Defense review should set energy reduction targets, report says

The 72,000 solar panels at Nellis Air Force Base supply 25 percent of the base's power needs. The 72,000 solar panels at Nellis Air Force Base supply 25 percent of the base's power needs. Olivia Hampton/Newscom
Military planners conducting the Quadrennial Defense Review should set hard targets for reducing energy consumption throughout the department, a new report concludes.

"Increasing our energy efficiency is often framed as an environmental issue, when in fact it has actually become a core national security concern," wrote Jerry Warner and Peter W. Singer in a study released on Thursday by the Brookings Institution.

Theirs is the latest in a growing catalog of studies citing the national security dimensions of the nation's addiction to foreign oil. Like many of the others, the Brookings scholars note that Defense consumes more energy in the course of its daily operations than any other single entity and more than 100 nations.

"There may be no aspect of American defense planning that is as important, and yet little understood and acted upon, as our defense energy security strategy," they wrote.

Specifically, Warner and Singer believe the department should reduce its baseline total consumption of energy by 20 percent by 2025, and become a net-zero consumer that produces its own energy at bases and facilities by 2030.

Such reductions could be accomplished without sacrificing military capability, the report said, although it does not detail how, other than to say, "resolving DoD issues with energy security will require the department to embrace and champion new technologies."

The Defense Department has made substantial progress in reducing energy consumption at its facilities and has used its considerable purchasing power to become one of the largest consumers of electricity generated from solar, wind and geothermal sources. But department leaders have placed far less attention on cutting the fuel consumption of vehicles, ships and aircraft used in military operations.

The report notes that energy concerns lack institutional support: "Without firm requirements, defense contractors that sell to the department don't yet know how seriously to program energy efficiency into their submissions, while the issue is yet to be seen as an operational concern by all. For example, when the head of coalition forces in western Iraq sent in a 'Priority 1' request for 183 solar and wind turbine-equipped stations that would make forward operating bases more self-sufficient, the Joint Chiefs of Staff back in Washington rejected it because it was viewed as unnecessary."

Many of the report's conclusions are drawn from a far more extensive study of the issue by the Defense Science Board in 2008, which found that the high and growing demand for fuel creates unnecessary risks for troops, increases the cost of operations and jeopardizes mission success.

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