How’s this for a mouthful: Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs. It’s basically a complicated way of saying the Defense Department official in charge of figuring out how the military uses and deploys energy in the field. That is Sharon Burke’s position, and in a recent speech at the University of Texas at Austin, she talked about the military’s new mission to reexamine their sources of energy.
Why? For reasons both economic and strategic. By virtue of its mission, the military is a prodigious consumer of energy, Burke says. “Implicit in the kind of military force we need to have moving forward” is the need for an immense capacity to use energy, she said. For instance, Burke noted that the military uses 1.7 million gallons of fuel per day in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, where the terrain and climate can be quite inhospitable, it’s tough to transport fuel to where it’s needed. She showed one photo displaying an adaptation the military has come up with: a mule with generators strapped to each side. (Soldiers aren’t strangers to being beasts of burden themselves; Burke says they carry an average of sixteen pounds in batteries alone.)
In order to overcome these energy challenges, the Department of Defense is looking at solutions both big and small. On the larger end of the spectrum, she foresees the military using technologies “that are forward-leaning like hybrid solar systems that integrate storage, diesel generation, micro-grids, and solar panels.” On the simpler side are solutions like increasing the education of personnel.
These attempts to develop and implement new energy strategies in the military aren’t without resistance. But Burke understands all too well that development in the energy sector usually happens at a snail’s pace: “We need change, and it doesn’t happen fast,” she said.