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Energy Insights:48: End of Cheap Oil and Military

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48: End of Cheap Oil and Military



This post is a slightly annotated summary of a poster presentation (Army Energy Strategy for the End of Cheap Oil) at the 25th Army Science Conference, Orlando, Florida, November 27-30, 2006, by three scholars of the US Military Academy at West Point.

The authors of that poster presentation are Colonel Kip P. Nygren, head of Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering, Lit. Colonel Darrell D. Massie, assoc. professor in the same department, and Paul J. Kern, a retired four star general. Note that Kern was commanding general of US Army Material Command.

Since military and civilian aspects are handled together in the original article, I separated them and almost completely reshuffled for an easy reading. Below is the part dealing with military aspects, which should add to my earlier post on
Pentagon and Peak Oil (a Military Literature Review). I will discuss the rest in my next post.

Confirming my previous writings on the subject they argue that “although the military will always have access to the fuel required for national security missions, the costs will rise substantially in the near future and require the reallocation of resources from other critical mission elements and programs….Unlimited access to oil is believed to be an American right and we have already fought major wars in the Middle East partly to ensure continued access to cheap oil.”

The military services maintain huge fuel delivery infrastructures, along with the associated substantial maintenance and logistics organizations which contribute to considerable overhead costs. As a result, the cost of oil “is driven more by the transportation weight of the fuel and its associated distribution system for both the initial deployment and for continual resupply than by the actual cost of the oil itself.”

In 2004, during periods of heavy equipment movement, they say the military (US and coalition forces) used “over 4 million gallons of fuel per day in Iraq.” That makes 95 kb/d in 2004. According to my estimates average use of oil there in the past three years is 40 kb/d.

In comparison, they say, “during World War II, on 24 August 1944 during Operation Red Ball, Allied Forces used 1.8 Million gallons per day….A rough comparison of the 2004 energy requirements for the 150,000 coalition soldiers in Iraq with about one million soldiers (1,075,681 U.S. Soldiers on 31 August 1944) of the Allied forces in Germany during World War II shows that soldiers today require about 16 times the fuel used per soldier in 1944. This escalating need for more energy has also substantially increased the infrastructure required to supply that level of fuel.”[2]

“The increase in military fuel consumption from 1944 until 2005 implies that the annual per soldier energy consumption has doubled every 20 years over this period. This 3.5% annual growth appears modest, but if it continues, the logistical impact on the military would be enormous. At the current rate of increase in fuel consumption, the military could expect to consume 32 times more energy per soldier by 2025 and 64 times more by 2045 than was used in 1944.”

Their cost figures for Iraq are eye opening. “In round numbers, it costs approximately $42 per gallon to move fuel, using more than 5,500 trucks, from DESC distribution centers to tactical distribution points.” The total (nearly $1.6 million per month) according to their estimate is “approximately 23 percent of the estimated total $7 million monthly operating cost.” (for details see their article)

Add to this of course the cost of fuel and supporting infrastructure (including equipment, people, facilities and other overhead costs).

What are the options for military then?

Similar to the ones they mention for civilians (i.e., Conservation, Life-Style Change, Substitution and Deprivation), “except that national security issues will not permit liquid fossil fuel deprivation for operational missions. Curtailed training and government imposed rationing of gasoline and diesel fuel to support the military services may become necessary.”

Life Style Changes: “if we adopted the life style of the populace in the deployed nation, not only would energy be conserved, but the U.S. military would live in better harmony with the culture and the people, whose respect and trust they are trying to earn.”

They also note that “saving a gallon of fuel in tactical vehicles results in more than a gallon of fuel saved overall. This savings at the end user is compounded by the savings in the distribution system, not just in terms of fuel required to transport fuel, but also in the people who operate and administer the distribution of fuel from the well to the battlefield. Since it is estimated that 70% of the initial deployment and the resupply weight required by an Army unit is fuel, this cascading effect may be as large as 1.5 gallons saved overall for each gallon saved due to increased fuel efficiency in a tactical vehicle.”

Policy changes: They warn that “presently, the real cost of fuel in the Army is invisible to decision makers and, therefore, fuel conservation measures have no apparent value in the decision making process. To change its culture, the U.S. military must first account for the true cost of energy in the planning, programming and budgeting process.” Only then can an increase in energy efficiency be achieved.

“However,” they add, “the most important national security reason for the reduction of energy use is to decrease the weight requirements for the deployment and resupply of Army Units.…The design tradeoffs necessary to realize these competing goals in a complex system of systems context can probably only be accomplished through the use of high fidelity war-game and security operations simulations that include the fully integrated logistical support processes that accounts for the entire system of systems life cycle costs.”

Technology: The first technology to consider is “Propulsion and power generation systems as well as new materials to reduce the weight of armored protection.” Advanced engine technologies, high efficiency hybrid propulsion systems leading to electric drives, fuel cells, and increases in fuel efficiency resulting from the reduced weight of materials with desired armor protection are also suggested.

In order to eliminate fuel resupply problem for deployed power generation they, they point out “a small self contained portable nuclear power plant of about 5 megawatts possibly based on the Navy carrier sized nuclear power systems” as an attractive potential option, “although protection of the reactor from insurgent attack will need to be carefully considered.” I think this is a too risky option.

Cultural Changes: They suggest “the metering and billing of electricity and fuel at military quarters” as a technique that “could modify behavior. “Energy meters must be used to bill occupants for extravagant energy use exceeding a fixed allowance.”

In short, “for the military to operate effectively in the coming age of very expensive liquid fuels, changes to our culture, policies and technology are essential.”

To the issue of how priorities should be set and resources allocated for the end of the era of cheap, accessible energy via oil, they suggest that “maybe in the U.S. military, it is time to consider some variation on the use of markets to motivate the achievement of expeditionary and campaign quality goals.”

In addition, they recommend basically the following additional points to be adopted. Note that I tried to keep all their ideas but modified the terminology.

· Leaders must be told about the approaching end to cheap, abundant oil and its impacts; the vital need to change the ways we use energy.
· Mandate energy efficiency and motivate the reduction of fuel need. Explicitly include fuel efficiency in requirements and acquisition processes. Ensure funding specifically targeted at fuel efficiency improvements. Use high quality simulations where appropriate.
· Account for the total life cycle cost of energy. Base investment decisions accordingly.
· Develop a comprehensive “Future Energy Alternatives for Transportation” project.
· Establish clear goals for installations to reduce per capita energy consumption by sharing cost savings.

Their overall conclusion, however, is rather pessimistic: “with the rapidly increasing cost of liquid fuels, not much time exists to develop and implement these options.”

Even though the largest oil consumer is the US Air Force, not the Army, the authors argue that Army is well positioned to show the way to transform the energy infrastructure and resolve the countless challenges that will end oil addiction. I guess that point is debatable.

[1] It is important to note here that the US Defense Logistics Agency used to provide with the total oil supplied to US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan on its website. Now what they only give is the fuel supplied since October 1, and that without specifying till when. I wonder why.
[2] If you are interested in some other interesting comparisons see my Gas-guzzling Pentagon article.

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