Truman National Security Project

A 21st Century Military, Using 21st Century Energy Technology


Despite perceptions to the contrary, policies that reduce our single-source dependence on petroleum and combat climate change are not pet projects of ultra-liberals or “green zealots” in Washington, D.C.: they are the official positions of the United States military.

As a former Army captain and a veteran of Iraq & Afghanistan, I’ve seen firsthand how the mission capability of our military depends on our ability to transition away from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy technologies that strengthen our national security and improve mission capability.

I am not alone: A consensus of senior military officials and national security experts agree that our dependence on fossil fuels is a threat to our national and economic security.

The Department of Defense (DoD) spends enormous resources patrolling trade routes to secure access to fuel supplies. In warzones, the military must transport fuels to power remote Forward Operating Bases along vulnerable supply routes, threatening our mission and putting our men and women in uniform at greater risk. One in twenty-four such fuel convoys results in a service member being killed or injured.

Oil price volatility also threatens our national security. As the largest institutional consumer of fuel in the world, the U.S. military is extremely vulnerable to price shocks in the global oil market. The DoD spends $20 billion on energy each year, including $15 billion on fuel. For every $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil, the DoD is left with a $1.3 billion shortfall.

These funds must be repurposed from mission-critical training, maintenance, and readiness programs. This means our service members face reduced flight time, shortened steam time, and limited training opportunities.

And because oil is a globally traded commodity, with a price set by global supply and global demand, we can’t just drill our way out of this problem. Geopolitical events beyond America’s control will continue to dictate prices. While horizontal drilling and new extraction technologies have made previously unreachable supplies of oil obtainable, increased domestic production will not solve our national security concerns.

The only way to protect against price volatility is to develop alternatives. This is why the military is investing in advanced fuels that diversify our energy sources. Advanced biofuels are “drop-in” and can be used power existing equipment without expensive retrofits. These domestic biofuels are already widely used today. For example, biofuels power the Army’s flex-fuel vehicles, and the Air Force’s F16 fighter jets. The Navy has invested in the first advanced biofuels supply chain that will develop fuels at less than $4 per gallon.

Climate change is also changing the security environment in which our military must operate. Senior military officials have identified climate change as a “threat multiplier,” as more frequent and severe weather events destabilize regions with weak infrastructure and push unstable regions to near-constant crisis. When our men and women are called upon to respond to disasters all around the world, our military stretches thin, and must divert resources from other critical missions.

This is why the military is leading the world in investing in new clean energy technologies such as microgrids and renewable energy projects that address energy security while simultaneously enhancing mission capability both at home and abroad. For example, the Army now uses solar panels to power equipment on Forward Operating Bases, cutting down the number of dangerous fuel convoys necessary to fuel the mission.

On-site renewables currently allow our military installations to produce its own energy and continue to operate, even if the civilian grid goes down. During natural disasters, this is critical in order for our service members, who are often the first-responders, to provide assistance and relief to the affected community.

Clean energy is the solution to the security challenges facing this country. This isn’t about protecting the environment or saving the polar bears; this is about making our men and women in uniform safer and strengthening our national security. This is about creating a 21st century military that uses 21st technologies to remain the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen.

Mike Breen is the Executive Director of the Truman National Security Project and Center for National Policy. This article originally appeared in the Albany Tribune.