Alternative Energy: An Enabler of Military Capability

Posted: August 24, 2020

The Homeland Defense & Security Information Analysis Center (HDIAC) regularly develops state of the art reports (SOARs) in order to provide a compendium of scientific/technical articles that summarize the most current state of research in topic areas of importance to the Department of Defense (DoD). These SOARs are a means of satisfying user needs for authoritative information directly applicable to their ongoing work.

Alternative Energy is one of the HDIAC’s eight technical focus areas and was chosen as the subject of this report due to its importance to the DoD. Alternative Energy is composed of novel, nontraditional, and emerging sources and technologies for harvesting, generating, storing, transmitting/transporting, and reusing energy to sustain growing energy needs, including that of the DoD.

The National Security Strategy of the United States recognizes that U.S. energy dominance will ensure that markets are free and U.S. infrastructure is resilient and secure while simultaneously guaranteeing diversified access to energy and good environmental stewardship. Additionally, the National Security Strategy offers five priority actions under the step “Embrace Energy Dominance,” three of which (Ensure Energy Security, Attain Universal Energy Access, and Further America’s Technological Edge) demand the development of alternative energy resources.

By design, the National Defense Strategy supports the National Security Strategy; it outlines an operational environment where “every domain is contested – air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace,” and emphasizes that the “homeland is no longer a sanctuary.” Preparing for the battlefield of 2025 and sustaining resilient installations necessitates the assured delivery of cyber-secure fuel and power in contested environments against near-peer competitors. In today’s technology-dependent environment, energy requirements are inseparable from DoD’s mission requirements.

Energy is an essential enabler of military capability, and the DoD depends on energy-resilient forces and facilities to achieve its mission. In FY 2018, the Department consumed over 85 million barrels of fuel to power ships, aircraft, combat vehicles, and contingency bases at a cost of nearly $9.2 billion. Further, recent research shows that the U.S. military consumes more liquid fuels and emits more CO2e (carbon-dioxide equivalent) than most countries. At over 500 worldwide military installations, the DoD spent $3.4 billion in FY 2018 on energy to power over 585,000 facilities and 160,000 non-tactical vehicles. In FY20, the DoD requested more than $3.6 billion for the execution of operational energy initiatives. These investments procure new or upgrade existing equipment, improve propulsion, adapt plans, concepts, and wargames to account for increasing risks to logistics and sustainment, and enhance the role of energy considerations in developing new capabilities.

In addition to its critical role in installation support and management, energy is a decisive enabler on the modern battlefield. Over the last two decades of near continuous combat, the U.S. military has become a more lethal and networked force; however, this has come at a price of increased fuel consumption. This has, in turn, increased the logistics footprint and weight of the force, hindering mobility and responsiveness as well as driving up costs. Further, resupply of fuel to forward operating bases in austere locations puts lives at risk and commits precious combat forces to security missions – it places Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines squarely in harm’s way as forward deployed forces seek to keep fuel flowing to key warfighting enablers such as generators, aircraft, tanks, and trucks. Tactically viable alternative energy solutions including solar, wind, hybrid, kinetic recovery, nuclear, and biofuels for use at remote, austere locations can ultimately reduce the combat load and create a more agile and lethal force at lower cost and risk. This will support the needs of dispersed and highly mobile forces by enhancing the operational versatility of assets traditionally dependent on fossil fuels.

This SOAR reviews the current state of a selection of novel, non-traditional, and/or emerging sources and technologies for harvesting, generating, and reusing energy. It offers synopses of new programs; summaries of significant technological breakthroughs and technology applications; highlights of outstanding developments; and impacts to the DoD.

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