Monday, March 29, 2010

War Gaming an Israeli Strike on Iran from an Energy Perspective

The Brookings Institute recently conducted a war game centered on a preemptive Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear production facilities. Sounds like a good idea to simulate this thing, but it also seems a little too neat the way they did it (i.e., optimistic) for me. Here's how it starts according to David Sanger in the NY Times:
Without telling the U.S. in advance, Israel strikes at six of Iran's most critical nuclear facilities, using a refueling base hastily set up in the Saudi Arabian desert without Saudi knowledge. ... Convinced that the Saudis had colluded with the Israelis, and emboldened by the measured initial American position, Iran fires missiles at the Saudi oil export processing center at Abqaiq, and tries to incite Shiite Muslims in eastern Saudi Arabia to attack the Saudi regime.
Nothing is said of the impact on worldwide oil availability or prices, but given the way the real markets responds to much less substantial events in Nigeria and elsewhere, we could assume prices would sky rocket.  Then there's an indication of a more sustained attack on Saudi's oil infrastructure and the confidence of global marketplace:
Knowing that its ultimate weapon is its ability to send oil prices sky high, Iran decides to attack Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, an oil industry center, with conventional missiles and begins mining the Strait of Hormuz. A Panamanian-registered, American owned tanker and an American minesweeper are severely damaged. The price of oil spikes, though temporarily.
OK, so there's an impact, but relax, it's only temporary. Why so short lived? Well, maybe because the game itself was short-lived:
The game ends eight days after the initial Israeli strike. But it is clear the United States was leaning toward destroying all Iranian air, ground and sea targets in and around the Strait of Hormuz, and that Iran's forces were about to suffer a significant defeat.
So there's no real impact to the highly oil dependent US or world economies, and we're about to kick Iran's butt with finality with air strikes alone? Don't get me wrong: I'm all in favor of giving Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and their like a major dose of whoop ass. But I think we'd better get our games on straight before embarking on the real thing.

Photo Credit:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

DOEPP Candidate Burke Gets Her Day in SASC Court

June/July 2010 Update: Burke is confirmed! See here.
It's been a long time coming, but now not only has the Director of Operational Energy position been created and a candidate nominated, but earlier this week Sharon Burke of CNAS sat with other nominees for DOD leadership positions to answer questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).

You can read 23 pages of pre-hearing questions and answers on your own, but I've pulled out what I think is the most important response right here:
Q: In your view, what are the major challenges that will confront the DOEPP?
A: The primary challenge confronting the DOEPP will be to change a longstanding, underlying assumption across the defense enterprise that energy will always be relatively cheap and available where it is needed, when it is needed. Moreover, in addressing this challenge, the DOEPP will have to confront the reality that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. A successful operational energy strategy for the Department will have to place high priority on improving the energy posture of deployed forces, both in forward operating positions and in support bases, for example, at the same time that it incorporates energy considerations into DoD’s normal business processes, from wargaming to requirements to budgeting. If confirmed, I expect to find these challenges eased by the growing, pervasive awareness of the importance of the Department’s energy posture, given experiences in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. If DoD incorporates energy as both an enabler and as a liability in how it designs and builds the force, we can make major improvements in our capability, flexibility, effectiveness, affordability, and sustainability. In this way, energy can be a strategic and tactical advantage for U.S. forces, rather than a significant source of risk (my emphasis).
You can also watch an archived video version of the hearing by clicking here. While I may have missed a thing or two, you can go straight to questions to Ms. Burke by dragging the progress bar to these time markers: 39:00, 79:00, 85:23, 95:20, 106:20, 126:40

At a minimum, recommend you listen to former Senator and SASC Chairman John Warner's introduction to the position, and to Ms. Burke as a candidate, beginning at the 39 minute mark.

I noted in her responses the articulation of two primary priorities for the DOEPP:
  1. Improve the effectiveness of our deployed forces - by reducing their vulnerability to reliance on energy. In particular, to fuel lines in Afghanistan
  2. DOD business process change - to implement the "full cost and full burden of energy" into everything the Department does
It may be a nearly impossible job, but I believe Burke is locked onto the right challenges, and am keen to see what happens if/when she gets the green light.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Imagining Smart Grid Adversaries, or "The Cascade Charade"

As most readers of the DOD Energy Blog can attest from direct experience, sometimes we manufacture enemies as placeholders for potential future enemies. Such was the case recently when a smart and well-intentioned student of Chinese origin, Wang Jianwei, published what he thought would be helpful findings for all students of complex, networked systems.

However, not long after its publication, in certain circles his work became known as a blueprint for Chinese attacks on the US power grid. How'd that happen? In order to understand who scrambled the info, you have to follow the path of the information to detect when and by whom it got altered.

It begins with the paper trail from Wang's article published in Safety Science: "Cascade based attack vulnerability on the US Power Grid" (which you can purchase in full for $31.50). The paper was found by a group called the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission and was presented as a threat brief to Congress where things start to simmer with certain congressmen. Ultimately, news of this reaches the New York Times in the form of this article  published on 20 March 2010. My co-blogger on the Smart Grid Security blog, Jack Danahy bought the original paper and read it in its entirety, before writing this post about the whole affair with a focus on the grid.

