The Wall Street Journal reported an astounding fact this week: the U.S. Military estimates that it costs $400/gallon to deliver fuel to remote Afghan outposts.
This is done in order to avoid dangerous over-land convoys that would otherwise be responsible for delivering food, water, ammunition and, of course, fuel.
Those airdrops have increased 50 fold in the last 6 years.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “In 2005, Air Force planes dropped around two million pounds of supplies to troops in Afghanistan. Last year, they delivered around 60 million pounds by airdrop. By the end of this year, officials say, they expect to drop around 90 million pounds of food, water, ammunition and fuel to bases in the country.”
Air Force Gen. Raymond Johns (head of Air Mobility Command) said that the risks posed by roadside bombs during land convoys has become a greater threat since the December 2009 U.S. troop surge. Coupled with other security issues and the closing of key Pakistani border crossings, airdrops are the only option in many cases.
“They [troops] are in places where getting them their supplies is very risky to go by land conveyance,” he said. “So they’ve become more and more dependent on our airdrop.”
But the risk to the air crews responsible for the dangerous airdrops is considerable as well, and unpredictable variables lead to increased costs. For example, parachutes don’t always open, leading to lost or damaged cargo, particularly barrels of fuel which are literally “burned in” upon impact.
A single operating base in Afghanistan requires 300 gallons of diesel fuel daily to meet vehicle power needs as well as electricity and heat demands. At $400/gallon, that’s a staggering cost each day for just one of the 100 bases in the country.
The Department of Defense is already looking to green technology as a possible solution to this growing problem. Many bases in conflict zones are currently using solar-powered generators and LED lights to lessen their demand for fossil fuel and decrease risky and expensive supply transports.
As the largest consumer of energy in the United States, the DOD has set a goal of using renewables for 25 percent of its energy needs.
The U.S. Air Force plans to be on 50 percent biofuels for all its domestic aviation needs by 2016. The U.S. Navy plans to reduce ship fuel consumption by 15 percent by 2020 compared to its 2010 levels. The U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines both plan to get 50 percent of their needed energy from alternative energy sources by 2020. (See complete report here.)