Improving Air Force Transportation Systems by Using Alternative Energy: The Air Force Academy Exposes Its Cadets to Managerial Challenges Inherent in Implementing a Sustainable Alternative Energy Plan

Article excerpt

Air Force leaders, like many public-sector managers, must strive to introduce innovative alternative energy systems while encouraging cost-effectiveness and systematic learning. Education and hands-on experience are key ingredients to evaluating and implementing public-sector alternative energy programs. As educators of future U.S. Air Force (USAF) leaders and public managers, we are challenged to introduce students to new ways of thinking about balancing governmental initiatives and constituent demands for cost-effective management programs. This is certainly the case with the new governmental emphasis on alternative solutions to energy and transportation challenges.

This article offers insights into the importance of new energy solutions for USAF leaders and managers and details on the USAF synthetic fuels programs. It closes with a case study of how we are using a biodiesel energy project in one of our courses to help cadets prepare for management challenges they may face on active duty when making decisions about the use of alternative energy solutions.

Fueling the Fight

Recognizing and addressing energy's impact on the basic transportation needs of our citizens have been the focus of recent administrations, but nowhere are the potential negative impacts as keenly felt, or as closely monitored, as they are in the daily operations of the USAF Efficient transportation of material, people, and other resources is a key factor in any military campaign. The adage that "an army moves on its stomach" is as true today as it was when Napoleon Bonaparte allegedly said it more than two hundred years ago. Leveraging alternative fuels is an exceptional opportunity for the USAF to address one of the most significant issues it faces as it strives to improve its transportation and logistics. Effectively managing the availability and cost of fuel, or aptly put, "fueling the fight," could dictate ultimate success or failure on the battle field.

The USAF has become particularly sensitive to energy issues related to transportation as the landscape of global conflict has been transformed over the last few years from a two-superpower standoff to the multi-theater unconventional environment, which involves overseas contingency operations (OCO) such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. The USAF, while serving as a frontline combatant and a key link in the logistics chain of an increasingly agile and multifront warfighting machine, has become the nation's single largest user of petroleum products. It consumes about 7 million gallons of aviation fuel each day (2.5 billion gallons per year) at a cost last year alone of more than $6 billion.

With high-level direction from the executive branch, a changing operational landscape, conspicuous consumption of energy, and an increasingly dynamic cost environment, the USAF is faced with few options to pursuing the development of innovative technologies and alternative fuels, especially for its transportation needs. Some argue that biofuels and other synthetic fuels show the most promise for immediate impact, and they offer incredible opportunities for public-private partnerships. Of particular interest to public administrators in the transportation sector is the interaction between these military-sponsored technologies and the related civil and commercial sectors. History has shown that science and technology developed in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) often flow quickly to the commercial sectors and other public entities, transforming industries and even entire economies.

Strategic Plan and Synthetic Fuels

The USAF is the most powerful, effective, and capable air force in the world, but it faces a challenging future in light of an uncertain energy environment. It must continue to adapt and improve its processes to meet available resources, or the ability to accomplish its mission could be jeopardized. The USAF strategic response to the current energy challenges was the creation of the Infrastructure Energy Strategic Plan--2008. …