US military maps out green battlefield goals

Unveiled last June, the U.S. military’s Operational Energy Strategy, “Energy for the Warfighter,” is a call for greater energy efficiency in military operations, something the Pentagon says will save money and lives.

Now the Department of Defense (DOD) is ready to turn these goals into reality, unveiling an implementation plan for the energy strategy, complete with seven specific targets and goals that will provide a roadmap its energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies across the military.

According to the DOD, department operations wound up consuming 5 billion gallons of fuel last year alone, at a cost of about $13 billion.

In Afghanistan, the military burns through about 50 million gallons of fuel a month and 70 percent of the total logistics movement is fuel or water. But the real costs of dependence on energy during wartime can also be measured in terms of lives lost whilst moving and guarding fuel on the battlefield.

According to Sharon Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs, more than 60 percent of the 3,000 U.S. combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have come from attacks on fuel convoys.

“We have lost many lives delivering fuel to bases around Afghanistan,” General David Petraeus wrote in a memorandum on energy issued last June. “We can and will do better.” In the letter, Petraeus outlined several steps by which energy can be used more wisely, including a plan to set up a special office who job will be to improve energy efficiency.

The goal of “Energy for the Warfighter” (the full document can be read here) was to dramatically reduce energy consumption and expand use of alternative energy sources, such as solar generated electricity and biofuels.

In line with that original mission, the implementation plan outlined seven concrete steps the military will take, all under supervision of the Defense Operational Energy Board: (1) establish energy consumption baselines and take any action to improve these baselines in the future; (2) improve energy efficiency in operations and training ; (3) promote innovation in operational energy needs; (4) improve operational energy security at fixed installations; (5) promote development of alternative fuels; (6) incorporate energy security considerations into military requirements and acquisition; and (7) adapt policy, doctrine, professional military education and combatant command activities to promote energy security.

The military has been actively changing its consumption of energy in the last few years under the guidance of Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment. Among her initiatives has been the net zero program, aimed at dramatically reducing waste by limiting consumption, recycling resources, composting and repurposing “waste” items for more energy.

That program has already set up 17 test bases intended to consume no more energy, waste or water than they generate by 2020, AOL Energy reported last May.

Another recent initiative is a portable, self-sustaining wastewater treatment system, being developed by researchers at Michigan State University that will allow troops on the front lines to be less dependent on fresh water deliveries.

In Afghanistan, solar and microgrid technology is also already in place and allows soldiers in remote areas to power tents without batteries. That means less to carry in backpacks and longer lasting more efficient power for the camp.

The Air Force is changing flight planning and plane loading to save fuel, actions the DOD says will save the Air Force $500 millions in fuel over the next five years. The Navy has also joined the effort and has deployed shipboard hybrid-electric drives, stern flaps and hull and propeller coatings to improve efficiency.

* Shifra Mincer, EarthTechling