The Pentagon could save lives and money by cutting its use of fuel and developing more alternative sources of energy, according to a new report released by the consulting firm Deloitte LLP.
This “national imperative” could also be a huge opportunity for US defense and aerospace companies at a time of mounting pressures on the US and global defense budgets, said Charles Wald, a retired US Air Force general, senior adviser for Deloitte and co-author of the report.
Lockheed Martin Corp, Northrop Grumman Corp, Boeing Co and other big defense companies have already begun highlighting their work on alternative energy technologies and ways to improve energy efficiency.
Failure to change the Pentagon’s approach could more than double the number of US troops killed in Afghanistan by 2014, the report warned. More than 900 US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001.
The report said developing and using alternative energy should be seen as a priority on a par with Pentagon efforts to develop new weapons, mine resistant armoured trucks and sophisticated new sensors.
The US military spent about $16 billion to buy 120 million barrels of oil in 2008, making it the single largest user of fuel in the United States, although its use amounted to just 1.7 % of total US consumption.
Wald said the US military’s high rate of fuel use made it especially vulnerable in Afghanistan, which is essentially served by only two convoy routes that are routinely targeted for roadside bomb attacks.
In fact, increased use of convoys to transport fuel and water which account for about 80 % of the weight of everything the US takes to war was a root cause of US casualties, and there was no sign that the Pentagon intended to shift the strategy it used in Iraq, he said.
“That vulnerability is a clarion call to industry and the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy to work together as rapidly as we can,” Wald told Reuters.
Wald said the Pentagon should adopt the urgent approach championed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who freed up billions of dollars to quickly develop, buy and field Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) trucks for use in Iraq.
The report found a 175 % increase in the gallons of fuel consumed per US soldier since the Vietnam War, and said each soldier now consumed about 22 gallons per day.
Fuel use has increased despite better fuel efficiency due to growing mechanization of technologies to fight wars, the need to transport troops and equipment over long distances, and the rugged terrain and irregular nature of current wars.
But if the US government worked closely with industry, it could sharply cut its dependence on fossil fuels, reducing the need for life-endangering fuel convoys, the report said.
It called for “widespread and aggressive conservation techniques” at US bases; the use of renewable energy such as solar and wind power at bases overseas; implementation of renewable carbon-based fuels made from algae or biomass; greater reliance on electric vehicles and other innovations.
“What we need is a project that has the immediacy and breadth of a Manhattan Project,” Wald said, referring to the United States’ World War Two drive to build an atomic bomb.
Recent legislation passed by Congress called for the president to appoint an energy czar for the Pentagon and urged the Pentagon to factor the cost of fuel into its acquisition decisions, but those steps are still being implemented.
Top Pentagon officials, including acquisition chief Ashton Carter, understand the importance of reducing the Pentagon’s use of energy, but disparate efforts by the services are not being well coordinated thus far, Wald said.