Pentagon says cutting energy use is big priority

WASHINGTON, May 18 (Reuters) - The U.S. Defense Department, the nation’s single largest consumer of energy, is putting increased focus on cutting its energy consumption and ensuring that future weapons are more energy efficient, the Pentagon’s new chief weapons buyer said on Monday.

Reducing energy consumption is a big priority for the Obama administration, which has vowed to fight climate change, and could save billions of dollars at a time of mounting budget pressures, said Ashton Carter, who became undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics last month.

Carter called energy a big driver of Pentagon policies and strategies, and said the department had already tripled spending on energy research and development programs to $1.2 billion over the past two years, plus $300 million from the federal stimulus bill.

“Energy is a driver. I’m seeing it crop up everywhere,” Carter told an event hosted by the Center for Naval Analyses to release a new report on the energy risks to national security. “I’m committed to staying on top of this.”

He said the Pentagon used 0.3 million barrels a day of oil, about 1.5 percent of the U.S. total usage of 21 million barrels a day -- which in turn accounts for about one quarter of total world consumption of 86 million barrels a day.

In fiscal 2008, rising oil prices sent the Pentagon’s fuel bill soaring to $20 billion from $13 billion a year, he said.

Carter lauded a new report released Monday by the center that was prepared by a high-level panel of retired admirals and generals, saying the issue would play a key role in several reviews of defense programs now under way at the Pentagon.

The report concluded that heavy U.S. use of fossil fuels and the fragile U.S. electricity grid posed significant security risks to the country and the military.

Warning of the destabilizing nature of increasingly scarce resources, the report called on the Pentagon to fully integrate energy security and climate change goals into national security and military planning.

Charles Wald, a retired Air Force general, who headed the CNA Military Advisory Board, which wrote the report, said the U.S. military urgently needed to address this issue.

“We have waited too long to fix this problem.” Wald said.

But he said military requirements still ultimately trumped any concerns about energy use, when asked about the Navy’s recent decision to maintain the high speed of its new Littoral Combat Ship rather than cut fuel use by swapping out the propulsion system and accepting a slower speed requirement.

Carter said the military was already moving to better estimate and factor in the cost of getting fuel to the battlefield to run its tanks and warplanes and other weapons.

Using that “fully burdened” approach, fuel cost about $13 per gallon in Afghanistan, while the price jumped to about $42 per gallon when delivered by an aerial refueling tanker.

Increasing energy efficiency could also save lives, Carter said, noting that about 70 percent of the convoys used in Afghanistan were carrying fuel and water, but guarding those convoys put soldier’s lives at risk.

In Iraq, most of the fuel consumed by the U.S. military was used to power air conditioning units for tents, Carter said. Just spraying foam on those tents could reduce energy use by 45 percent, but that innovation had just been tested, he said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ recent decision to cancel the manned ground vehicle portion of the Army’s modernization program also presented an opportunity to ensure that any future vehicles were far more fuel efficient, he said.

Fuel use would also be an important consideration when the military decided which truck would replace its fleet of thousands of Humvees, Carter said, noting that such energy savings could contribute to the greater national effort.

Lockheed Martin Corp LMT.N, BAE Systems BAES.L, and a joint venture of General Dynamics Corp GD.N and Humvee-maker AM General LLC are competing for the work, which could be worth $40 billion in the longer term. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)