Until the Defense Department begins measuring the true cost of fuel and develops definite plans to reduce fuel consumption in military vehicles, the armed services will continue to be burdened by the huge logistical and financial strains of transporting fuel to the battlefield, experts said.
The Defense Department is the largest single consumer of fuel in the United States, using approximately 1.8 percent of the country's total transportation fuel.
That comes as no surprise, considering the types of vehicles used by U.S. military ground forces. For example, an Abrams Tank, which weighs 68 tons, is a gas guzzler, getting only about a half mile to a gallon. But the Abrams offers unparalleled protection from enemy fire. A lighter, hybrid-electric vehicle, while more fuel-efficient, is less survivable.
In 1999, the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics asked the Defense Science Board to explore the problems associated with the fuel burden on the U.S. military.
The panel concluded that unconstrained fuel requirements are a burden to military forces. The Defense Science Board's challenge was then to recommend solutions to this problem. The DSB report, released last year, was entitled, "More Capable Warfighting Through Reduced Fuel Burden."
The report acknowledged that the high levels of emissions from U.S. military vehicles had come under scrutiny since the United States joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which seeks to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Fossil fuel emissions generate heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
The convention called on the member countries to "anticipate, prevent or minimize damage from climate change before it happens." Since the federal government uses approximately 1 percent of the country's energy supply, with the Defense Department raking approximately 80 percent of that, Defense naturally was one of the first agencies called upon to reduce emissions.
Joint Vision 2010 and Joint Vision 2020, two Defense Department planning documents, emphasized the importance of fuel efficiency. The DSB concluded that, "dramatic improvements in fuel efficiency of platforms and systems are critical enablers of Joint Vision 2010-2020 objectives."
Though the report was commissioned during the Clinton administration, it was well received by the current leadership, officials said. "We thought that there were several good recommendations in the report," said Maj. Cynthia Colin, a Defense Department spokesperson. "The report highlighted many successful Defense Department energy efficiency projects and identified additional areas for the department to focus its efforts on," she said.
Colin noted, however, that DSB studies are only recommendations, not policy directives. "The DSB is an advisory panel and there is no requirement for the department to implement its recommendations." But she added that the Pentagon is becoming more attuned to the need to cur back on the use of polluting fuels. A Tulsa, Okla.-based company named Syntroleum, for example, recently received a $3.5 million contract for a so-called flexible JP8 (single battlefield fuel) pilot plant program. The plan is to design a marine-based fuel-production plant, as well as testing of synthetically-made (gas-to-liquids) JP-8 fuel in military diesel and turbine engine applications.
"The Syntroleum project is an important initiative for our nation's military," said Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK), in a statement. The program will convert natural gas into liquid fuels and lubricants.
Preliminary testing indicates that Syntroleum synthetic jet fuel weighs less per gallon and has more energy per unit mass than the jet fuel currently used by the military. This means that on a long-range mission, a C-5 transport aircraft could potentially carry tons more payload the same distance due to the lower fuel weight. …