Hard Power: Challenges and Opportunities for a Stronger U.S. Military


Hard Power: Challenges and Opportunities for a Stronger U.S. Military


Energy is more than just a commodity for the U.S. military. It has geopolitical, strategic, and tactical relevance. To better understand the significant role that energy plays in national defense, The Pew Charitable Trusts this week hosted a discussion with senior officials from the Department of Defense and the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The event explored how national security planners are addressing the energy challenges and opportunities facing the military services.

The event—Hard Power: Challenges and Opportunities in Energy Security for the Department of Defense—took place at Pew’s offices in Washington and was shown on a webcast Monday, Sept. 28, 2015.

The Department of Defense is steeped in tradition, but it also is an early adopter and a locus of technological innovation in energy policy. Sharon Burke, former assistant secretary of defense and adviser to the Pew project on national security, energy, and climate, led a panel discussion with DOD officials to explore the department’s energy policy and its implications for national security and for the energy future of the nation as a whole. The DOD operates on a grand scale, and its budgetary authority, workforce size, and global reach make it a microcosm of the U.S. economy.

Leaders from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the office of the secretary of defense shared challenges and opportunities. The panel included John Conger, acting assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations, and environment; Miranda A. A. Ballentine, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment, and energy; Dennis McGinn, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations, and environment; and Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for energy and sustainability. They each presented on how their services and the DOD as a whole have made progress toward renewables goals and financed new technologies and energy projects even in a time of budget austerity. They also talked about difficulties and successes in transitioning their organizational cultures to better integrate energy into strategic risk analyses and to value it as a vital operational resource.

Acting Assistant Secretary Conger emphasized that some of DOD’s greatest challenges in energy policy are not technological, but budgetary. Sequestration has had a negative impact on the department’s ability to maintain its buildings and make them more energy efficient, he said. Two areas in which the department used private sector funding to make progress are launching renewable energy projects and using energy savings performance contracts, known as ESPCs. Conger also emphasized that the geopolitical focus on the Pacific is already affecting the department’s operational energy strategy. The vast distances between fueling stations in the Pacific theater introduce a level of risk and vulnerability that military leadership hopes to mitigate with more efficient maritime platforms, such as the Navy’s new hybrid-electric destroyers.

When you give an operational commander more miles per gallon, he wants more miles, not fewer gallons. Acting Assistant Secretary John Conger

Assistant Secretary Ballentine focused on the opportunities presented by an evolution in operational perspective to understand that energy certainty is mission assurance. She noted that although the Air Force undertakes many war-fighting missions, its primary role is mobility, and it is the largest energy user in the DOD. In 2014, the Air Force conducted more than 80,000 global missions, spending $9 billion on energy, $8 billion of which was spent on jet fuel, mostly for use in mobility missions. As such a large consumer of fuel, the Air Force aims to use every British thermal unit (Btu) as efficiently as possible, but Ballentine observed that some of the greatest challenges to meeting that goal are rooted in the organizational inertia of the services and the department as a whole.

Why do we care about energy? It’s all about mission assurance. Energy underpins everything we do, and without it, we have no missionAssistant Secretary Miranda A. A. Ballentine

Assistant Secretary McGinn touted how the Navy is well on its way toward reaching its renewable energy goal of 1 gigawatt by 2016. He emphasized that securing third-party financing has been vital to those efforts and that a set of factors have come together to make such financing attractive, especially for onshore energy projects. The Navy has leveraged four types of third-party funding to pay for renewable sources for its installations: power purchase agreements, enhanced use leases, energy savings performance contracts, and utility energy services contracts.

We are seeing the results of a culture change that really values energy in the same way we valued ammunition for centuries. Assistant Secretary Dennis McGinn

Deputy Assistant Secretary Kidd presented the key points of the Army’s newly published Energy Security and Sustainability Strategy, noting that security, resiliency, and choice are its organizing principles. He suggested that the change in how Army leaders think about energy was not driven by legislation, the executive branch, or regulation, but instead by the operational requirements of the nation’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kidd also mentioned the risks and vulnerabilities presented by cyber security and its link to energy.

There is a tremendous connection between energy security and cyber security that we have not yet fully laid out to the extent that it is important. Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard Kidd

Senator John Warner began the discussion with the panel by reaffirming the importance of understanding the relationship between cyber security and energy security. A major theme touched on by each speaker during the question-and-answer session was energy-supply resilience in the face of cyber threats, geopolitical instability, and extreme weather.

Sharon Burke and John Warner
Sharon Burke and John Warner

Warner and Burke: Advising on Clean Energy and National Security

Quick View

As advisers to the Pew project on national security, energy, and climate, former U.S. Senator John Warner (R-VA) and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Sharon Burke are working to highlight the inextricable links among energy consumption, climate change, and national security.