Air Force Looks to Increase ‘Lethality Per Gallon’ With Energy and Climate Goals

In early October, the Department of the Air Force released its climate action plan, setting out ambitious goals to slash emissions across its installations, non-tactical vehicles, and aircraft fleets in the coming years.

By December, the department may be ready to release details on how it will go about achieving those goals, acting Assistant Secretary for Energy, Installations, and Environment Edwin Oshiba said Nov. 3—and in doing so, will lay out a path for how to achieve more “lethality per gallon.”

“We are still working on our implementation plan,” Oshiba said in a webinar hosted by the Center for Climate & Security. “My personal goal is to get it out there by mid-December, which is really aggressive. But again, we’ve been doing this stuff for a while—it’s not like we’re starting from scratch here.”

The 24-page action plan identified three main priorities for the DAF:

  • Maintain air and space dominance in the face of climate risks.
  • Make climate-informed decisions.
  • Optimize energy use and pursue alternative energy sources.

To respond to those priorities, the plan identified aspirational goals, supported by more specific objectives in turn broken down into “key results” that the service wants to acheive.

That approach, Oshiba said, has helped the speed with which the implementation plan has been written.

“When we wrote our climate action plan, it was written … in a way that was sort of outcome-based, with key results that, if achieved, would allow achievement of the objectives, which would then allow achievement of the goals,” Oshiba.

As an example, Oshiba cited a “key result” to which the Air Force has attached a particularly aggressive timeline—a pilot program to ensure that by 2026, 10 percent of the aviation fuel at two Air Force operational locations is sustainable and costs the same or less than traditional fuel.

“It’s written in a way that’s specific in its timing,” Oshiba said. “And so it kind of has sort of a built-in measure, if you will.”

However, the department still needs to provide a roadmap for how to implement such a program. That’s where the implementation plan comes in.

“My goal in writing the implementation plan is to then provide the actions necessary to achieve the key results and then monitor the progress in completing those actions, and most importantly, determining ‘Hey, did we achieve the outcome we thought we would, if we would do these actions?’” Oshiba said.

That last part will be critical, Oshiba said, indicating that certain actions in the implementation and key results could be changed or modified as needed if the desired objective isn’t reached.

“I don’t want to measure completion of the actions. I want to measure the outcome. Are we achieving the outcomes we thought we would by doing those actions? And if it doesn’t, that’s OK. We’ll learn from it. We’ll adjust the implementation of climate goals,” Oshiba said.

To that end, the department has implemented a governance structure for the implementation of the climate action plan, with a goal of meeting at least four times per year, Oshiba said.

“I told the folks, ‘Hey look, the implementation plan isn’t etched in stone. We’ll learn as we go … and then we’ll make adjustments. And my idea is to at least look at doing those kinds of adjustments once a year, so that we understand what’s going on with the progress we’re making or not making, look and see what’s going on in the environment, in terms of both the fiscal environment, the security environment, the technology environment, and be adaptive as we move forward,” Oshiba said.

Many of the goals, objectives, and key results the Air Force is seeking in its action plan, however, will take years to realize. For example, the action plan calls for the department to reach net-zero emissions across its installations portfolio by fiscal 2046, more than two decades from now. By fiscal 2030, the department is aiming for all its electricity to be carbon pollution-free.

Some observers have noted that such goals could be hampered, however, by the political state of play in Congress and the White House. With the midterm elections less than a week away and a presidential race that will kick off in earnest in 2023, a shift in political power could result in different priorities, noted moderator John Conger, a senior adviser to the Council on Strategic Risks, a security policy institute.

But Oshiba, along with other energy, installation, and environment officials across the Pentagon, argued that there is bipartisan consensus on the need for things such as energy and the environment given potential impacts on fiscal resources, readiness, and lethality. 

The Air Force in particular, needs better energy efficiency, Oshiba said, noting that the department accounts for 45 percent of the Pentagon’s total energy consumption, with 80 percent of that 45 percent—more than a third overall—going toward operational fuel for aircraft.

“So if we can figure out ways in which we can be more energy efficient, we’re basically increasing lethality per gallon,” Oshiba said. “What that translates to is more time on target if you’re talking about aircraft refueling or a fighter aircraft. It means more cargo per mile if you’re talking about moving cargo across the Indo-Pacific theater. So that is one area that we definitely need to continue our work on, no matter who is in office. Again, it’s about increasing our combat capability moving forward.”