Magazine article National Defense

Energy Conservation Plans Overlook Military Realities

Magazine article National Defense

Energy Conservation Plans Overlook Military Realities

Article excerpt

ARE SKYROCKETING OIL PRICES just a temporary drain on the U.S. economy or a lasting national security threat? If one is to draw conclusions from a recent stream of Pentagon policy directives, studies and congressional rhetoric, the Defense Department will soon have to get serious about taming its gargantuan appetite for fuel, most of which is imported from the volatile Middle East.

"The fact is that nearly every military challenge we face is either derived from or impacted by one thing: our reliance on fossil fuels and foreign energy sources," says Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who co-founded a "defense energy working group" with Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., and former CIA Director James Woolsey.

"In a world where we borrow money from China to purchase oil from unstable Persian Gulf countries to fuel our Air Force planes that protect us against potential threats from these very countries, it's high-time to make the choices and investments necessary to protect our country," Israel says.

When oil prices began to surge, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued one of his trademark "snowflake" memos asking aides to come up with energy-saving schemes and technologies, such as hybrid vehicles and innovative power sources.

In truth, it is hard to see how Rumsfeld's directive could change the reality of a military that mostly operates guzzlers, and has no tangible plans to change that. Just two years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency gave the Pentagon a "national security exemption" so it can continue to drive trucks with old, energy-inefficient engines that don't meet the emissions standards required for commercial trucks.

The Army once considered replacing the mother of all fuel-gorgers, the Abrams tank engine, with a more efficient diesel plant. But the Army leadership then reversed course because it was too expensive. Most recently, the Army cancelled a program to produce hybrid-diesel humvees, and has slowed down the development of other hybrid trucks in the medium and heavy fleets.

The Air Force has been contemplating the replacement of its surveillance, cargo and tanker aircraft engines, but the project was deemed too costly, and not worth any potential fuel savings.

Subsequent to Rumsfeld's 2005 snowflake, a number of military and civilian Pentagon officials have been eager to publicize various science projects aimed at energy conservation, such as research into synthetic fuels, biofuels, hydrogen fuel cells, wind farms and solar power, to name a few.

But while these efforts have paid off on the public-relations front, they are not expected to translate into any real energy savings, at least for the foreseeable future. …

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