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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Department of Defense Energy Initiatives: Background and Issues for Congress



Moshe Schwartz
Specialist in Defense Acquisition

Katherine Blakeley
Analyst in Foreign Affairs

Ronald O'Rourke
Specialist in Naval Affairs


The Department of Defense (DOD) spends billions of dollars per year on fuel, and is pursuing numerous initiatives for reducing its fuel needs and changing the mix of energy sources that it uses. DOD’s energy initiatives pose several potential oversight issues for Congress, and have been topics of discussion and debate at hearings on DOD’s proposed FY2013 budget.

By some accounts, DOD is the largest organizational user of petroleum in the world. Even so, DOD’s share of total U.S. energy consumption is fairly small. DOD is by far the largest U.S. government user of energy. The amount of money that DOD spends on petroleum-based fuels is large in absolute terms, but relatively small as a percentage of DOD’s overall budget. DOD’s fuel costs have increased substantially over the last decade, to about $17 billion in FY2011. Petroleum-based liquid fuels are by far DOD’s largest source of energy, accounting for approximately two-thirds of DOD energy consumption. When DOD’s fuel use is divided by service, the Air Force is the largest user; when divided by platform type, aircraft are the largest user.

According to DOD, currently about 75% of DOD’s energy use is operational energy and about 25% is installation energy. Operational energy is defined in law as “the energy required for training, moving, and sustaining military forces and weapons platforms for military operations.” Installation energy is not defined in law, but in practice refers to energy used at installations, including non-tactical vehicles, that does not fall under the definition of operational energy.

DOD’s reliance on fuel can lead to financial, operational, and strategic challenges and risks. Financial challenges and risks relate to the possibility of a longer-term trend of increasing costs for fuel, and to shorter-term volatility in fuel prices. Operational challenges and risks relate to: (1) the diversion of resources to the task of moving fuel to the battlefield; (2) the negative impact of fuel requirements on the mobility of U.S. forces and the combat effectiveness of U.S. equipment, and (3) the vulnerability of fuel supply lines to disruption. Strategic challenges and risks relate to getting fuel to the overseas operating area, and ensuring the global free flow of oil.

As part of its FY2013 budget submission, DOD has requested more than $1.4 billion for operational energy initiatives in FY2013. DOD’s office of Operational Energy Plans and Programs, headed by the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Operational Energy Plans and Programs (ASD (OEPP)), is responsible for developing DOD policy for operational energy and alternative fuels, and for coordinating operational energy efforts across the services.

Congress has been concerned with energy policy since the 1970s, and has passed legislation relating to federal government energy use, including DOD installation energy use. Congress has set specific energy-reduction targets for DOD installation energy, but not for operational energy.

Potential oversight issues for Congress regarding DOD’s energy initiatives include:


  • DOD’s coordination of operational energy initiatives being pursued by the military services. 
  • DOD’s efforts to gather reliable data and develop metrics for evaluating DOD’s energy initiatives. 
  • DOD’s estimates of future fuel costs.
  • DOD’s role in federal energy initiatives. 
  • The Navy’s initiative to help jumpstart a domestic advanced biofuels industry. 
  • The potential implications for DOD energy initiatives of shifts in U.S. military strategy.


Date of Report: December 10, 2012
Number of Pages: 70
Order Number: R42558
Price: $29.95

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