Retired Lt. Gen. Sorenson discusses Pentagon's mandate on efficiency, renewables

With Defense Secretary Leon Panetta making conservation, efficiency and renewables key parts of his mandate, how much of a national security threat do environmental issues pose? During today's OnPoint, retired Lt. Gen. Jeff Sorenson, a vice president and partner in A.T. Kearney's defense practice and a former U.S. Army chief information officer, discusses the Defense Department's "Net Zero Initiative" and explains why he believes the military should devote resources to the effort.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is retired Lieutenant General Jeff Sorenson, a vice president and partner in A.T. Kearney's defense practice. Lieutenant General Sorenson is a former U.S. Army chief information officer. Sir, thank you for coming on the show.

Jeff Sorenson: Thanks, Monica. Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Sir, Defense Secretary Panetta has made energy conservation, efficiency and renewables a key part of his mandate.

Jeff Sorenson: Right.

Monica Trauzzi: Even going so far as to call environmental threats a threat to our national security. Do you agree? How much of a threat in reality is actually posed?

Jeff Sorenson: So, I think you just go back to the "Quadrennial Defense Review" in 2010. There were four pillars there that were defined as critical issues; security assistance, defense acquisition, industrial base, and energy security. And I think if you begin to look at even today as we deploy forces, the Army alone, we have 93,400 deployed and about another 90,000 in sort of tactical operations of 150 countries. We have to get energy and capability to them and, as it is right now, in terms of all that we do to support them, you know, we're spending about $65 to $85 billion a year just moving and, if you will, securing those particular lines of communication from the standpoint of energy. And that becomes an important issue when we look at what's the future going to look like where you've got Libya and Nigeria and you've got the Middle East in terms of where we draw a lot of the petroleum from. You know, what is it going to look like in the future as we deploy forces in other areas?

Monica Trauzzi: It all sounds pretty expensive. I mean can the military really afford to make these changes, especially considering this environment of austerity that we have going on right now?

Jeff Sorenson: Well, I think, you know, again, going back and I would just speak predominantly here to the Army, but from an operational standpoint, if you look at 2007 as an example, we put 430 million gallons of fuel into Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait in order to support our forces. And that basically equates to about 140,000 different trucks, convoys, 9,000, if you will, convoys with soldiers on each one of those. I think the tabulation that I finally saw was something like 650,000 soldiers, contractors and civilians were basically moving that capability. And yet, you know, the, if you will, injuries and casualties that they were suffering in terms of moving that particular fuel to locations in very austere environments, we suffered, you know, some 3,000 casualties. So you begin to equate that to if we just take 1 percent reduction in terms of energy in the tactical environment, that would take already about 6,500 soldiers off, if you will, an exposure there to enemy fire. And you just begin to knock that down and begin to see what the impact would be. So, from an operational standpoint, you can't really put a price tag on those lives. And so from a standpoint I think it's almost inevitable, depending upon where we're going to go, that we're going to have to have something more from a renewable standpoint.

Monica Trauzzi: There is conflict though in Congress about ...

Jeff Sorenson: Yes.

Monica Trauzzi: The money trail here.

Jeff Sorenson: Correct.

Monica Trauzzi: And Republicans feel that the Department of Defense should be spending more money on ships, planes, drones, things like that that they can actually bring into the field. Is there a valid argument there?

Jeff Sorenson: Well, I think, you know, I go back to Omar Bradley, who was one of our five -- one of the five five-star generals who essentially had the quotation, "Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics." And in many cases, in order to support our forces, you know, we can talk about having all this great capability, but if you can't operationalize it, it's not going to be of value. For instance, there was a soldier there in Afghanistan, very much in an austere environment. He couldn't get fuel to run his generator. So he did some working out in terms of with a local farmer and got about 50 gallons of cottonseed oil in order to essentially run the generator to run the equipment to give some understanding of where the enemy was so they could conduct their tactical operations. And so that's an example of a standpoint of, you know, inevitable to where we are going to deploy in the future, we're going to need, you know, more renewable sources of capability in terms of energy.

Monica Trauzzi: Some of these technologies though are still being worked out.

Jeff Sorenson: Yes.

Monica Trauzzi: We're never going to put our military in a situation where they're trying to work with technologies that sort of haven't been in the prime time for long enough.

Jeff Sorenson: No, I don't think so. In fact, what I saw there when I was the chief information officer, the beginning of use of solar panels that they could lay out in terms of getting energy to, again, power a lot of the communications equipment. I mean you begin to look at what we have in a battalion today, the advent in terms of communications technologies and IT capability, I mean it's gone up three and 400 percent. And, as a result, that is drawing a lot of power and where are you going to get that power? And so when you had, if you will, some solar panels that you could lay out to power up that equipment, that reduced, again, the fuel trucks, the soldiers being exposed and so forth. And so I think from an operational standpoint, you know, there too, it's going to be an important thing we need to consider in the future.

Monica Trauzzi: How greater role should the private sector play in these investments? Are public/private partnerships the way to go here?

Jeff Sorenson: I believe so. Specifically, I would think at the post camps and stations. I mean we in the Army did something here with privatizing housing where we leveraged -- or the commercial industry, if you will, leveraged about $2 billion in terms of what the Army had, but they got about $12 billion back and I think the same thing is going to happen here with the commercial industry, from the standpoint of energy. I mean you go back to look at Fort Carson in Colorado where they put in a 2 megawatt, if you will, solar farm essentially on 12 acres of, if you will, landfill and, in many cases, you know, they're going to begin to gain some, if you will, savings from that over time. But that, again, is a public partnership that was established. From the utility standpoint, you've got a customer, it's a stable customer, they're going to be able to get that particular return on their investment. And I think in the way to go for the future for the post camps and stations is exactly the private partnerships.

Monica Trauzzi: So, is it fair to say that the success of this program is not necessarily from the top down, but what individual bases are doing?

Jeff Sorenson: Oh, without question, without question. I mean it's very difficult to do this from the top down, from my perspective. I mean my whole experience in the Army predominantly as an acquisition officer that led to being the CIO was all about the, I would say, creativity ingenuity of the soldiers, as an example I gave you from that soldier in Afghanistan. As well, there was another lieutenant colonel that just got, if you will, Champion of Change award from the president from Aberdeen Proving Grounds. He is a reservist and so when he's not in the military, he's a doctor there as a chemist. But he went into Bagram Air Force Base, began to use this whole notion of micro-grid technology, which essentially, in many cases, takes the generators and when they're not functioning properly or they're not having to be run in terms of utility, they can be shut down, so it was opposed to a 60 watt generator that's only producing 10 watts, but you're continuing to run it. If you don't need the 10 watts, because it can be basically derived from some other generator, you shut it down and essentially saved about 20 percent in terms of fuel, just on that one Air Force Base alone. And so, you know, I think the ingenuity that these, if you will, individuals have at the local installations and so forth is really going to drive a lot of what needs to be done in the future.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we're going to end it right there.

Jeff Sorenson: OK.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you for coming on the show.

Jeff Sorenson: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



Latest Selected Headlines

More headlinesMore headlines

More headlinesMore headlines

More headlinesMore headlines

More headlinesMore headlines