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In Defense of Energy – A Call to Action

By Jeffrey Voth

Last month, the Pentagon released its widely anticipated roadmap to transform operational energy security. As published in a World Politics Review briefing, energy security has become a strategic as well as an operational imperative for U.S. national security. As tensions continue to escalate with Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, it has become clear that the U.S. military urgently requires new approaches and innovative technologies to improve fuel efficiency, increase endurance, enhance operational flexibility and support a forward presence for allied forces while reducing the vulnerability inherent in a long supply-line tether. Assured access to reliable and sustainable supplies of energy is central to the military’s ability to meet operational requirements globally, whether keeping the seas safe of pirates operating off the coast of Africa, providing humanitarian assistance in the wake of natural disasters in the Pacific or supporting counterterrorism missions in the Middle East.

From both a strategic and an operational perspective, the call to action is clear. Rapid employment of energy-efficient technologies and smarter systems will be required to transform the military’s energy-security posture while meeting the increasing electric-power demands required for enhanced combat capability. As recently outlined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, “Without improving our energy security, we are not merely standing still as a military or as a nation, we are falling behind.”

The implementation plan, issued by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, outlines a multi-pronged strategy to reduce demand, secure diverse options beyond traditional fossil fuels, and build considerations for energy security into all military planning. The operational energy implementation plan also creates an executive board to oversee progress toward an energy secure force. Highlights of goals established by each service include:

In addition to working with the services to improve their consumption baselines, develop department-wide energy performance metrics, and identifying technology gaps, the implementation plan outlines recommendations in the following key areas:

Beginning with the clear vision of an energy-secure force outlined by the U.S. military leadership and cultural changes adopted by operational commanders, our military is beginning to embrace energy as a strategic resource. The Defense Department will need to extend strategic technology partnerships throughout the federal government and academia as well as with allied nations, including agreements with the newly established Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy within the U.S. Department of Energy. Finally, aggressive legislative, acquisition and operational energy-security mandates will need to be enforced to support the Defense Department’s broader transformational objectives.

Jeffrey M. Voth is the president of Herren Associates leading a team of consultants advising the federal government on issues of national security, energy and environment, health care and critical information technology infrastructure.

Portions of this article were originally published in World Politics Review.