The Military’s Strategic Imperative to Save Fuel (and Lives)

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Sharon Burke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs

Increasing energy efficiency in the U.S. military has become as much about geopolitical strategy as it is about saving lives and money. That’s the perspective of the Pentagon’s top energy official, and it has major implications for the U.S. military’s drive to use less oil-based fuel.

energyNOW! correspondent Lee Patrick Sullivan interviewed Sharon Burke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs, about the military’s fight against fossil fuel dependence. You can watch the full interview below:

By becoming more energy efficient and diversifying its sources of energy, says Burke, the U.S. military deprives hostile nations of petro-dollars. “No matter where you buy your fuel, if you buy it from Texas, or if you buy it from Mexico or Canada, or if you buy it from Saudi Arabia, it’s priced on a global market,” she said. “So every gallon you buy is a dollar in Iran’s pocket, because it’s a global market, and it affects our interests.”

“Supply lines have been a target in times of war since people have been fighting,” says Burke. But what’s different today is the length of the supply line needed to reach U.S. forces deployed in remote areas around the world.

The military burns through about 50 million gallons of fuel a month in Afghanistan, and 70 percent of the total logistics movement is fuel or water. That oil dependence creates a human cost – more than 60 percent of the 3,000 U.S. combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have come from attacks on fuel convoys.

But the extended reach of U.S. forces isn’t the only issue facing Burke. Electricity generators, which constitute the power backbone of forward bases and outposts, are a particular problem. “The way we’re using generators on the battlefield right now is very inefficient,” says Burke. “That’s just throwing away fuel.”

Burke says the U.S. Army has put $100 million into improving energy generation and distribution. “That’s going to pay back within a year,” she said. The Pentagon’s optimism isn’t surprising, considering the Department of Defense spends $15 billion a year on energy, more than any other single organization in the world.

The total amount spent on fuel means reducing consumption across the military supply chain also represents a huge opportunity. “We haven’t to date looked at our energy supply for our military forces as anything other than an assumption…as a result, we use more than we need to,” said Burke. “If we’re putting risks in there that don’t need to be there, we gotta do better on that.”

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