Study urges greater energy efficiency at DOD

The Pentagon should embrace energy efficiency as a key design criterion for new weapon systems, vehicles and military bases, according to a yet-unpublished study by the Defense Science Board (DSB).

Former Defense Department acquisition chief Kenneth Krieg directed a DSB task force in May 2006 to find ways to reduce the Defense Department's need for electricity and fuel. The group, co-chaired by former Energy and Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, also was asked to identify institutional barriers in the defense bureaucracy that stand in the way of a more energy-efficient military.

The group has not yet published its final report, but Federal Computer Week obtained a set of briefing slides, dated June 27, summarizing the panel's findings.

According to the slides, the U.S. military's demand for power has climbed steadily during the past decades. Deployed service members now consume an average of 27.3 gallons of fuel per day during operations in Iraq, compared with an average consumption rate of 1.7 gallons during World War II, the briefing slides state.

The military's growing hunger for energy in theater is largely driven by new technological developments, particularly in the field of C4ISR systems ' military jargon for communications, surveillance and reconnaissance gear -- and unmanned vehicles, the DSB slides state.

As a result, fuel makes up 70 percent of the weight of goods delivered to troops on the battlefield, according to DSB. But lugging fuel to the front lines restricts unit mobility and exposes convoy guards to enemy attacks, the briefing slides read.

DSB panel members suggest several technological solutions to increase DOD systems' and vehicles' energy efficiency. For ground vehicles, these include the use of lighter, more resilient materials, and hybrid and electric engines. Fixed-wing aircraft would be more energy efficient when built with a blended wing body design -- an aircraft shape combining the traditional tube form with that of a flying wing, according to the briefing slides.

DSB task force members also point out ways for conserving energy in DOD's fleet of 164,000 noncombat support vehicles, dubbed nontactical vehicles in military-speak. For example, DOD officials could use compact cars instead of gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles when possible, according to the slides.

DSB task force members are sharply critical of the military's practice of refurbishing large stocks of vehicles and equipment worn from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the panel's briefing slides. The process, known as 'reset' in military jargon, is expected to cost the military tens of billions of dollars.

Money budgeted for resetting often decades-old military equipment 'locks in' money that could otherwise be spent on exploiting new research and development toward more energy efficiency, the briefing slides read. 'Shouldn't we be far more aggressive and innovative and actively pursue current and near-term technologies, at least in part?' panel members asked. 'Reset, as now envisioned, needs 'serious reconsideration'' from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, they wrote.

Linton Wells, a former Pentagon official and now a distinguished research professor and force transformation chair at the National Defense University, said Pentagon financial planners should start accounting for the cost of fuel differently.

'If gasoline is assumed to be $3 per gallon that's fine, except that when you deliver it by midair refueling'it's actually $40 per gallon,' Wells told FCW this week.

Pricing fuel this way could have a big effect on some DOD programs, Wells said. 'The decision to re-engine an aircraft that might make no sense at $3 per gallon could make enormous sense at $40 per gallon,' he said.

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