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Repowering America’s Defense: Energy And The Risks To National Security

Our guest blogger is Alexandra Kougentakis, a Center for American Progress Action Fund Fellows Assistant.

The Department of Defense (DOD) is the single largest consumer of energy in the United States. A new report by the Military Advisory Board (MAB) of the Center for Naval Analysis, “Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security,” describes the significant security threats the energy status quo poses to US military missions and the country:

Energy, security, economics, climate change — these things are connected.

General Charles F. “Chuck” Wald, the chairman of the MAB, laid bare the conclusions of the report in his opening remarks at the panel discussion to launch the report, held at the Newseum on Monday. Describing the oil crisis as a serious and urgent threat to national security, General Wald noted that not only does the military’s inefficient use of oil “reduce combat effectiveness,” but that American dependence on oil has a major impact on foreign policy. Significantly, he noted that the problem was “dependence on oil, and not just foreign oil.” The US has less than two percent of global oil reserves, making it dependent on foreign sources for current consumption levels.

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The panel explained that US’s exposure to volatile international oil markets also poses a significant financial threat:

The US military consumes over 300,000 barrels of oil per day, leading to a bill of $20 billion in FY 2008.

— Skyrocketing oil prices in 2008 led to a more than 50 percent increase from the $13 billion paid for oil in FY 2007.

General Wald warned that the current status quo on oil was part of the reason for the current global financial crisis. Even worse, unless urgent action is taken to overhaul energy use in the US, a future financial crisis “could dwarf this one.”

Calling efficiency the “hat trick” of energy, the panel experts described efficient energy use as essential to protecting American troops and saving lives. As General Ronald F. Keys, a retired US Air Force commander pointed out:

When you’re being shot at, of course that’s important for folks who are out there in harm’s way.

In Afghanistan, 70 percent of the convoys are used for carrying fuel and water. In Iraq, where the majority of fuel delivery is for generators that provide for tent air-conditioning, the military tried insulating tents with foam, reducing energy consumption by a remarkable 45 percent. Cutting the energy use not only saves money but also cuts the number of dangerous convoy runs.

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The vulnerability of domestic bases to the conventional electric grid can cause them to fail when there are malfunctions, thus jeopardizing overseas operations and potentially leading to a national state of emergency at home. Dr. Ashton Carter, the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, noted, “Terrorists and other antagonists recognize the vulnerability of our energy infrastructure.” Not only does smart grid technology bolster physical security and cybersecurity, it also allows for electricity from renewable sources to connect to the main grid, delivering clean energy over long distances to reach consumers. Senator John Warner (R-VA), one of the sponsors of the Climate Security Act of 2008, spoke at the event to say that a smart grid was needed “to get renewable sources of energy to the marketplace in a cost-effective way.”

A smart grid is one of the six priorities for DOD that are emphasized in the MAB report. Dr. Carter spoke of deepening partnerships between DOD and the Department of Energy to further such goals, especially with “a gaggle of physicists working on energy issues” in the administration, including Secretary of Energy Dr. Stephen Chu and White House science advisor John Holdren. By undertaking a comprehensive energy reform program, the US military can play an important part in repowering America, and in strengthening the United States at home and abroad.