD’s operational energy, but their wartime experience has brought home the reality that reducing fuel dependence will reduce U.S. military casualties. Efficient energy supply chains directly correlate to a nation’s ability to fight and win. This also is true for the other services, but lacking the experience of high-end warfare since World War II, they seem to have forgotten the lessons.
Too many warfighters have no incentive to consume fuel efficiently. As a result, fuel is essentially a “free” resource, despite being a critical element in the movement and employment of U.S. military forces. Warfighters, divorced from supply processes, fail to plan for energy and budget consequences. This disconnect between the cause and effect of energy policy leads to poor operational and acquisition decisions.
The U.S. military faced similar pricing pressure four decades ago when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), in response to U.S. involvement in the Arab-Israeli War, enacted the 1973 embargo, causing oil prices to double overnight to $40 per barrel. Prices climbed to remain above $50 per barrel for over a decade, reaching more than $108 in February 1981. Without the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 to facilitate a consolidated DOD solution, the Navy was the only service to establish an operational-focused energy office in 1976, which developed a variety of energy-efficient operational and engineering procedures.6
In 1981, the Navy began Ship Energy Conservation Assist Team (SECAT) visits “to aid steam powered ships in the implementation of established energy conservation strategies.”7 In 1986, oil prices dropped back to below $30 per barrel, and in 1988, the Navy shut down its energy office. For nearly 20 years, prices remained between $25 and $40 per barrel, removing the incentive that had been a catalyst for change. The Navy’s decade-long investment in its energy program nearly vanished as low prices persisted. The only other service to establish an energy program during this oil crisis was the Air Force, which focused exclusively on installation energy efficiency.
When prices began rising in 2004, DOD responded by spending significant resources on studies, task forces, policy documents, and technologies, even creating a new operational energy secretariat position.
In 2006, the Defense Department chartered the Task Force on DOD Energy Strategy with a goal “to identify opportunities to reduce fuel demand by deployed forces.”8 Remarkably, the task force charter noted that the “artificialities of low price . . . blind” DOD to energy costs in the acquisition and development of military systems.9 Released in 2008, it noted that “solving DOD’s energy problem . . . depends on leadership’s willingness to provide the oversight to ensure [policies, procedures, and analytical products] are effective.”10 By December 2008, both Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead had released guidance on developing service specific energy strategies.
Responsible for 85 percent of DOD’s fuel consumption, the Air Force and Navy developed similar policies aimed at reducing demand, expanding supply, and increasing efficiency. They collaborated on testing and certifying advanced alternative fuels, a key initiative that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus pursued vigorously when he took office in 2009.11 The Air Force further directed the development of a culture that values energy, an objective the Navy adopted as part of its 2016 Great Green Fleet.12 All the military services began investing a portion of their budgets in acquisition of energy-efficient technologies.
In terms of total consumption, DOD operational energy expenditures dropped from 116 million barrels in 2008 to 88.6 million barrels in 2015, a reduction of 24 percent. Despite these gains, DOD’s fiscal year 2015 “Operational Energy Annual Report” lacks analysis of how the department achieved reductions not related to reduced operational readiness associated with reduced training. Army and Air Force reductions also track closely with the withdrawal of forces from Iraq in 2011, followed by the steady redeployment of forces from Afghanistan through 2015. The downward trend in total consumption and total fuel expenditures creates a false sense of success. History shows fuel savings by the Air Force and Navy have almost largely been driven by cuts in operations, usually when fuel prices are high.
Toward A Great Green Fleet
Future military systems will bring higher overall consumption. A 2014 study for the Navy’s operational analysis branch concluded the Navy’s future ships, aircraft, and other systems will consume 19 percent more fuel. Ship fuel requirements are expected to increase 27 percent between 2012 and 2030.13 The Navy’s most recent shipbuilding plan calls for 355 ships. Oil price forecasts vary for 2030, but historical trends show the price per barrel will rise. The combination of more systems with higher fuel consumption rates and oil price increases presents a significant future budget challenge.
Meanwhile, recent service investments in technological advancements have yielded minimal results. The one notable success has been in alternative fuels. In 2016, the Navy deployed the Great Green Fleet using more than 48 million gallons of F-76—the Navy’s marine diesel fuel blended with 10 percent advanced alternative fuels made from Midwest beef tallow. The first bulk purchase of an advanced alternative fuel by the Defense Logistics Agency cost $2.05 a gallon for the blended product, very competitive with regular petroleum-based fuel.14
Between 2008 and 2015, Naval Sea Systems Command continued funding development of energy-efficient technologies, though very few came to fruition in time for the 2016 Great Green Fleet. The Secretary of the Navy’s imperative for hybrid electric drives (HED)—the most promising improvement for destroyers—stalled in development despite proving successful on the USS Makin Island (LHD-8) and the USS America (LHA-6). Hybrid electric drives are a prime example of how promising energy-saving innovations must overcome technical and bureaucratic hurdles to avoid the budgetary axe.
