Powering the Pivot


Operational Energy in the Asia-Pacific Theater

The U.S. military will confront different operational energy challenges as large numbers of forces transition from Central Command towards the Pacific region. To explain these changes, DoD Power & Energy Editor George Jagels spoke with Dr. Stacy Closson, who recently co-authored a report for the Center for National Policy entitled “Rebalance to Asia: Implications for U.S. Military Energy Use.”

Dr. Closson is an Assistant Professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce and formerly worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. She is a Truman National Security Fellow and was named by the Atlantic Council an Emerging Leader of Environmental and Energy Policy.

DoD P&E: Please discuss some of the critical findings in your report.

Closson: I went in knowing that DoD is the world’s largest user of oil and that three-quarters of this is for operational energy—training, moving, and sustaining forces and weapons platforms—but what we discovered in our interviews was that moving 60 percent of U.S. forces to Asia will require a lot more fuel, more suppliers, more fuel transportation vessels, and more refueling infrastructure. And that is compounded by the fact that DoD projects that operational fuel demand will rise by 11 percent by 2025.

The bottom line is operational fuel demand is going to continue to increase, and even if you’re on a path of aggressive initiatives to cut your fuel burden, your operational fuel use is still going to rise. So we concluded that the silver bullet is energy savings. This is the warfighter’s best weapon; it can enhance their range, their endurance, and sustainability. How to achieve savings through reduced fuel demand is a big challenge.

DoD P&E: How does geography in the Asia-Pacific influence operational energy?

Closson: The most obvious challenge is the long distances—up to half the earth’s surface is in Pacific Command. The basing arrangements and U.S. forces moving will cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, Indian Ocean, and Northeast Asia. Sharon Burke, the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy, said in Congressional testimony that 3,000 gallons of fuel is burned from Bagram to Kandahar, but Singapore to Guam is 16,000 gallons. Logistical lines are going to be longer, bringing up new refueling challenges; there will be more sophisticated weapons, full-spectrum operations, and heavier naval and air assets. It’s a multiplying effect of fuel use.

DoD P&E: Are you worried about high prices or a total lack of availability?

Closson:  Market-wise, we always seem to manage price hikes. I’m more concerned about access issues. What is a little bit troubling for me is [the] different energy environment in the Asia-Pacific [compared to] the Middle East, which has oil and is close to the supply lines of Europe. The two fastest growing energy consumers in the world are China and India. By 2035, those two countries and the rest of the region will represent half of global demand. Much of the world’s oil will be moving there. Unfortunately, this area is resource poor relative to consumption. In addition, our two major allies in the region, Japan and South Korea, are 100 percent oil import dependent.

As consumption moves east, there is an assumption that Middle East oil will follow and that OPEC will keep consumers in mind when setting production quotas, with few disruptive events. This is a risky assumption because only Kazakhstan, China, and India have significant oil reserves in the region, and their reserves are only a fraction of their demand. Moreover, there is not a lot of political support in the region for alternative fuels production, and while China and Indonesia produce biofuels, they also consume increasing quantities. Our primary partner in the region, Australia, has a biofuels market, but an equally growing demand as well.

We should be assuming different scenarios in which there are attacks on refineries, cyber attacks, anti-access/area denial situations, and blocked sea lanes. I had a very educational, off-the-record conversation a DoD expert. Fuel contracts are an efficient business, always fulfilled, and almost always delivered without hassle, he said. However, just because the path has gone rather smoothly does not mean we shouldn’t assess all the obstacles in the new logistical environment we’re entering in Asia.

DoD P&E: What lessons can be learned from the U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Closson: I think there are lessons being learned from those two conflicts. First and foremost, operational energy matters for our ability to accomplish the mission. Iraq and Afghanistan have underscored that the military is highly dependent on energy-dense liquid fuel, and that is a constant target. Fuel convoys coming under attack hurt our ability to accomplish the mission, as admitted by high-ranking U.S. military officers. Fuel demand for ground-based forces created tactical vulnerabilities as supply lines were targeted by insurgents and units were diverted to provide force protection. Returning veterans described to me in detail that their best warfighters were guarding fuel convoys and losing their lives in the process.

The second lesson is that we are going to face even more sophisticated adversaries in Asia, and the lessons of the last twelve years are not lost on our [potential] adversaries. I think our allies, [as well,] have learned that we will be even more susceptible to the severing of our logistics, energy, and command and control, which is vital to sustaining our power projection, but is reliant on fuel. The rebalance to Asia is expected to coincide with new, more powerful weapons platforms to support this power projection over a wide geographical area. We have learned that our supply lines cannot be tied to a single source. For example, in Afghanistan, our supplies were all going through Pakistan, then we realized that wasn’t sustainable and opened the Northern Distribution Network. I think that multiplied many times is going to have to happen in Asia.

