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Pentagon Intensifies Focus on Energy Resilience

By Becky Leggieri   •

In a Pentagon press conference on President Biden’s FY23 Defense Budget, the first question from the press corps was not about aircraft, ships, tanks, or Ukraine; it was about the $3.1 billion identified in the budget for climate initiatives. Deputy Defense Secretary Hicks’ answer was telling, “All of our climate investments are fully aligned with warfighter needs and trying to reduce that very challenging logistics tail that comes from fuel and also making sure we can pace to where the commercial market is going, because our ability to sustain our fleets depends very much on where the commercial sector goes.”

Her response mirrored a shift in the 2022 National Defense Strategy which prioritizes the resilience and adaptability of “the defense ecosystem.” The strategy acknowledges climate change as a factor impacting the Joint Force that should be integrated into threat assessments. The climate change discussion includes battlefield concerns such as warfighting objectives and equipping and logistics requirements. It connects reduction in energy demand with security of service members and emphasizes environmentally sound practices based on energy efficiency and clean-energy technologies. The strategy acknowledges the risk that climate-change could create regional instability that strains U.S. forces.

In the past, climate change was essentially characterized as a nuisance. Looking ahead, climate change will be integrated into all stages of planning, equipping, training, and execution of operations, resources such as time, supplies, and funding. Fundamentally, the new approach aims to create a force better able to execute a successful mission. Although the term has been used for over a decade, the FY23 Budget highlights “operational energy” with dedicated budget lines and inclusion in operation plans, separate from energy efforts on installations. The money saved by integrating resilient and sustainable practices can be redirected to higher priority items.

The FY23 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support incorporates this increased focus on operational energy with requirements “to consider aggregate energy conservation measures with energy resilience enhancement projects and other projects that may have a longer payback period” (Sec. 315) and “to designate installations as energy resilience testbeds for the purpose of demonstrating innovative energy resilience technologies.”

The NDAA directs the establishment of a “joint working group to determine joint requirements” (Sec. 320) for future operational energy needs of the Department, to address the operational energy needs of each military department and combatant command to meet energy needs in all domains of warfare, including land, air, sea, space, cyberspace, subsea, and subterranean environments—in other words, everywhere and everything. The joint working group is directed to focus on 1) micro-reactors and small modular reactors, 2) hydrogen-based fuel systems, battery storage, 3) renewable energy sources, 4) retrofits to existing platforms to increase efficiencies, and 5) other technologies and resources that meet joint requirements. With all these activities summarized in a report to Congress due 180 days after NDAA’s enactment (June 2023).

[We] are pleased to announce we’ve come to a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. This year’s agreement continues the Armed Services Committees’ 62-year tradition of working together to support our troops and strengthen America’s national security. We urge Congress to pass the NDAA quickly and the President to sign it when it reaches his desk.

Joint Statement by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Reed (D-RI) and Ranking Member Inhofe (R-OK),
December 6

WHAT EXACTLY IS OPERATIONAL ENERGY?

Department of Defense Directive 5134.15 defines operational energy as the energy required for training, moving, and sustaining military forces and weapons platforms for military operations. The term includes energy used by power systems, generators, logistics assets, and weapons platforms employed by military forces during training and in the field.

Operational energy does not include the energy consumed by facilities on permanent DoD installations, except for installations or missions supporting military operations. Operational energy does not include the fuel consumed by non-tactical vehicles. The 2011 directive established the first Deputy Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy, Plans and Programs. That role was later retitled Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment and Energy Resilience.

