Military Officers Tie Energy To National Security

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In a series of stories, NPR examines the costs, the politics and other challenges of upgrading the country's electricity grid.

The drive to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil is getting support from the country's largest single user of oil — the Pentagon. Defense officials say they're determined to cut back on the 300,000 barrels that the U.S. military burns every day.

That promise comes just as a group of retired generals and admirals is pointing out that the way the United States uses energy is jeopardizing national security.

Ashton Carter, the new undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, says he has been told to find more fuel-efficient vehicles for the military. Partly, it's for budget reasons: the expense of trucking fuel into Afghanistan means gassing up a Humvee in Kabul costs about $13 a gallon. But there are also geopolitical considerations.

"As you look out over the scenarios and the sources of conflict and the sources of threat to the United States, you see one after another that is driven by energy or in which energy is an important consideration," Carter says.

With energy supplies limited, rising demand brings conflict over access to those supplies: Oil-rich dictators get new power; high oil prices feed unrest.

Carter was speaking Monday at a forum featuring retired three- and four-star generals and admirals who have produced a critical new report on U.S. energy consumption. Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, a former commander of the Navy's 3rd Fleet, says the United States — and the Department of Defense in particular — have no choice but to figure out how to live on less.

"It's not a question of if, it's a question of when [the Defense Department], and in fact the entire country, have to change our energy posture. And if you wait for it to be later, it's pretty painful," McGinn said.

The retired officers were brought together by the Center for Naval Analyses, a nonprofit, military-oriented think tank. Their report says the overall U.S. energy posture "constitutes a serious and urgent threat to national security — militarily, diplomatically and economically." One vulnerability: the nation's electrical grid.

"We all have had experience during the summertime with how fragile that grid is," said retired Adm. John Nathman, a former vice chief of naval operations, "of it not being nationally connected, the fact that in some cases it's aged and in some cases it's electronically controlled, which has a certain amount of weakness in terms of cyberattack."

Meaning terrorists or a hostile government could penetrate the grid and disrupt the electrical network.

The group is challenging the U.S. government and all Americans to reduce energy consumption and look for alternative energy sources.



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