National Security and Energy Inextricably Linked
By Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.
It often is said that while everybody talks about the weather, no one does anything about it.
The same observation could be made about energy, a topic that during the past 30 years has been the subject of considerable conversation but not much action.
It may be no coincidence that, lately, we are seeing signs of movement on both fronts.
Weather and energy have become focal points of a much needed discussion in the United States about climate change, energy dependence and, not surprisingly, national security.
I recently served on a military advisory board at the Center for Naval Analysis. Our study, titled “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” looked at how climate change presents a serious national security threat that could affect Americans at home, influence military operations abroad and heighten global tensions. One of the key findings was that “climate change, national security and energy dependence are a related set of global challenges.”
Our panel specifically avoided passing judgment on the science of climate change, but instead focused on exploring the consequences of global warming as a “threat multiplier” in fragile regions of the world, which in sum could exacerbate conditions that lead to failed states — the breeding grounds of extremism and terrorism.
The military advisory board estimated that climate change will require the Pentagon to prepare differently for future national security scenarios. Rising sea levels could threaten coastal bases at home and abroad. Increasing storm activity could deter the military’s ability to perform routine maintenance or carry out regular exercises. Changing ocean salinity could require alterations in sonar and submarine systems. Drought conditions might prompt new logistical plans and equipment for moving water to U.S. troops in war zones. Security responses to these problems all intersect, in one way or another, with the question of energy.
Our conclusions in the study, in many ways, brought full circle concerns I have had for some time about the role of energy as a key determinant of success on the battlefield.
It’s a simple equation: If you can move troops and materiel more quickly, with less tonnage, but deliver the same level of firepower, you can be far more efficient. While most people assume that tanks and other heavy vehicles comprise the bulk of the Army’s load, in fact nearly 80 percent of the tonnage we move on the battlefield is composed of fuel and water.
Today, fuel is by far our military’s most pressing logistics challenge, as well as a security and operational limitation. As we have seen in Iraq during the past four years, the truck convoys that transport the essential fuel and water to U.S. troops have been the target of thousands of roadside bombs, which have resulted in many casualties. From Kuwait alone, U.S. troops bring in 890,000 gallons of fuel a day across the southern border. This is a glaring example of our dependence on fuel becoming a dangerous liability.
More broadly, the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels also has proven to pose serious national security challenges that transcend the economic consequences of having to import most of our oil from the Middle East and other volatile regions. Most of the places we go for oil are tough neighborhoods.
Developing sources of renewable energy and innovative ways to reduce fuel consumption on the battlefield not only improves our military operational and logistical performance, but also helps curtail our dependence on foreign sources of energy. Innovation in the energy arena can only enhance the security of our country and the security of our fighting men and women. We must always keep in mind that logistics performance on the battlefield is a life-and-death issue.
One promising initiative came out of the Defense Department last month, when Ken Krieg, undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, mandated a pilot program that requires three major weapon systems to consider energy efficiency as a key parameter in their designs. Candidates for this effort are the Air Force next-generation long-range strike aircraft, the Army and Marine Corps Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, and the Navy’s CG-X cruiser.
During the past several months, NDIA has begun to address the energy issue by standing up an Energy Security Committee under the leadership of Len Gollobin, a member of our board of directors.
Last year, we added an energy-focused seminar to the Office of Naval Research science and technology conference. This year, we included presentations on energy topics at the Joint Services Environmental Management conference in Columbus, Ohio. Both events were well received, and NDIA will continue to stage at least one energy conference on an annual basis.
Energy obviously is not just a military issue. It must be part of a wide-ranging national conversation. As the Defense Department moves out to address its energy problems, it has the opportunity to set a template for the rest of the nation to follow. This quest will require additional commitment, time and resources.
Next month, President’s Perspective will address important issues raised at the NDIA energy tracks and illuminate some of the promising ideas and technologies that will take us toward a more secure energy posture, both nationally and militarily.
Please email your comments to LFarrell@ndia.org