Powering the Pentagon

Creating a Lean, Clean Fighting Machine

Fill ’er up: refueling in Helmand province, Afghanistan, February 2011.
Fill ’er up: refueling in Helmand province, Afghanistan, February 2011. (Dmitry Kostyukov / Getty)

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the U.S. naval aviator Thomas Moorer questioned Takeo Kurita, a former vice admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy, as part of the U.S. military’s postwar interrogation of Japanese commanders. Kurita told Moorer that one of the most significant reversals of fortune Japan had suffered during the war was the loss of fuel supplies. “We ran out of oil,” Kurita said, and by the end of the war, the Japanese military had grown so desperate, it was operating its equipment on fuel distilled from old tires, rice, and even pine needles. “What I learned then,” Moorer would note years later, “was never lose a war, and the way to lose a war is to run out of oil.”

Last year, the U.S. Department of Defense was the single largest consumer of fuel in the United States, using about 90 million barrels of oil, at a cost of nearly $15 billion. The fuel requirements of the U.S. armed forces accounted for approximately 1.3 percent of all U.S. petroleum demand and more than 80 percent of the federal government’s total fuel consumption.

Although the United States is not in any immediate danger of running out of oil today, the U.S. military’s heavy reliance on fuel could become a liability, given that U.S. forces must be able to travel long distances on short notice. And President Barack Obama’s rebalancing of U.S. strategic interests to the Asia-Pacific region only further underscores the importance of U.S. mobility.

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