Elizabeth Book / National Defense Magazine – 2005-03-27 22:44:32
(March 2002) — 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 US 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 US 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.”
Better War-fighting Through Fuel Efficiency
The report acknowledged that the high levels of emissions from US 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 taking 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 cut back on the use of polluting fuels.
Will Syntroleum Replace Oil?
A Tulsa, Okla.-based company named Syntroleum, for example, recently received a $3.5 million contract for a so-called flexible JP-8 (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.
The company said that tests have shown that Syntroleum fuel has approximately 11 percent more hydrogen per unit mass than diesel and almost twice as much as methanol, and is clean burning. This could make it suitable for fuel cell applications, the company said. The US Navy is exploring such use in its future electric ship.
The office of defense environmental policy is said to be working on a plan to reduce fuel consumptions and emissions, but Colin declined to provide details on the plan.
One DSB recommendation that appears to be taken seriously is the notion that the Pentagon should have standardized pricing methods to assess the cost of fuel. “The military needs to properly price fuel,” said Sherri W. Goodman, former deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security. She also participated in the DSB study. The Defense Department, she said, currently prices fuel based on the wholesale refinery price, and does not include the cost of delivery.
“Fuel efficiency has never been a military priority, largely because the Pentagon’s accounting system considers fuel costs separately from delivery costs,” a Center for Naval Analysis document said.
Goodman said that the true cost of fuel is much higher than what is recognized in today’s military accounting systems. “In fact, the cost in the accounting system is $1 or so a gallon, but the true cost of fuel delivered to the battlefield is closer to $17. You must consider that there are also other hidden costs related to the impact on logistics force structure and manpower requirements,” she said.
The US Army’s top officer in charge of logistics operations agreed. Gen. Paul Kern, head of the Army Materiel Command, recently told an industry conference that the true cost of fuel can range anywhere from $1 to $400 per gallon, depending on how it’s delivered. “We have become kind of sloppy about fuel economy in this country, compared to many other nations,” Kern said in a speech to the 2002 Tactical Wheeled Vehicles Conference, in Monterey, Calif.
“We’ve making decisions perhaps based on the wrong metrics for the cost of a gallon of fuel,” said Kern. “The Defense Science Board noted that. In our cost analysis, we price fuel at $1 per gallon, but that is not the cost of delivering a gallon of fuel to the battlefield. Most of the cost of delivering includes the trucks, the people, drivers and mechanics.”
One participant in the DSB study also noted that the Pentagon has been slow to update engines to modern standards of fuel efficiency. “The venerable B-52 bombers, now being flown by the children of their original pilots, have inefficient, low-bypass engines from the 1960s,” said Amory B. Lovins, DSB task force member and head of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based environmental think tank.
“Those could be refitted to modern ones using a third less fuel to achieve up to half again as much range. But they haven’t been, because the fuel is thought to be cheap,” he said.
“To add a little irony, much of the energy used by the military is exhausted moving fuels around,” said Lovins. Logistics takes roughly a third of the Defense Department’s budget, but the cost of delivering fuel has been assumed to be zero, he said. “This practice understates delivered fuel costs by a factor that I estimate to average about three to 12, and tens or hundreds in some particular cases,” Lovins said.
Since current accounting systems don’t reflect the delivered price of fuel, this greatly distorts investment decisions, Goodman said. Once the military installs proper cost analysis into its fuel costs, including the manpower and logistical time spent delivering the fuel to the battlefield, she said, “they can make better decisions, and thereby reduce their fuel burden.”
“The computer program the military uses to calculate fuel efficiency was written in Fortran (a now-extinct computer language) in 1972, and has never been updated,” said a defense analyst who worked as a consultant to the DSB.
The panel also urged the Defense Department to include fuel-related considerations in war-games and other analytical tools used for force planning. The recommendation was to “use simulation or war-gaming activities to better understand the link between war-fighting and fuel logistics requirements,” Goodman said. Many war-games used to day assume “perfect logistics,” she said. More realistic fuel and logistics requirements should be included in war-gaming.
Incentives for Efficiency
Another recommendation of the Defense Science Board was to “provide leadership that incentivizes fuel efficiency throughout the Defense Department.” The report suggested that senior civilian and military leadership should set the agenda within the department to promote fuel efficiency.
A consultant to the report explained that there is no language in the acquisition process that says fuel efficiency should be a consideration when new weapons platforms are procured. “We found nothing in the requirements documents that addressed the issue of efficiency,” he said.
One of the report findings was that the Defense Department’s “resource allocation and accounting processes do not reward efficiency or penalize inefficiency.”
If fuel efficiency is not being considered during the early stages of the acquisition process, it is less likely to become a deciding factor later on, said the consultant. Also, “the people who would make the fuel efficiency investment, such as a program officer, would not be the same people who would benefit—probably the operating commanders,” he said. “We found that the system neither requires nor values efficiency.” The DSB suggested that fuel efficiency goals be included in requirement documents for new vehicle programs.
The research and development community, additionally, should “make platform fuel efficiency a primary focus to identify, track and package technologies,” said the report. “Highlighting the potential of a mix of technologies to improve the war-fighting capability of fleets of specific platforms through higher efficiency gives operators greater flexibility in choosing retrofit and new system features that minimize support requirements and maximize overall operational capability.”
Lovins emphasized that, “Fuel-wasting doesn’t just cost money; it inhibits war-fighting.” Of the Army’s top 10 battlefield fuel guzzlers, only the Abrams tank and the Apache helicopter are combat vehicles. The rest carry fuel and other supplies. “Yet the war-fighting benefits of fuel economy — in deployability, agility, range, speed, reliability, dominant maneuver in an extended battlespace, etc. — are as invisible as the fuel delivery cost,” said Lovins.
But he acknowledged that drastic changes don’t happen quickly in the military. “Heavy metal traditions die hard, and pork-barrel politics impedes fundamental military reform.”
The DSB report also admitted that there is no “silver-bullet” technology to fix the fuel problem. Most new technologies reviewed by the task force “offer incremental improvements to specific air, seas, or land platforms … no single technology offers substantial efficiency improvements across multiple platforms.
The report conceded that, “this lack of a single obvious high impact technology obscures the collective impact of multiple technologies.”
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