By Rear Adm. Kevin Slates
Director, Chief of Naval Operations Energy and Environmental Readiness Division
I was fortunate to be able to participate in a “Fleet Energy Training Event” last week, the first of its kind to target Fleet-wide energy training and awareness for the warfighter. My hat goes off to the Pacific Fleet and Naval Base San Diego for organizing and hosting this very informative, one-day training workshop. Admiral Harris’ team put together a jam-packed, focused agenda that, in my mind, got right to the heart of how the Navy can build solutions to our energy challenges and also meet the Secretary of the Navy’s energy goals. How? In a nutshell, ideas and behavioral change from within the Fleet. Leaders in Washington can provide goals to shoot for and a vision for the approach, and Secretary Mabus and the CNO have clearly done so, but achieving major reductions in energy consumption will depend on decisions by individual Sailors who operate our combat systems and equipment every day.
The event provided a great opportunity for “framing” by leadership, which took place in the morning, and then practical dialogue among representatives from the Type Commands (TYCOMs), Systems Commands (SYSCOMs), and deckplate leadership. Breakout sessions in maritime/surface, aviation and expeditionary community areas drilled down into challenges and possible ideas for energy efficiency. We videotaped great feedback and ideas from some of the participants, and I’m hopeful that the footage can be used online to inform and inspire Sailors who didn’t get the chance to attend the actual training.
In his introductory remarks, Admiral Harris made the point that efficient use of energy—everywhere, but clearly in the Pacific Fleet area of responsibility which covers half the globe—is vital for maintaining our forward presence. In his words, “This tyranny of distance goes a long way in explaining why fuel is essential, and lots of it. . .and why energy efficiency matters.”
Along with enabling us to maintain that forward presence effectively and reducing refueling requirements, energy efficiency can give us a direct advantage over our enemies in a combat environment. Again, Admiral Harris said it well:
“Energy conservation and management can be an effective tool that gives our forces an edge over any adversary we may face. The Navy with the greatest at-sea endurance has the advantage. And that needs to be us, every time.”
I also took to heart several statements by Mr. Dennis McGinn, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment, who gave remarks at the event. He said, “We don’t want to be out of gas and out of ideas.” That rang true because petroleum is a limited resource subject to sudden price increases in the global marketplace as world events unfold. These supply and price issues become an increasing concern as many of our new systems use fuel at a higher rate than legacy platforms to achieve increased combat capability. We’re also moving toward systems like the electromagnetic railgun and directed energy weapons that will depend on our gas tanks instead of explosives to achieve their kinetic effect. These factors make it all the more important to find ways to conserve fuel in our platforms everywhere, all the time, unless we cannot.
When aviators, surface and expeditionary warriors, and the host of technicians who keep the equipment running truly understand how energy efficiency enables combat capability and can save lives, they can apply their analytical minds to solve energy problems in a practical way that meets mission requirements with less fuel. As vital as new technology is, we won’t achieve energy efficiency fast enough, if at all, with technology alone. We have to re-think how we use and value energy with the platforms we have.
Secretary McGinn also said, “We need to squeeze the maximum amount of combat capability out of each gallon of fuel and every kilowatt hour.” That statement tells a great story, and I believe this principle applies to the Fleet Energy Training Event as well. We are still in a very challenging fiscal environment which limits opportunities for training, so we have to do our best to ensure each training event provides maximum value for our warfighters in support of Fleet readiness. I believe Admiral Harris’ team and the participants in the San Diego event succeeded in that regard—they made practical headway for the Navy in the energy realm, and it was a privilege to be a part of it.
We need new ways to achieve the same quality of training with less fuel, so making changes in how each of us views energy will be essential for our success. Admiral Harris said it perfectly: “I’m challenging all of you to change the Fleet’s mindset. Everyone must understand that, in order to maintain our readiness to fight tonight, we must not only promote energy awareness, we must walk the walk. Instead of saving energy when you can, save energy unless you can’t.”