Before it can cut fuel use, Army must measure it
At first glance, the Army appears to have the toughest challenge of all the services in becoming more energy efficient. Soldiers run their vehicles all the time, just in case they need to move out, and to keep their onboard radios and other equipment powered up. What’s more, these are big, heavy vehicles designed to protect soldiers and get the job done, not be environmentally friendly. Then there are the ubiquitous generators that run constantly to provide power and air conditioning for ground bases. And on top of all that, the Army doesn’t even know very much about how it’s using fuel now.
The brass wants to change that, though — as Annie Snider of Greenwire reports via the New York Times, the Army is going to begin tracking its fuel usage in Afghanistan much closer than it ever has, so it can begin to get good “granularity” (as we say in the Pentagon) on how it’s using energy:
Ringing in at about $4 million in a department that spent $15 billion on fuel last year, the Tactical Fuel Manager program is being lauded by Pentagon officials who have bumped up against huge data problems as they try to figure out how to cut energy use on the battlefield without affecting the military’s fighting ability.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Sharon Burke, the assistant secretary of Defense in charge of operational energy, said in June when her office released its first battlefield energy strategy. “We want a better sense of where to target our efforts.”
The need to measure fuel is acute. Last year an Army staff sergeant stationed in Afghanistan was able to steal nearly $1.5 million worth of fuel over a three-month period before anyone noticed. That incident won former Army Staff Sgt. Stevan Nathan Ringo 90 days’ worth of jail time. It also lit a fire under the Pentagon to come up with a better way of tracking energy and catching theft.
Snider goes on to describe Ringo’s “Sgt. Bilko”-style scheme, in which he kept two sets of books, a fake one for his superiors and real one that reflected he was selling U.S. Army fuel on the black market. He got away with it because of the Army’s paper records, she writes, and concludes:
The military’s hard-copy system meant someone would have had to go to the base and dig through reams of paper in order to catch fraud like Ringo’s.It also meant that no one could look across a camp, let alone all of the operations in Afghanistan, to see how how energy-intensive different systems and operations are. Today, no one is quite sure how much fuel is going into generators that run computers and air condition tents, versus how much is getting poured into the gas tanks of Humvees and aircraft.
Incredible. At this rate, the Army may get a comprehensive picture of its fuel usage on the ground, and then formulate a plan to reduce it, just in time for American troops to leave in 2014. But at least that lesson will be at the ready for America’s next Asian land war.