DOD’s incoherent, piecemeal approach to operational energy policy costs lives, readiness, and combat capability. Operational and strategic commanders lack a mission-based energy efficiency metric to promote efficiency and are disconnected from the price pressures that result in readiness reductions. Meanwhile, the services continue spending their energy budgets on developing breakthrough energy technologies while largely discounting proven energy-efficient operational procedures.
The most effective gains tend to come from targeted, incremental policy shifts that can be sustained. The identification and articulation of those targets will require the development of mission-specific analytical tools for fuel consumption rate. These tools could enable commanders to promote energy efficient behavior and evaluate new energy technologies independent of price fluctuations. Only by correctly measuring energy consumption will DOD establish a warfighter culture that places the proper value on the cost of fuel, both in the employment of current platforms and the acquisition of future combat systems.
The Navy’s development of the Ship Energy Conservation Assist Team (SECAT) program in 1981, Navy Energy Usage Reporting System (NEURS) in 1984, and the incentivized Energy Conservation (i-ENCON) program in 1994 laid the foundation for an effective energy program, and the Navy Task Force Energy in 2008 reaffirmed this requirement. In 2016, the Great Green Fleet demonstrated energy efficient technologies, operational procedures, and alternative fuels in a global setting.
DOD should use the Great Green Fleet as an example of how to build and sustain an energy-cognizant warfighting culture. Task Force Energy should be transformed into a fleet-operational energy program. It must provide operators with the metrics, processes, tools, and organizational structures necessary to evaluate energy efficiency independent of fuel price fluctuations. Realizing the potential of the Great Green Fleet will pave the way for a DOD energy program that garners precious energy resources in peacetime and saves lives in war.
1. Sharon E. Burke, “Fiscal Year 2011 Operational Energy Annual Report 2,” Department of Defense: Operational Energy Plans and Programs, 11 March 2011. All prices are 2017 inflation-adjusted real prices from “EIA—Independent Statistics and Analysis,” Energy Information Administration, www.eia.gov/outlooks/steo/realprices.
2. U.S. Naval Research Advisory Committee, “Future Fuels,” Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy: Research, Development and Acquisition (April 2006), 3.
3. James F. Amos, “United States Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Strategy and Implementation Plan,” U.S. Marine Corps (2010), 8.
4. David S. Eady, et al., “Sustain the Mission Project: Casualty Factors for Fuel and Water Resupply Convoys,” Army Environmental Policy Institute (September 2009), 9.
5. U.S. Government Accountability Office, “DoD Needs to Increase Fuel Demand Management to Forward Deployed Locations,” GAO-09-300 (2009).
6. Naval Sea Systems Command, “Shipboard Energy Conservation Guide,” 19 July 2016. Original version published on 31 January 1985. The guide includes fuel consumption curves indicating the most fuel efficient speeds for each ship class.
7. R. Dangel and G. Healy, “Saving Fuel Aboard U.S. Naval Vessels,” paper presented to the Chesapeake Marine Engineering Symposium, Washington, DC, 24 January 1986, 9-1.
8. Michael P. C. Carns and William Schneider Jr., “Final Report of the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on DoD Energy Strategy” memorandum for Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics, February 2008, 4.
9. Defense Science Board Task Force on DoD Energy Strategy, “More Fight – Less Fuel,” Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, February 2008, 73.
10. Carns and Schneider, “Final Report of the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on DoD Energy Strategy,” 3.
11. Secretary Ray Mabus, “SECNAV Energy Message to the Fleet,” ALNAV 068/09, 30 October 2009, www.public.navy.mil/bupers npc/reference/messages/Documents/ALNAVS/ALN2009/ALN09068.txt.
12. Michael B. Donley, Secretary of the Air Force, “Air Force Energy Program Policy Memorandum,” 19 December 2008, 6.
13. Paul Severs, et al., “Reducing Fleet Tactical Energy Consumption,” Whitney, Bradley, & Brown, Inc., 30 September 2014, i.
14. Secretary Ray Mabus, “Deployment of the Great Green Fleet,” Naval Station North Island, San Diego, CA, 20 January 2016, www.navy.mil/navydata/people/secnav/Mabus/Speech/Great%20Green%20Fleet%20Deployment_2016_Final.pdf.
Commander Orchard-Hays, a naval flight officer, serves as a military faculty member for the Joint Combined Warfighting School at the Joint Forces Staff College. Previously, he served as the operational energy section head of the Navy’s Great Green Fleet at U.S. Fleet Forces Command. He has deployed five times in support of Operations Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and Unified Assistance.
Lieutenant Colonel King is the deputy chief of the personnel division at U.S. Central Command. She commanded the 386th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron, Ali al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.