Kevin Geiss, deputy assistant secretary of the US Air Force for energy, said energy savings should be factored into the strategic planning process early on. (US Air Force)
WASHINGTON — The US Air Force has made great strides in energy efficiency in the past several years. But in order to maximize savings, Pentagon officials need to include energy discussions in strategic planning, according to the service’s top energy official.
“When we’re buying something, a lot of other bigger, larger strategic decisions have already been made about how that capability is going to be utilized in an operational context,” Kevin Geiss, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for energy, said at an Air Force Association event Wednesday morning.
“We pay quite a bit of attention on certain weapon systems, how efficient is it, but when we develop requirements, those are generally for an aircraft — range, payload, capability,” Geiss said. “Energy is a component of each of those. So our primary focus is to ensure that energy is appropriately on the table as we discuss those requirements.”
Logistics play a major part as well. While the service can achieve a marginal increase in an exquisite weapons system, those savings can be dwarfed by the logistics around the platform.
“You have all this other stuff you have to bring all the way over [to the area of operations],” Geiss said. “Where you base your fuel, the resiliency of the fuel, the ability to support logistically that operation, may be a greater consideration than some people know.
“What we’re trying to do is in the context of ‘we need to buy stuff,’ is making sure we as a department are working through those [plans], the war gaming in those situations of how that weapon is going to be implemented.”
Highlighting the importance of energy savings for the Air Force, Geiss said the service’s energy bill last year was $9.2 billion. At the same time, the service has become a leader in finding fuel efficiencies, winning five government awards in 2013 for creative savings.
One of those award-winning projects involved the legacy KC-135 Stratotanker platform. The 22nd Operations Group Fuel Efficiency Office, based at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, reduced KC-135 fuel usage by changing the standard landing fuel weight and standard landing configuration. Despite an increase in sorties by 42 percent, the group found $4.3 million in savings.
“So these folks proved that it’s a false choice to say we can either get the mission done, or we can save energy,” Geiss said.
Energy consumption will be a major part of the service’s next-generation engine, with increased efficiency and performance both targeted. But exactly what savings might result is hard to project, given the various factors that go into the equation.
“How those benefits are utilized in the weapons system will ultimately be determined when they decide what weapon system those will go into,” Geiss said. As an example, program officials may seek certain increased thrust levels, which could be the result of heavier payloads or a requirement for short takeoff capabilities. Conversely, there may be a demand for efficiency, that may be for longer range, or it may be because of a specific weapons set.