Energy security has become a strategic as well as an operational imperative for U.S. national security. As tensions continue to escalate with Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, it has become clear that the U.S. military urgently requires new approaches and innovative technologies to improve fuel efficiency, increase endurance, enhance operational flexibility and support a forward presence for allied forces while reducing the vulnerability inherent in a long supply-line tether. Assured access to reliable and sustainable supplies of energy is central to the military’s ability to meet operational requirements globally, whether keeping the seas safe of pirates operating off the coast of Africa, providing humanitarian assistance in the wake of natural disasters in the Pacific or supporting counterterrorism missions in the Middle East.
From both a strategic and an operational perspective, the call to action is clear. Rapid employment of energy-efficient technologies and smarter systems will be required to transform the military’s energy-security posture while meeting the increasing electric-power demands required for enhanced combat capability. As recently outlined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, “Without improving our energy security, we are not merely standing still as a military or as a nation, we are falling behind."
Extremely volatile oil prices and the high cost of providing the persistent maritime presence required to ensure access to foreign fuel supplies present a significant challenge for deployed U.S. forces. Between 2003 and 2009, the global oil market experienced its most significant period of volatility in decades. Oil prices reached a historic high of more than $147 per barrel in July 2008, then retreated to less than $40 per barrel in early 2009 following the global economic crisis. But they steadily climbed over the following two years, averaging the second-highest level on record in 2010 and consistently breaking $100 per barrel throughout 2011. Continued volatility in fuel prices exacerbates the fiscal challenges faced by the Department of Defense, which spends $20 billion for 135 million barrels of fuel consumed annually -- making it the single largest industrial energy consumer in the world.