Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mythbusters and the $400 gallon of fuel: Under Secretary of the Army Westphal and Vice Chief of Staff GEN Chiarelli headed for Afghanistan.

Following their appearance at the Energy Forum at AUSA on 27 Oct, Westphal and Chiarelli held a press conference where they announce that they would be headed to theater to understand their Service's energy use. Several articles have been written about it. What is unfortunate is that in a couple of the articles we find the perpetuation of a myth that needs to be busted.

Every now and then it is important to revisit bits of information that have entered the realm of lore. One such bit of info that has become mythical is the $400 gallon of fuel. This number has been quoted, always as an extreme case, by DoD leadership. Others have used it as typical of fuel in war zones and still others consider it not only typical, but low balled. It’s time for a little reality check.

First of all, the number is used as an example of the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel (FBCF). The Defense Acquisition Guidance defines FBCF as : “the cost of the fuel itself (typically the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC) standard price) plus the apportioned cost of all of the fuel delivery logistics and related force protection required beyond the DESC point of sale to ensure refueling of this system. “

The purpose of the FBCF is to evaluate new systems and platforms during the Analysis of Alternatives portion of the requirements process known as the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System. Materiel solutions will be considered more competitive that require less support infrastructure; that have a lower power requirement and are more energy efficient. This will allow DoD to understand the implications of energy use in a given scenario. The FBCF is completely scenario driven based upon point to point movement of a specific variety (road march, attack, retrograde, etc). There can be no generic FBCF. So how did we get $400 a gallon?

In the Report of the Defense Science Board, More Capable Warfighting Through Reduced Fuel Burden, published in May 2001, the Board envisioned various scenarios in which what they called the “true cost of fuel” was computed. One of the scenarios postulated in the DSB report was fuel delivery to a ground mobile force 600 kilometers beyond the Forward Edge of the Battle Area, back when we had front lines. In this scenario the fuel would be delivered by CH-47 helicopters flying in three legs to Forward Area Rearm, Refuel Points (FARRP) and requiring a full fuel load for each A/C at each FARRP. For a 1,500 gallon payload in each A/C and three stops there and three stops back, the cost per gallon was $400.

This may indeed be an accurate number for an extreme scenario. Both the Marine Corps t and the Air Force Energy Assessment Teams found the number, on average, to be $12 to $20 a gallon (depending on distance traveled). Is it possible to envision even more extreme scenarios? Of course. The FBCF is an acquisition tool and should be used as such. I would much rather we considered the Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel in Blood. When we consider the amount of combat power we consume protecting long lines of communication and the casualties incurred in those missions, we have a much more sobering factor.

1 comment:

Pablo Panadero said...

For an honest look at the FBCF as measured in blood, I'd recommend that you look at the master's thesis of Nathan McCaskey at Colorado State University.