Energy and the Military: Leading by Example

From YaleGlobal Online:

“As the world demands more energy, nations face the often-competing pressures to increase energy access and affordability, protect the environment, and assure energy security.  The military, long focused on energy issues related to mission delivery, has often been at the forefront of technological innovation and deployment. The quiet innovations in the defense sector could help solve energy challenges nations confront today.

In energy policy circles, the conventional concept of energy security relates to economic prosperity and social harmony. In a globalized energy market, energy policies are designed to reduce the economic impacts of supply and price shocks through efficiency, diversified supplies, and fuel choice. In military energy decision-making, however, “security” focuses on achieving strategic objectives, and enables nearly everything the military does. In the defense domain, energy has the potential to be both an enabler of hard power but also a weapon of war via denial and willful coercion.

Energy has played a role in every facet of war. Many of the lessons learned during the world wars of the 20th century are still being appreciated and relearned in today’s conflicts. One of the most famous examples of energy influencing military strategy comes from 1911, when Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, converted the British fleet from Welsh coal to foreign oil. The gain in speed and decrease in logistical burden gave the British Royal Navy a critical advantage over the Axis powers. The policy brought further advantage as oil’s less smoky combustion allowed the Royal Navy to avoid coal’s telltale plumes  that revealed a fleet’s position.

As militaries shifted toward oil during the early 20th century as the main energy source, a scramble to secure oil supplies influenced events leading to and throughout WWII. Some of the greatest strategic decisions in World War II had their roots in a desire to access energy resources. The German military’s perceived need for oil created a two-front war, and its failure to take and hold Soviet oilfields spelled disaster at Stalingrad. The Japanese surprised the American naval fleet on December 7, 1941, an attempt to secure oil-shipping lanes and secure other natural resources, such as rubber, from Southeast Asia. Energy’s link to World War II conflict had as much to do with denial of resources to the enemy as securing one’s own oil supply chains. The stalling of General Patton’s Third Army following its campaign across France in summer 1944 is a telling example of fuel acting as “tether” to military operations.

The skill and technologies of logistics forces in providing fuel has grown significantly since World War II. Energy security has been a challenge in Afghanistan, NATO’s largest operation. In late 2012, more than 100,000 troops consumed more than 6.8 million liters of fuel per day, 99 percent delivered by truck, from Pakistan and later through a complex Central Asia route. The enduring criticality of energy logistics was highlighted when retired General James N. Mattis entreated the US Department of Defense to “unleash us from the tether of fuel.” The 2010 test deployment of portable solar-powered generation systems at US Marine forward operating bases in Afghanistan reduced the bases’ diesel generator usage by more than 90 percent.”

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Posted by at 9:39 AM

Labels: Energy & Climate Change


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