DoD P&E: Why and how do alternative fuels make a difference in this region?

Closson: Let me first say that we concluded in our report that probably the cleanest, most secure gallon of fuel is the one you never use. So it’s better to retrofit your fleet with energy efficiency technologies that cut your logistics tail. You cut your use of energy before finding an alternative to oil.

The more fuel options, the more secure you are. I think of alternative fuels as a strategic asset; diversity of supply is kind of equivalent to a technology. Over the past decade, DoD [has explored] the use of second-generation drop-in biofuels. One policy recommendation we made was to allow for long-term procurement contracts to bolster the industry. Another policy recommendation we made is to increase R&D in these fuels. Though commercial airlines are using them, they do not as of yet coordinate with the military. R&D [funding] probably needs to come hand-in-hand with industry, where commercial airlines might create investment vehicles with the private sector, military, or alternative fuels companies—who are already working with the Chinese to create low-carbon fuels.

It occurs to me that displacing some oil in the Pacific will then require equally vulnerable logistics lines. So the question is “Who can ramp up biofuels productions? How is it going to be refined and where? How do you drop it in to your oil supply?” That can’t just be a government policy; it must be market-driven policy as well. No one I spoke with was clear on how to move this forward.

DoD P&E: What energy improvements can the Navy and Air Force make to better their operational capabilities?

Closson: Ninety-five percent of operational energy funds are spent on efficiency. The Navy, for example, is employing everything from stern flaps to hull coating to smart navigation to shipboard monitoring, etc. In the longer term, [all of the services will need to] focus on better integrating energy considerations into systems during the planning process and acquisition. The acquisition process is a decades-long process, and when the systems are finally delivered, some of the technology is outdated. For example, the Air Force’s next-generation stealth bomber is scheduled to appear in 2024 or so, meaning contemporary fuel efficiency technologies will likely be obsolete by the time it flies. The DoD is considering analytical methods to better consider fuel efficiency in weapons development and acquisition, but is not sure how to streamline production while consistently integrating energy efficiency technology. That’s not easy to accomplish. For example, ensuring defense contractors identify these future technologies and are flexible enough to integrate them into platform development over time is, I would guess, quite tricky.

DoD P&E: Please discuss a few policy recommendations.

Closson: We didn’t mention this in our paper, but I would add that there should also be a “going out” strategy. Asia is home to a lot of technology adaptations—think of the Pacific islands with little or no conventional energy supplies—and partnerships should allow for global private partnerships so that we could identify and adapt technology. The Trans-Pacific Partnership could allow a more agile system to deal with intellectual property, accounting standards, and other obstacles to foreign sales.

Regarding diplomacy, all of the Asia-Pacific nations have equal energy concerns as the U.S. In her Congressional testimony mentioned earlier, Sharon Burke discussed access agreements, liquid fuel delivery where there’s no infrastructure, and joint exercises with an energy component. [Though] DoD needs the operational energy and has a large force in Asia, they’re not too actively engaged in bilateral and multilateral discussions or have a go-to person for that. So we thought maybe there needs to be an operational energy task force with DoD, USDA, DoE, the State Department, and USAID to design these policies and programs with our allies. This would be an enhancement of our  own interagency process and something we could deploy when we engage with other governments to have a multi-pronged strategy.

Selected policy recommendations outlined in Dr. Closson’s report:

Pilot Project for Mobile Energy Savings Performance Contracts: Leverage private sector financing for energy efficiency upgrades to ships, planes, and other non-building assets. There would be no up-front cost to the government. This would be paid back over time through energy savings.

Long Term Contracting Authority for Alternative Fuels Projects: Authorize long-term contracts up to 10 years to enhance developers’ ability to secure critical financing and recoup capital investments.

Joint Technology Repository for Operational Energy Projects: Create a central repository with basic information on all operational energy-related programs for DoD operational energy stakeholders.

Warrior Power Executive Agent: Establish a DoD Executive Agent for warrior power to align and advance various on-going efforts across the services to measure and manage power demand from troop-borne equipment.

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency for Unmanned Systems: Authorize a pilot program for research into improving energy efficiency in unmanned vehicles.

Analytic Methods for Considering Operational Energy Use: Equip and train acquisition professionals to better consider fuel efficiency in weapons development and acquisition through the development of analytical methods.

Top photo caption: Forty-two ships and submarines representing 15 international partner nations maneuvering into a close formation during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in July 2014. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shannon Renfroe)

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of DoD Power & Energy magazine.