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⚡️ Introducing... Equilibrium by GESI

Preview edition: DoD’s Operational Energy Strategy

To the Global Energy Security Community,

I’m excited to share this “teaser” in advance of the Global Energy Security Institute (GESI) rolling out our new, bi-monthly newsletter later this month.

Equilibrium will seek to present “Energy in Context.” We will feature pieces from experts within the community and members of the GESI team to highlight the challenges, opportunities, and debates surrounding the global energy market and emerging energy technologies. Look for the first full edition in the next few weeks.

As a sample of the things to come, we include: “DoD’s Operational Energy Strategy: Context and Content” by Matt Yocum. This piece explores the U.S. Department of Defense’s recently unveiled Operational Energy Strategy and highlights historical examples of how energy readiness affected operational decision-making.

The examination of American energy strategy will continue with a piece by Dr Brenda Shaffer, one of the great contributions in our first full issue.

We look forward to using this platform to continue the robust dialogue the Global Energy Security Talks have become known for. We hope you will read, value, and contribute to the newsletter as we build a community of those vested in contextual, realistic, and balanced policy analysis on energy and security.

– Mike Nelson

DoD’s Operational Energy Strategy: Context and Content

by Matt Yocum 

Key takeaways

  • Energy has played a critical role in military operations throughout history, from ancient battles to World War II, where energy logistics significantly influenced critical decisions and arguably changed the outcomes of key battles.

  • The U.S. Department of Defense's Contemporary Operational Energy Strategy reflects the modern military's shift towards sustainable and efficient energy use by reducing energy demand, diversifying energy sources, enhancing supply chain resilience, and improving energy visibility.

  • But prioritizing long-term energy transition goals over immediate operational energy requirements is risky. Neglecting current energy requirements in military operations could disadvantage U.S. forces in future conflicts.

Thirty-five centuries ago, feeding horses became the fuel to charge thousands of chariots forward into the first recorded battle in history at Megiddo. The need to fuel forces at home and in the field remains, leading the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to focus on “operational energy” in our own day. 

DoD defines operational energy as “the energy required for training, moving, and sustaining military forces and weapons platforms for military operations.” This definition includes energy used by weapons platforms, power systems, and generators.

DoD released its latest operational energy strategy in May 2023 in a time dominated by the pursuit of energy transition away from fossil fuels. But do energy decisions still impact the operational level of war, and does DoD’s new strategy pave a pathway to military success on tomorrow’s battlefields?

Past Challenges: How Energy Decisions Impacted World War II

Moving past horses and chariots, how energy decisions shape modern military decisions and outcomes can be illustrated from World War II. 

Following the successful Allied landings in Europe along the Normandy coast in June 1944 and subsequent pushes deeper into German-held territory, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower faced a decision: should he adopt British General Bernard Montgomery’s narrow front approach to Berlin or choose a previously planned broad front approach? Which choice would hasten the war's end in Europe and allow Allied powers to shift weight to the Pacific?

Within a month of the D-Day landings, American beaches were exceeding their daily target level of supplies. Image credit: BBC

Many elements factored into Eisenhower’s decision. Personalities, professional rivalries, and politics between Allied powers rumbled on in the background as parties pitched their positions. Moving gasoline and weapons along lengthening logistics routes became increasingly difficult due to breakout from the beach, leaving supplies far behind advancing Allied forces.

This, along with the Wehrmacht’s continued resistance, required the Allies to wait for more effective supply methods. Moving supplies, gasoline, and other petroleum products required delivery to the Continent and follow-on distribution to the armies in the field. To ease the resupply, engineers built hasty pipelines, yet leaks from construction and sabotage required resupply via trucks travelling an additional 160 miles to refuel.

Ultimately, Eisenhower chose the broad front approach and explained his final decision, saying:

“All along the front, we felt increasingly the strangulation on movement imposed by our inadequate lines of communication. Regardless of the extraordinary efforts of the supply system, this remained our most acute difficulty. All along the front, the cry was for more gasoline and more ammunition.” 

Had Eisenhower chosen the narrow path, energy challenges would have been exacerbated by a single, narrow line of communication susceptible to Axis harassment. He based his decision on optimized energy resupply and subsequently defeated German defenses, thus ending the war in Europe. Some analysts speculate a less favorable outcome had he chosen the narrow front approach.​

Present Focus: Operational Energy Defined and a New Strategy Unveiled

Eisenhower applied the art of operational decision-making to reach his conclusion, with U.S. military doctrine describing the “operational” level as actions linking tactical employment of forces to national strategic objectives. This means getting the right people and equipment at the right time and place to conduct synchronized operations, serving a larger strategic aim. As in World War II, positioning forces and equipment for decisive engagement will have little effect without energy.  

