Ninety people died following an airstrike on two stolen fuel trucks in northern Afghanistan in early September 2009. International Security Assistance Force Commander, GEN Stanley McChrystal, USA, is concerned that collateral damage in events like this creates more insurgents than are killed. However, the event underscores another problem for allied forces in Afghanistan. Our enemies in Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to target tenuous supply lines stretching thousands of miles through two key chokepoints. Their strategy pays handsome dividends, and there is not much we can do about it. Or is there? The Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC) thinks that if we “go green” we may go some way to freeing the warfighter from the “tether of fuel.”
The two hijacked fuel tankers at the center of that story are part of a much bigger problem for U.S. forces. Just days before that incident, 16 NATO supply trucks were torched by the enemy on their way to resupply Marines and coalition troops in Afghanistan. A border dispute over fruit inspections left 1,000 trucks waiting on the Pakistani side.1 They were sitting ducks. These are not isolated events. They are integral to enemy strategy.
In March 2008, 50 tankers were destroyed a little up the road from Peshawar in the Khyber Pass.2 In November 2008 a convoy of 12 vehicles was hijacked at the same location. In December 2008, 150 allied supply vehicles were destroyed in 2 separate attacks in Peshawar following anti-U.S. protests by 10,000 in the city.3 These are but a few examples.
Surging troops means surging supplies. Currently, “roughly one half of logistics tonnage . . . is solely the movement of fuel.”4 Improvised explosive device (IED) attacks have doubled year after year since they were first used in Afghanistan, and their uptake continues to intensify. In July 2009 there were 828 IED attacks, up from 230 in July 2007.5 Today, 75 percent of allied casualties result from IEDs.6 This metric is even more significant when compared against the fact that 75 percent of all NATO supplies travel by road from the Pakistani port of Karachi via just two treacherous mountain passes (Khyber and Khojak) into Afghanistan.7 “From Karachi to Kabul there is trouble,” said Rahmanullah, a Pakistani truck driver. He added, “The whole route is insecure.”8
A perfect storm may be developing—long, insecure landlocked supply lines across unfriendly or hostile territory; surging forces increasing the already strained logistical footprint; and enemy tactics concentrated on roadside bombs. GEN David Petraeus “personally gets a daily update” on supplies shipped to Pakistan, said a U.S. defense official. “That should give you some sense of how riveted we are on this.”9 The operational reality of this predicament is clear to a panel of senior defense leaders who recently concluded that “our inefficient use of oil . . . puts our troops at risk.”10
There are no easy solutions to this problem. Alternative routes are just as difficult. GEN Petraeus visited Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia in late 2008 as he sought to diversify supply lines to NATO in Afghanistan. GEN Petraeus was quoted in The New York Times:
There have been agreements reached, and there are transit lines now and transit agreements for commercial goods and services in particular that include several countries in the Central Asian states and also Russia.11
Moscow, however, has used its influence in the region to put pressure on those who would work with the United States. For example, Kyrgyzstan threatened to force the United States out of its Manas airbase, following Russian offers of aid. After tripling the rent, the United States has been allowed to stay. Any terrestrial supply route would cross multiple states and be vulnerable to similar political pressures. Do we really want Russia with its finger on NATO’s jugular? Russian resentment over NATO encroachment (missile shields and Ukrainian NATO membership), the war in Georgia, and the stranglehold on gas supplies to Ukraine’s pipelines to the west, suggest that ceding Russia control over NATO logistics would be far from prudent. There is also a growing radical Islamist problem in most of these states that could target supply lines, as has happened in Pakistan.12
Another equally problematic alternative is Iran. Tehran is no friend of the Taliban or the drug trade, and has on some occasions cooperated with “The Great Satan” (as it sees the United States). However, the bulk of its effort in both Iraq and Afghanistan has been to cause the United States as much pain as it can behind the scenes, without triggering a U.S. military response. Thus, the United States is largely stuck with the least desirable solution. The route through Pakistan at least has the advantage of dealing with only one government, one that has a stake in a successful outcome in Afghanistan.
If demand on supplies is surging across already stressed routes, and there are no alternate routes available, Marines must do what they have always done in the past—make do with what we’ve got. We must use less. If we can reduce demand, we can reduce supply lines, thereby giving the enemy fewer targets to attack.
Acknowledging these pressing realities, the CMC held the first Marine Corps “Energy Summit” on 13 August 2009, in Washington, DC.13 The effort is part of a government-wide series of energy security initiatives that, in the Department of Defense (DoD), will see the creation of an energy office in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and related offices in each of the Service headquarters, including Headquarters Marine Corps. These new organizations will be charged with maximizing energy efficiency across the DoD, in both forward operations and rear support areas.
