Posted May 12, 2016
As an Army captain serving in France during World War I, future President Harry S Truman depended on horses to keep him and the soldiers in his field artillery battery moving. He probably didn’t realize it at the time, but the era of horse-powered combat was nearing its end after thousands of years. Modern navies, aircraft, mechanized transports and armored tanks – all powered by petroleum products – were on the scene to change the nature of the armed forces of the world forever.
Today, a century later, the U.S. military is the most technologically advanced and successful in the world. Well-trained men and women are the core of the military’s ability to defend the nation, but they couldn’t do it without modern equipment – powered by modern energy.
America’s military uses a variety of tools to efficiently and effectively protect the safety and liberty of Americans and allies around the world. Advanced computer systems and software for identifying and limiting threats to aircraft and sea craft and land vehicles for transporting and patrolling depend on energy, from diesel and jet fuel to natural gas and electricity.
Altogether, our national security system under the U.S. Defense Department (DOD) is the single-largest energy user in the country, accounting for nearly 1 percent of our nation’s total energy consumption, or around 730 trillion Btus (British thermal units). That’s more than a number of countries use, including Slovakia, Bahrain and Ireland. It is also about 78 percent of all of the energy consumed by the entire federal government, meaning that the remaining 23 major federal agencies account for less than a quarter of the government’s total energy consumption. DOD uses this energy for everything from keeping the lights on in the barracks to fueling a 97,000-ton aircraft carrier.
The way DOD uses this energy is broken down into two primary categories, installation and operational. Installation energy powers buildings and vehicles not involved with combat missions, uses that typically require less energy. Operational energy goes to the transporting, training and sustaining of personnel and weapons involved in military operations, which in 2014 equaled 70 percent of the department’s total usage.
A large chunk of that operational energy goes to the Air Force, which though smaller than the Army by approximately 200,000 members, uses more than half of it. This is because the Air Force is energy intensive – it takes a lot of jet fuel to fly our country’s fleet of F-16s, A-10Cs, T-38s and hundreds of other aircraft. Meanwhile, the Army, with more than half a million members, is the largest consumer of installation energy, using about 34 percent of the total to power its hundreds of posts – including major installations like Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Hood in Texas, which together are home to more than 90,000 service members on approximately 465,000 acres.
The Air Force’s jet fuel consumption illustrates the way energy for transportation is the largest portion of both installation and operational usage. In 2014, for example, DOD used more than 87 million barrels of fuel, accounting for more than 75 percent of its total energy consumption, with electricity at 12.3 percent and natural gas at 7.6 percent.
And as DOD is the largest single user of energy in the United States, its need for petroleum-based fuels makes it the largest single consumer of oil globally. In fact, there are only 68 countries in the world that consume more oil than DOD. While most of that oil is used by aircraft in the form of jet fuel, other fuels made from it power everything from jeeps and tanks to battleships and even nuclear submarines, which often use diesel engines to generate electricity. Together, these vehicles of the sky, ground and water get the members of our military where they need to be to keep us safe.
Despite the DOD’s considerable need for energy, the United States’ military branches are focused on increased energy efficiency, which has helped decrease energy use. Since 1975, DOD’s energy usage has decreased by more than 600 trillion Btus, lowering its share of the federal government’s total consumption from 87 percent to 78 percent. DOD also has significant renewable energy programs. Both are good news for U.S. taxpayers.
One last energy-military point: We shouldn’t forget that America’s energy revolution – surges in domestic oil and natural gas production – is a positive development for members of the armed services. A stronger, more energy secure America that’s less dependent on imported oil, is an America that’s less impacted by energy-related tensions around the globe. It’s also an America that can supply its military with more home-grown energy to do what they do better than anyone else on the planet – protect the rest of us now and in the future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.