Of course there are plenty of reasons to keep our eyes open and our guard up. Threats to our electrical insfrastructure can take many shapes, including, as RMI's Amory Lovins points out, squirrels. However, back to the paper that started this tempest. According to Wang and others:
We usually say ‘attack’ so you can see what would happen,” he said. “My emphasis is on how you can protect this. My goal is to find a solution to make the network safer and better protected.” And independent American scientists who read his paper said it was true: Mr. Wang’s work was a conventional technical exercise that in no way could be used to take down a power grid.
Assuming everything originating in China is a threat to the US ignores our current nearly inextricable economic inter-dependency. As it attempts to maintain its very rapid climb out of the third world, China's own energy challenges are staggering. And if climate change is one of your concerns, then the linkage goes even deeper. We have so much to work on; let's not  let our insecurities get in the way of really improving our nation's energy security.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lovins on DOD Energy Opportunities in 2010

Rocky Mountain Institute founder Amory Lovins has been in this long game longer than anyone, and much of the credit for DOD's current momentum on energy can be traced directly to his decades-long leadership and perseverance. So it's great news that NDU's Joint Force Quarterly journal has just published his current assessment and recommendations for the Department's energy strategy. (Note: because it's so timely and topical, you'll find it front and center (actually, top and right) on the DOD Energy Blog for the rest of this year.)

Biggest points of emphasis in this piece are deep drill-downs on the two new new strategic vectors (or capabilities) Lovins has been championing for some time time: endurance and resilience. The business case for the first begins early in the article:
Nobody knows how much oil is in the ground: governments, which often do not know or will not transparently reveal what they have, hold about 94 percent of reserves. But DOD, like the United States, has three compelling reasons to get off oil regardless: security, climate, and cost.... DOD’s unnecessarily inefficient use of oil makes it move huge quantities of fuel from purchase to use, imposing high costs in blood, treasure, and combat effectiveness.
Endurance gets you platforms less dependent on oil logistics, freeing soldiers up for offense vs. the defense that massive fuel convoys demand. Greater weighting of resilience, on the other hand, would liberate DOD bases from their current dangerous over-dependence on commercial power in CONUS and overseas. Once broadly implemented via renewables and the smart and micro-grids, it would also reduce our little-discussed vulnerability to trees and rodents:
The US electrical grid ... is very capital-intensive, complex, technologically unforgiving, usually reliable, but inherently brittle. It is responsible for 98–99 percent of U.S. power failures, and occasionally blacking out large areas within seconds—because the grid requires exact synchrony across subcontinental areas and relies on components taking years to build in just a few factories or one (often abroad), and can be interrupted by a lightning bolt, rifle bullet,malicious computer program, untrimmed branch, or errant squirrel.
The title is "DOD's Energy Challenge as Strategic Opportunity" and I highly recommend you read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another Energy Implications Update from the Air Force UAV Files

I don't have numbers that describe drone fuel demand, but we can assume that being smaller, lighter and slower, they get many more MPG than F-15s, F-16s and A/F-18s. However, you also want to factor in the fact that a UAV typical sortie can be five times as long as a fighter sortie, so that may serve to balance things out a bit.

You'll have to sort through some of the variables in your head to imagine future fuel demand implications ... things like:
  • how many concurrent, continuous global UAV sorties (40 is the number today)
  • how big and heavy are some UAVs going to become
  • at what speeds and altitudes will they fly
  • will the DOD UAV inventory be counted in the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands ... or even higher
  • will jet fuel remain the primary fuel source
  • will new airframe efficiencies (like those described briefly in the previous post) bring a significant reduction in fuel demand per vehicle
This recent article in the Washington Post paints the UAV's future with a bit more resolution, even as it joins the chorus questioning the viability of the Air Force as an independent service. In this excerpt, the author is referencing some of the different UAV use cases and deployment configurations developed by Colonel Eric Mathewson, principal author of last years's "USAF Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan, 2009-2047":
The plan that Mathewson produced for the Air Force envisions unmanned planes not only providing surveillance and striking targets, but also hauling cargo around the world. Instead of flying just one plane, a single pilot would probably control as many as four or five planes simultaneously. "If I am doing a surveillance mission where the plane is literally just staring at the ground or at a road for eight or ten hours, I don't need a pilot actively controlling the plane," he said. "So maybe I have a squadron of 40 aircraft but I only have four or five people monitoring them." The Air Force and Mathewson have already demonstrated in training that one pilot can fly as many as four Predators.
There are a lot of organizational culture issues in the Post article, and how they play out may be as important in predicting the future as are the technology factors. With so many variables, it's still too early for me to imagine the energy demand consequences. But it's necessary (and a little fun) to think about it now.

