Dempsey vows to keep DoD energy focus

The Joint Chiefs chairman says he's on board with DoD's bid to use energy better, warning the department "does not have time to waste."

Maybe not Earth-shattering, but there it was — Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey confirmed Tuesday he will take up the mantle of military energy independence, both in helping the services become more efficient and use more alternative sources.

The Pentagon apparently is pleased with the dual-pronged rhetorical strategy that top officials have made their leitmotif in recent years: Its normal audiences of congressional lawmakers and defense contractors like to hear about new business opportunities in the energy realm, and they like the idea that all this is really about mission effectiveness. As Dempsey repeated Tuesday, every fuel convoy taken off the road means less risk for the troops who would have had to run and guard it. And when ships or aircraft are less tied to oilers or tankers — or to traditional petroleum supply lines — that gives them more freedom to maneuver.

And DoD also hopes this kind of talk perks up the ears of a second, perhaps less likely audience: Environmentalist types who might not have traditionally paid attention to the way the Pentagon does business. We saw this yesterday in a Navy admiral’s pitch about how a nuclear aircraft carrier strike group is “sustainable,” and Dempsey touched on in again Tuesday. Officials equipped him with some fascinating factoids so he could paint a picture of today’s energy usage in order to make the case that it must improve. Per DoD’s official story, take a look:

Today’s warfighters require more energy than at any time in the past, he said, and that requirement is not likely to decline. During World War II, supporting one soldier on the battlefield took a gallon of fuel per day. Today, Dempsey said, “we use over 22 gallons per day per soldier, and we are also more expeditionary than ever.”

Energy spans every activity of the Defense Department, he said. “In the air, jet fuel equates to on-station and loiter time. At sea, marine fuel consumption rates impact operating and transit speeds,” the chairman said. On the ground, he added, energy requirements often drive how long soldiers can stay out on patrol and how many resupply convoys are put at risk to support them. For example, he said, for a 72-hour mission, today’s 30-man infantry platoon carries 400 pounds of batteries to power night vision devices, GPS devices, communication gear and flashlights. “Now that platoon is also more capable than ever … but we need to lighten the energy load of each warfighter and the physical weight and resupply that it entails,” Dempsey said.

Energy advances are unique in the opportunities they afford, he noted. “Traditionally, we must spend money to increase capability. Here, we may have the opportunity to increase capability and save money — at least that is what we ought to aspire to,” Dempsey said.

Incredible! That means it’ll take about 682 gallons of fuel for every single soldier downrange just this month alone. More than 13 pounds of batteries per platoon member, per three-day mission! All this brings us to a possible third audience for DoD’s energy-consciousness: Budgeteers and budget hawks, whose mental calculators probably start grinding away as soon as they hear these kinds of numbers. Maybe DoD’s energy focus can save the Earth, maybe it can make the force more effective, but a very least, the brass has got to hope it saves money.