A U.S. Marine recharges batteries in the field for small electronics using a lightweight solar portable system. Courtesy photo, Sandia National Laboratories

The Department of Defense is the largest user of energy in the United States. The Air Force is the largest user of energy in DOD, accounting for 45% of its consumption. Operational energy accounts for over 80% of Air Force energy consumption due to fuel for aircraft. The FY23 Air Force budget request included $42.5 million for operational energy improvements for three aircraft. In the Defense-Wide research, development, testing and evaluation account, a $180.2 million request for operational energy capability improvement was fully funded by both House and Senate Appropriations Committees. This funding, which has increased exponentially from $15.4 million in FY21 to $180.2 million for FY23, matures and demonstrates advanced technologies in operational energy across warfighting platforms and domains. Building a joint force resilient defense ecosystem remains a key objective. Combine this funding with the $45.8 million operational energy prototyping request, almost double the initial FY22 proposal, and there is $226 million for operational energy research to be distributed through the Operational Energy Capability Improvement Fund. The fund issues annual calls for proposals to DOD components which in turn partner with industry and academia, competing for research and development funding.

Priorities for improved operational energy capabilities include increasing modes of energy storage, reduced fuel consumption, and energy-focused logistics requirements. As technology continues to dominate across all domains of battle, the demand for mobile power will grow. Expect proactive energy profile management to become a more visible part of the Commander’s Critical Information Report – factors essential to timely battle-space decision making. Ensuring energy sources are reliable reduces operational vulnerabilities and security risks, especially for logisticians and transporters.

[T]he committee is concerned that the Department may not be fully considering all carbon-free energy technologies, nor is it fully assessing the ability of carbon-free emitting energy technologies to meet the reliability, resilience, and performance requirements for installations and 
operations.

House Armed Service Committee
FY23 NDAA Report

COMPONENT ACTIVITIES

While the Pentagon has increased energy activities with the 2021 establishment of a Climate Working Group and updated publications and policies, the military services have also jumped into the climate change discussion with publications of service specific climate action strategies and plans.

The Army’s Climate Strategy contains the most defined goals and metrics of the services under three lines of effort: 1) Installations, 2) Acquisitions and logistics, and 3) Training. The acquisitions and logistics line of effort’s strategic outcome is to increase operational capability while reducing sustainment demand and strengthening climate resilience. The Army also intends to significantly reduce operational energy and water use by 2035.

The Department of the Navy Climate Action 2030 proclaims “to build a climate ready force” by meeting two performance goals: build climate resilience and reduce climate threat. Damage from a series of severe weather events has made resilient installations a focus of the Navy strategy. The Navy is recognized as a government leader in battery research and it’s no surprise that energy storage remains a core element of its action plan. The document outlines an operational energy metering strategy throughout the naval enterprise to measure and drive down energy usage. Reinvestment of operational energy savings support energy innovation technologies and fuel savings initiatives to enhance mission capabilities and quality of life.

The Department of the Air Force Climate Action Plan addresses the challenges and risks of climate change through three climate priorities: 1) Maintain air and space dominance in the face of climate risks, 2) Make climate informed decisions; and 3) Optimize energy use and pursue alternative energy sources. The first priority focuses on resilient installations to better withstand catastrophic events experienced with flooding at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska and hurricane damage at Tyndall Air Base in Florida. The second priority aims to not only develop a climate-informed work force but include climate factors in operational planning and training as well as supply chain and logistics activities. The last priority states an “…overall goal is to deliver more combat power to the warfighter using less fuel. For the Air Force, this is measured by operational energy intensity, referred to as “lethality per gallon.” The Air Force will increase funding in fuel-saving technologies in drag reduction and engine sustainment.

With the impending passage of the defense appropriation bill tucked in to the FY23 Omnibus, the department and military services will be able to begin to implement new climate initiatives, equipping modifications and resilient related activities for installations with the funding provided. The FY23 House Appropriations Report explicitly states that NDAA authorizes President Biden’s $2.5 billion proposal. While the Senate Chairman’s mark was not as clear as the House, a vast majority of the request was recommended. The likely defense topline increase in a FY23 omnibus agreement is a good indicator the funding will stay intact for FY23. The policy guidance from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees is a sign that these issues – reducing energy consumption, improved energy storage, alternative sources, concern about the impacts of climate change on U.S. missions and threats – are here to stay.