The U.S. military is the world’s single largest energy consumer, and is responsible for 93% of all US government fuel consumption.[i] In fact, the energy intensity of our military operations is increasing, as fuel use per soldier has risen twentyfold since World War II.[ii] There are obviously great costs associated with this energy use, and there are other non-economic concerns as well. Military figures show that in Iraq and Afghanistan there is one casualty for every supply 50 convoys. Obviously, there are huge incentives to increase the efficiency of fuel use.
To this end, the latest budget from the Department of Defense earmarks significant funds to improve military energy use. There are $9 billion in planned investments to improve energy use between 2013-2017, including $1.6 billion in 2013. [iii]
One major target is the energy used to accommodate soldiers in the field, as this represents a big portion of the energy used by the military. For example, the military actually spends over $20 billion on air-conditioning alone.[iv] Several measures have been taken to reduce this fuel use, from bases powered by solar panels, to tents with an insulated cooling so cooled air does not leak. [v]
One innovation the military recently announced is the introduction of new, 10 person battlefield shelters that offer significant energy savings. These box-shaped shelters (pictured below) have a thermal resistance three times better than the conventional canvas tent. Overall, they will be between 35 percent and 75 percent more efficient than the tents currently in use.[vi]
When we think of next-generation military technology, we may think about lasers and super-stealth aircraft, but maybe we should start thinking about renewable fuels and energy efficiency instead. These may be the most impactful technologies for our military in the future.