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Pentagon, warfighters work to cut energy needs

WASHINGTON — Military services and combatant commands are working to reduce their use of fossil fuels, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq, where transporting fuel is dangerous and expensive, the Defense Department’s director of operational energy plans and programs said Tuesday.

“Energy is an important enabler in our force and in how we fight, and what we learned in Iraq is that we need to count it as such,” Sharon E. Burke said in a joint interview with the Pentagon Channel and the American Forces Press Service.

“We need to think about how energy makes us better, makes us stronger or, if we can’t get it, makes it harder for us to do our jobs,” she said. “We need to incorporate that into how we’re planning for the future.”

Ms. Burke was sworn in June 25 as inaugural director of the new office. Its mission, she said, is to help services and combatant commands improve military capabilities, cut costs and lower operational and strategic risk through better energy accounting, planning, management and innovation.

Operational energy — the energy required to train, move and sustain forces, weapons and equipment for military operations — accounted for 70 percent of all energy used by DoD in 2009, according to the agency’s website, Ms. Burke said.

“Energy is part of everything we do, whether it’s driving our vehicles, cooling our tents and our barracks or heating our food,” she said. “It’s also critical to our communications, critical to our weapon systems and to everything we do in the fight. So anything we can do to use energy better is going to make the men and women on the battlefield better and improve their capabilities.”

Since about 2003, Ms. Burke said, the services have been working to address the problem of reducing energy in forward-deployed areas.

The Army, for example, has been testing solar-generated power for the battlefield along with tents that trap warm and cool air, she said. The Marines are deploying an experimental forward operating base that has solar panels built into the tents and into some of the equipment to try to eliminate the need for fuel supplies, Ms. Burke said. And the Air Force and Navy, she said, are testing a range of technologies — things that are as simple as different kinds of flaps on ships and new kinds of hull coatings.

“That may not sound quite as exciting as a solar-powered refrigerator that the Marines are going to deploy,” she said, “but they add up to savings and all together what that means is we take (fuel) trucks off the road and we give our folks who are deployed better capabilities and a better way to fight.”

The innovations range from large to small, she said, from a more efficient vehicle to longer-lasting batteries.

“A lot of weight on the back of a soldier or Marine is from batteries,” Ms. Burke said. “Right now, the Marines are field testing batteries that are solar rechargeable, which means that where you might have gone through eight large batteries in a 24-hour period, now you would go through one. So a whole range of solutions are being tested but the point is they have to be something that’s ready now (for use in the field), and a lot of things are ready now.”

October is Energy Awareness Month and the Pentagon is participating by having each service display innovative energy technologies and tools in the Pentagon’s courtyard throughout the week.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opened a morning panel discussion Wednesday, one of two discussions held. Ms. Burke led the morning panel, which included White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and top Army and Air Force leadership.

Legislation requires Ms. Burke’s new office to produce an operational energy strategy for the DoD by the end of the fiscal year and to certify the DoD budget for spending on operational energy priorities.

“We’re actively engaged in a dialog with all of the services about what the priorities of that strategy should be and how they’re budgeting for these priorities,” she said. “What we’ll see in that strategy is a series of near-, mid- and long-term goals.”

Near-term goals address how to get energy solutions and technologies out to the men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq, she said. Mid-term focus will be on DoD legacy systems — planes, tanks, vehicles and weapons that must be repaired and upgraded.Long-term goals will examine how DoD does business and buys equipment and supplies required “to defense against the future we see,” Ms. Burke said.