Throughout military history, access to and movement of energy has been a significant vulnerability. That vulnerability is heightened today, given adversaries’ capabilities, including long-range stand-off weapons and anti-access/area denial systems, which can hold global energy logistics at risk.

Also, today’s forces may need to simultaneously operate in highly contested environments across multiple domains, including land, air, sea, space, and cyber. The complexity of contested environments means longer supply lines to resupply advancing forces, greater vulnerability of those extended supply lines, and the subsequent need for more security forces and resulting energy demands. The costs and risks add up fast.

Today, several U.S. laws direct DoD’s role in ensuring operational energy requirements are considered and met. 10 U.S. Code § 2911 – dealing with DoD’s energy policy – indicates the Secretary of Defense will ensure the readiness of the armed forces for military missions by pursuing energy security and energy resilience.

10 U.S. Code § 2926 – the Operational Energy Policy – requires military Service Secretaries and Commanders of the Combatant Commands to assess the energy supportability of systems, capabilities, and plans in contested logistics environments.

The 2022 National Defense Strategy directed the DoD to prioritize “reducing energy demand” and “adopt more efficient and clean energy technologies that reduce logistics requirements in contested or austere environments.”

The May 2023 DoD Operational Energy Strategy reflects these legal and policy directives as well as the Biden Administration’s fixation on energy transition initiatives. The strategy directs four lines of effort, including:

  1. Energy demand reduction

  2. Energy substitution and diversification

  3. Supply chain resilience

  4. Enterprise-wide energy visibility

The desired aim of these efforts is that “joint forces have the energy needed to fight and win in contested operating environments.” Each line of effort prescribes focus areas for investment, management, and monitoring. 

For the first line of effort – “energy demand reduction” – the Department aims to improve energy use in existing platforms and operations and enhance energy demand and supportability in capability development. 

In the second line of effort – “energy substitution and diversification” - DoD wants to develop hybridized and electrified forces, pursue commercial Sustainable Aviation Fuel pathways, and explore the production of alternative energy sources. 

The third line of effort – “supply chain resilience” – hopes to assess all-hazard risks of new energy supply chains and change policies to reduce supply chain risks. They also hope to enhance supply chain resilience and survivability by improving analytics.

In the final line of effort – “enterprise-wide energy visibility” - DoD wants to enhance enterprise-wide visibility of energy supply and demand and enable predictive decision-making for mission posture, war-gaming, and defensive and offensive analyses.

Uncertain Future: Success on Tomorrow’s Battlefields?

When analyzed in aggregate, DoD’s latest Operational Energy Strategy appears holistically to be a top-down tilt toward a hopeful, elusive future with only tacit acknowledgement of present national and international realities and adversary capabilities. 

For instance, although there is a focus on performance parameters to “seek real-time and enterprise-wide energy visibility for the full spectrum of military activities,” there appear to be limited avenues to direct near-term energy adjustments for today’s global military operations and responsibilities. 

And regarding the third line of effort’s emphasis on supply chain resilience, there is no acknowledgment of today’s paucity of American petroleum reserves. U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserves in March 2023 held approximately 372 million barrels, the lowest since 1983. This is one among many elements that challenge American supply chain resilience during heightened strategic competition.

The strategy appears more of a roadmap toward energy transition, including financial incentives in that direction, yet does not include a geostrategic, geological, and geo-investment overlay to determine challenges to American military Operational Energy should a crisis or conflict occur today.

Some analysts warn that tactical, operational, and strategic outcomes are unlikely to succeed unless Operational Energy is considered and integrated into decisions today. Without greater DoD emphasis on immediate operational requirements in today’s contested environments, this likely places U.S. forces at risk should conflict occur tomorrow.

As Eisenhower and the Allies had to face challenges in France and further into the continent, our future forces may not make it “onto the beach” if they don’t confront the challenges to operational energy posed by today’s adversarial capabilities.

Stay tuned for our first full edition of Equilibrium in the coming weeks. Until then, we hope you found Matt’s piece engaging and thought-provoking. Please don’t hesitate to send us your comments by replying to this email.


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