Monday, October 19, 2009

DOD Energy Blogger Letter to Editor at "The Hill" Re: DOD Cost of Fuel in Afghanistan

Long-time readers will note I've spent a fair amount of time on this blog saying the DOD doesn't properly value fuel in its systems requirements definition, force planning, acquisition processes, war gaming, etc. So it was more than a little ironic that I found myself yesterday writing to the influential DC newspaper "The Hill" arguing that they're telling lawmakers that the prices they quoted for fuel delivered to troops in Afghanistan is far too high.

But they printed an article that grossly distorted the facts, and since I know a thing or two about this topic, and since what we decide to do in Afghanistan is of paramount national interest, thought I had to chip in. No guarantee they'll respond; they haven't yet as far as I can tell. But just for the record, here's what I wrote the editors last night (18 OCT 2009):
Dear Sirs,
I politely request you consider publishing a clarification regarding last week's article, "$400 per gallon gas to drive debate over cost of war in Afghanistan." As someone who has been studying the DoD's use of energy at US bases as well as in war zones, the article's title, as well as its very first sentence, state and then reinforce a potentially damaging factual inaccuracy that could impact public policy decisions being made right now.
The $400 per gallon figure was recently cited by Marine Corps Commandant Conway when he said thecosts of transported fuel in Afghanistan can be "up to $400" per gallon. In most cases, the costs are well below that maximum. The DoD's own understanding of these costs is not nearly as conclusive as theauthor suggests. Here's how the Defense Science Board task force on energy put it on page 30 of their definitive 2008 report: "... delivered costs for fuel to range from a low of $4 per gallon for ships on the open ocean to $42 per gallon for in-flight refueling to several hundred dollars per gallon for combat forces and FOBs deep within a battlespace." In Afghanistan as in other areas remote from the United States, fuel costs are relatively low at large central bases. As you get closer to the tactical edge of operations, however, costs escalate substantially as military forces transport fuel and protect fuel in transit.
A second source of potential confusion in the article relates to a failure to properly define the DoD's still-new metric: the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel (FBCF). Suffice it to say that the higher figures cited by General Conway and Army energy security program director Kevin Geiss include a long list of direct and indirect costs that go far beyond what readers will likely infer from the article (for more info on factors considered in FBCF analysis, see here).
However, while at its most precise, the FBCF can be understood as a range of possible costs, we may soon have better estimates for these numbers in Afghanistan. General Conway authorized an energy cost investigation team that recently returned from their mission in Afghanistan. As I understand it, the raw data they captured is being analyzed and will made available when complete.
For now, and especially during a period of intense debate over our future strategy in that country, I ask you to communicate to your very influential readers that the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel in Afghanistan is not $400 per gallon, not nearly. In my opinion, the inaccurate and alarmist article published last Thursday will do far more harm than good.
I thank you very much for your attention.
Andy Bochman

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