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Air Force discusses the future of energy efficiency

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron conducts an aerial refueling with a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker during exercise Cope North 21 near Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 18, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Duncan C. Bevan)

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron conducts an aerial refueling with a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker during exercise Cope North 21 near Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 18, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Duncan C. Bevan)

Washington, D.C. --

At this year’s Virtual Air Warfare Symposium, the Air Force Association held a panel on February 23rd with Department of the Air Force senior leaders titled “No Fuel, No Fight: The Future of Warfighting Energy Requirements.” The purpose of the panel was to discuss the inherent vulnerabilities fuel and energy present to troops, and plans to mitigate associated risks, streamline operations, and decrease carbon release as part of the Secretary of Defense’s climate change policy.

Hosted by the executive vice president of Air Force Association and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Doug Raaberg, the panel included Kristen Baldwin, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology and engineering; Roberto Guerrero, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for operational energy; Joseph McDade Jr., assistant deputy chief of staff for plans and programs; and retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Anthony Rock, senior advisor to NextEra Energy for defense affairs.

“We know our peer competitors will be challenging our [fuel] supply chains and other energy sources. The places we will be operating from will be more dispersed than we have operated from in the past, especially in the Pacific,” said Guerrero, referencing the need to optimize mission execution and planning.  

The panel covered how energy efficiency, from building more resilient installations and reducing the demand of aviation fuel to mitigating the risk to energy supply chains, will play a more significant role in conducting Air Force and joint operations in years to come, and what will be required in government funding and industry investment to maintain military readiness.    

“As civilian regulations for energy efficiency, emissions, and clean energy continue to advance, the Air Force and Space Force will need to reduce fuel consumption and decrease our emissions. Add to that the strategic importance of ensuring fuel availability to the warfighters and you see why we’re having this panel today,” said Baldwin. “What I see as our most pressing opportunity is to ensure promising technologies transition to the warfighter quickly.”

The DAF has launched several lines of effort to advance energy resilience initiatives, set goals, and collaborate with industry. Air Force Operational Energy, in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory, is pursuing efforts in aircraft drag and weight reduction, agile technology and software, and weapon systems sustainment on legacy aircraft, as well as longer-term initiatives in advanced airframe design, propulsion and alternative fuels.

“In the near term, we’re really interested in software,” stated Guerrero. He referred to the tanker planning tool Jigsaw and its newly-developed automation capability, as well as tanker allocation software Magellan, as prime examples of how to build software that saves planning time, allows for more effective use of tanker aircraft, and provides significant return-on-investment through fuel savings.

Additionally, the AFWERX Reimaging Energy Challenge, which kicked off in September 2020, provided a forum for public and private sector stakeholders to develop research topics and business opportunities for both small and large businesses. The effort aims to reduce Air Force reliance on fossil fuels and leverage a wide range of energy sources including wind, hydrogen, nuclear, space, and thermal, that will support national defense goals, as well as the overall energy sector. To date, the challenge has received over 900 responses, with 175 selected to compete for initial funding.    

“I think it’s safe to say [the] Air Force is investing heavily in energy technologies to improve warfighting; we expect to make very clear under this administration that we will prioritize investments in climate change and energy savings to a degree to which we have not previously done,” said McDade, who supports the development of the Future Years Defense Plan and resource allocation. 

From an industry perspective, Rock reiterated the need for increased interaction between Department of Defense senior leaders, action officers, and industry solutions providers.

The group also discussed how maintaining secure and reliable logistics supply chains is critical to successful military operations.

Previously, fuel logistics was not prioritized like it is now, noted Guerrero. His office now helps Air Force and joint wargaming efforts, including Global Engagement, that focus on energy and fuel supply chains and the possible risks they present to operations.

“As we move forward, supply chains for our acquisition systems and the supply chains for our logistics will continue to have significant priority — and this is also an opportunity that we can work on with industry,” said Baldwin. 

For more information on Air Force energy programs, visit: https://www.safie.hq.af.mil/Energy/