Photo Credit: Zach Tumin on Flickr

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Airframe Fuel Efficiency: NASA Attempts to Crack one of the Toughest Nuts to Crack

Hat tip to Ollie - he's been cranking 'em out lately, including an excellent pointer to this article about logistics travails in Afghanistan making Iraq look like a day at the beach. In the meantime, whether they be flown by man, woman, or machine, big things that fly drink a heck of a lot of fuel. GE's been reporting progress on engine efficiency; now here's NASA pushing on the airframe itself:
NASA says the ability to cut drag by controlling the amount of laminar flow— or smoother, boundary-layer air over a wing surface—offers potential improvements in fuel efficiency, range and payload that “far exceed” any known single aeronautical technology. Possible fuel savings of up to 30% for subsonic commercial aircraft have been suggested, should a successful passive natural laminar flow (NLF) or active hybrid laminar flow system be developed.
There's more here in this Aviation Week article. The DOD fuel burden impact of even single percentage point improvements would be massive. Efficiency investments here could yield huge returns: less fuel per mission, or longer but fewer missions. Or more 24/7 eyes and ears in the skies to help our guys on the ground.

Image Credit: Standford University

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Algae Biofuels as Force Multipliers

We've looked at synth fuels and biofuels several times in the past (including here). Now here's a short and timely from DOD Energy Blog guest blogger and Navy energy contractor, Vince Marshall.

Fossil fuels such as gasoline, diesel fuel and JP-5 have numerous advantages to military commanders. They are very dense in terms of energy per volume and robust in terms of handling and storage. Military supply systems are set up to handle liquid fuels and we have many decades of experience with them. It is difficult to picture an M-1 battle tank or Air Force C-17 with massive battery banks in place of fuel tanks in the near future. Why? Because batteries don’t currently have nearly the same energy density as liquid fossil fuels.

However, some of the issues with liquid fossil fuels are:
  • Where the fuel comes from. Countries unfriendly to the US have lots of oil resources and at present we're more dependent on them than we'd ever want to be
  • Fuel prices and availability are volatile. It is difficult to budget for cartel manipulation of supply
  • Fossil fuels have been locked underground for millions of years. They have to be located, brought to the surface, cleaned, treated and then lit on fire to drive our vehicles. This releases carbon into the atmosphere, which is generally not a good thing these days
  • There is a finite supply. At some point we will run dry
Algae based biofuels retain the advantages of existing fossil fuels without most of the downsides. They mimic fossil fuels performance without price and supply volatility. They don’t compete with food crops such as corn based ethanol products and they sequester pollutants such Nitrates and Phosphorus from the water.

This article in the UK's Guardian paints a promising picture. DARPA has been on the leading edge of Algae based biofuel research and has recently set short term price targets of $3.00 per gallon with ultimate goals of delivering fuels at $1.50/ Gal or less. DARPA is predicting large scale production to begin in 2013-2014. Producing our own cost-effective liquid fuels will be a force multiplier not only for the US Military, but for our entire country.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Operation Free is Well Worth Your Attention

Here, once again, is former Army 0-6 and DOD energy expert Dan Nolan, uncut and uncensored. This time, he digs into what looks like a very worthy project:
Typically, I would not join any club that would have me as a member (Thank you, Groucho), however I have found a group of folks that I am proud to join. Operation Free is a brand new coalition of Veterans and national security organizations who recognize that our dependence on a commodity we do not control is a critical vulnerability for the Nation. They are sponsored by The Truman National Security Project. "OpFree" was formed this past summer with a goal of recruiting 100 Vets to promote secure, economical and clean energy. They are well past that number and I am proud to be one of the new recruits. I met veterans with experience from Korea 60 years ago to the Helmand Province 60 days ago.
On 23 Feb 2010 about 100 veterans gathered on Capitol Hill to hear what our legislators were doing to address our national addiction. Senators Bill Nelson and Mark Udall as well as Representative Steve Israel came to hear our concerns and answer our questions. We also heard from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. The Secretary has shown tremendous leadership in this energy arena although I think he chose the F/A-18 as the first fighter to fly on renewable fuel just so he can talk about "The Green Hornet". At lunch time Carol Browner, the director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, spoke to us and took our questions. All of these conversations were informative and open. The Vets asked hard questions and all were responded to, if not always to our complete satisfaction. Senator Nelson (D-FL) pointed out that there are about 37 million acres of offshore leases on the books with the oil companies that are not being exploited. Rep Israel (D-NY) has been an advocate for energy security for years and continues to sound the tocsin of our vulnerability. We even had a celebrity drive-by when the actor Gloria Rueben (E.R. hottie) stopped by to thank us for our activism in this arena.
This group continues to grow, crisscrossing the country on bus tours to raise the alarm. When environmentalists tell you we are endangering the planet, we nod.  When economists tell you we are transferring huge amounts of wealth, we shrug. When combat decorated veterans (and the former Director, CIA)  tell you we are creating an enormous national vulnerability and sending a BILLION dollars a day overseas to fund both sides of two wars, it is time for action. Check out the Operation Free website and if you are so minded, support this important movement. We have talked and talked and talked. Now it is time for action.