The DoD is the world’s single largest consumer of energy in the world. It burns more fuel in “the course of its daily operations than any other private or public organization, as well as more than 100 nations.”14 According to CMC, a brigade-sized formation uses half a million gallons of fuel a day in combat.15 A single forward operating base uses an estimated 500 million gallons a year.16 Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus noted, “The cost of fuel in a ground vehicle in theater starts at $15 a gallon and goes into the hundreds.” Taking into account long supply lines and force protection measures, in January 2001 the Defense Science Board estimated fuel could cost as much as $400 a gallon at the point of use.17 The reality has been much higher again. That study does not take a range of other cost drivers into account, such as losses due to attacks and support of host nations. For example, U.S. support of the Pakistani military is measured in billions of dollars annually.
Overall, each and every $10 increase in the cost of a barrel of oil increases the price of DoD operations by $1.3 billion. To put this into context, each $10 price increase is equivalent to a loss of almost the entire US Marine Corps procurement budget.18
At the tactical level, energy consumption has soared. A Marine in combat carries 9 pounds of batteries on average to power an exponentially expanding range of electronic items, from night vision goggles to radios to global positioning systems to personal computers.19 For example, radios per battalion have jumped 600 percent from 175 in 2001 to 1,220 by 2006.20 Similar energy inflation statistics can be seen from platoons to MEBs and across Marine Corps installations.
This is not just a military logistics problem. Military concerns reflect national energy challenges. Secretary Mabus reminded the Marine Corps Energy Summit that “the United States consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil, yet we control the production of only 3 percent of it.” This is further complicated by the fact that “American reliance on foreign oil is at 60 percent of total national consumption and steadily rising.”21
Energy security is a vital national security dilemma. In a recent landmark report, a panel of admirals and generals concluded that “the nation’s current energy posture is a serious and urgent threat to national security.”22 The panel added:
Our dependence on foreign oil reduces our international leverage, places our troops in dangerous global regions, funds nations and individuals who wish us harm, and weakens our economy.23
Secretary Mabus urged the summit to recognize that “we have simply got to begin to move away from oil as the source of energy for our military.” In other words, the DoD must go green and embrace alternative energy sources, from traditional alternatives like nuclear power to renewables like solar, geothermal, wind, and hydropower.
This is not as radical as it might first appear. Indeed, it was a Marine battlefield commander who first called for renewable energy for combat operations. As Multinational Force-West Commander in 2006, MajGen Richard Zilmer issued a “Priority 1” joint staff rapid validation and resourcing request to “augment our use of fossil fuels with renewable energy, such as photovoltaic solar panels and wind turbines, at our outlying bases,” adding:
By reducing the need for [petroleum-based fuels], we can decrease the frequency of logistics convoys on the road, thereby reducing the danger to our Marines, soldiers, and sailors . . . . If this need is not met, operating forces will remain unnecessarily exposed to IED, RPG [rocket propelled grenade], and [small arms fire] threats and will continue to accrue preventable Level III and IV serious and grave casualties resulting from motor vehicle accidents and . . . attacks. Continued casualty accumulation exhibits potential to jeopardize mission success.24
The reader might be surprised by just how much has already been achieved by the U.S. military. Twentynine Palms operates the largest photovoltaic solar power grid in the Department of the Navy. Large 1 to 5 megawatt plants will be built at Yuma, AZ, and Barstow, CA, and studies are underway to assess their suitability at other Marine Corps bases. Solar heating systems are springing up in base housing and instillations all over the country. Today, the Marine Corps operates wind, geothermal, and biomass facilities that are yielding significant energy savings. For example, at Beaufort, SC, the hot water distribution system has enjoyed a 75 percent reduction in demand due to the installation of a new geothermal system. Almost one-third of all leased Marine Corps garrison vehicles are E–85, natural gas, or electric powered. Camp Pendleton has a hydrogen fleet and fueling station. Nearly 20 percent of Marine Corps-owned garrison vehicles are natural gas or electric powered. These innovations have delivered impressive results. Between 1999 and 2008, the Corps’ garrison fuel consumption has dropped 30 percent at the same time as the number of miles driven has increased 5 percent.25
The Air Force, “the 7th largest purchaser of alternatively sourced energy in the United States,” operates the largest photovoltaic array in North America at Nellis Air Force Base, with no capital outlay and a net savings of $1 million per year.26 During a visit to the plant, President Barack Obama pointed out that the 30 megawatt solar plant at Nellis produces enough power to supply about 13,200 homes during the day.
It’s a project that took about half a year to complete, created 200 jobs, and will save the United States Air Force, which is the largest consumer of energy in the federal government, nearly $1 million a year. It will also reduce harmful carbon pollution by 24,000 tons per year, which is the equivalent of removing 4,000 cars from our roads. Most importantly, this base serves as a shining example of what’s possible when we harness the power of clean, renewable energy to build a new, firmer foundation for economic growth.27
Alternative energy systems generate both power and money. Excess power can be sold back to the local grid. They also lessen base dependence on the grid, which may prove vital if civilian systems are unavailable or come under physical or cyber attack. Currently, seven military bases have become or will soon be “net zero” energy consumers, meaning they will produce as much power (through new technologies) as they consume. As a Brookings Institution study points out, this is a small proportion of the total U.S. military carbon bootprint, but it is an important start.
At the tactical level all manner of new solutions are being tested and fielded. Readers in uniform may have come across “foamed” tents. The relatively cheap spray-on foam reduces the energy to cool the structure by 40 to 70 percent. The same presentation to the Marine Corps Energy Summit notes that 70 percent of fuel is used for climate control not combat operations. Likewise, man-portable canvass solar sheets can power individual Marine’s electric gear in the field or can be linked up in rows to a generator to augment gasoline reserves.
It was noted earlier that fuel comprises around 50 percent of all logistics tonnage. Water is another heavy burden on logistics. Together fuel and water represent more than 80 percent of all logistics operations. The military is consuming huge quantities of fuel in order to haul fuel and water long distances. The CMC asked the Energy Summit why the military hauls water when mobile deployable water purification plants are available. Likewise, he expressed interest in self-propelled hybrid power generators and/or combat vehicles that can be hooked up to the forward operating base’s grid to either give or receive power. Often with energy issues, a change at a microlevel can have a macrolevel result. For example, the replacement of a 500-pound battery with an auxiliary power unit in an Abrams tank reduces idle fuel consumption from 16 gallons per hour to just 1 gallon per hour.28 This dramatically extends the range of these gas-guzzling monoliths.
The CMC used the Energy Summit to set clear and demanding goals for the Corps:
We want to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent and (energy spent transporting) water by 60 percent by 2015. We would also like to increase, by 25 percent, the reusable energy sources we have.29
These numbers are in line with targets mandated by legislation and executive order.30 Some might argue that enforcing rigorous fuel efficiency standards in the middle of a complex and difficult war is an absurd and dangerous waste of time and effort—that there are bigger issues at stake than the fuel efficiency of a forward operating base. But this would be to forget the drivers behind Gen Zilmer’s urgings to save the lives of his Marines and the nature of the fight in which we are currently engaged.
Indeed, energy security is a very real strategic imperative in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in so far as energy security contributes to, or detracts from, American resolve. For a “weak” power to prevail in a fight against a materially stronger opponent, according to Clausewitz:
. . . you must match your effort against [the stronger opponent’s] power of resistance, which can be expressed as the product of two inseparable factors, viz. the total means at his disposal and the strength of his will.31
When outright military victory is not obtainable, but the weaker side has the stronger will (driven by fanaticism for example):
. . . the question is how to influence the enemy’s expenditure of effort; in other words how to make the war more costly for him . . . wearing down the enemy . . . using the duration of the war to bring about a gradual exhaustion of his physical and moral resistance.32
With the national economy in deep crisis, domestic fuel at record prices, fuel for the Operating Forces ranging from $14 to $400 a gallon, with billions of gallons required each year to sustain operations on the other side of the world, and with Marines dying daily as they protect convoys of fuel, the real question should be, why have we waited until now to take energy security seriously?
1. Available at http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hkiMxbHNH0BqgpWA2ZG6VD.... Video available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhhVVYVKgF0.
4. Warner, Jerry and P.W. Singer, Fueling the “Balance”: A Defense Energy Strategy Primer, Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, 2009, p.2. Hereafter referred to as “Brookings Report.”
5. Available at http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0827/p02s01-usmi.html.
6. Available at http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2009-04-02-IEDs_N.htm.
10. “Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security,” Center for Naval Analyses, Washington, DC, May 2009, p. i.
11. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/world/asia/21pstan.html.
12. Available at http://cria-online.org/CU_-_file_-_article_-_sid_-_65.html.
13. Available at http://www.marines.mil/units/hqmc/logistics/Pages/Conferences/USMCEnergy..., accessed 31 August 2009.
14. Available at http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2009/08_defense_strategy_singer.aspx.
15. Conway, Gen James T., Keynote Speech, Marine Corps Energy Summit, 13 August 2009, Washington, DC.
16. Brookings Report, p. 2.
17. Available at http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/fuel.pdf, p.19. The same numbers were found in an Office of Naval Research assessment available at http://www.onr.navy.mil/media/nre_navigator/news_articles/shownewsarticl....
18. Brookings Report, p. 3.
19. CMC Energy Summit speech.
20. Boyd, Mike, Engineer Advocate Branch Head, Headquarters Marine Corps, Energy Summit presentation.
21. Brookings Report, p. 2.
22. “Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security,” p. viii.
23. Ibid., p. i.
24. Available at http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,109512,00.html.
25. Payne, MajGen E.G., Energy Summit presentation.
26. Brookings Report, p. 4. Savings data, source is the company website. Definitive proof not found during research of this article, although other DoD sources do not contest this figure, http://us.sunpowercorp.com/business/success-stories/nellis-air-force-bas....
27. Quoted in Brookings Report, pp. 3–4.
29. CMC Marine Corps Energy Summit, Washington, DC.
30. See legislation discussion in http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/pdf/0383(2009).pdf, p. 7.
31. It should be noted that the author has used the same quote in another article on the war in Iraq. Clausewitz’s insights on irregular war bear reading and rereading on a regular basis. See Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. and ed. M. Howard and P. Paret, 8th ed., Princeton University Press, NJ, 1984, p. 77.
32. Clausewitz, p. 93.