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The connection between fuel efficiency and national security

By on November 2, 2015

Retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Ann Rondeau served for 38 years, and held the position of deputy commander of U.S. Transportation Command from 2006- 2009. As a member of CNA’s Military Advisory Board (MAB) — a group of retired high-ranking officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps —she looks at the way key issues affect national security. Recently the board came out in support of new fuel efficiency standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles. Road King spoke to Admiral Rondeau about why she feels it is important for the trucking industry to take a lead role in improving fuel efficiency.

Q Oil dependency has been an issue for decades, but most people in the U.S. don’t see it as an immediate threat. How do you relate it to national security?

A Oil dependency is one of those things that requires a long view to understand the impact. When we protect free markets, the free flow of goods requires propulsion to move it. So national security is connected to oil dependence, making it an economic security issue related to our quality of life.

It’s also a strategic consideration in whether we go to war or don’t go to war. Logistics is a pretty complex chain of events, even more so in the military, because of the environment you are moving in during wartime. When a soldier tries to deliver goods to the front lines or point of need in the military it is usually in hostile conditions. Weight, volume mass, speed, on-time delivery — all of this is part of smart and dependable logistics. Compound that with being shot at, blown up, targeted. That is a lethal combination.

The U.S. Army studied the issue of convoys in Afghanistan, focusing on 2007 as a representative year. They found that one in 24 convoys in Afghanistan resulted in the death or serious injury of one of our fighting forces. The ability to move supplies, troops, medical equipment and food is core to effective execution of military missions. Every gallon of gas that we can save reduces the threat to those serving. A truck that is more efficient and can go a longer distance with fewer refueling stops makes our troops safer.

Famously, during World War II, German tanks had this problem. They ran out of fuel in the middle of the African desert, severely hindering their fighting ability. So this is not a new problem. But our ability to solve it is better than it has ever been.

Q Often, when the military saw that kind of need in the past, it worked out a solution. Why turn to truck manufacturers to develop greater fuel efficiency?

A In America we have a long history of military-civilian partnerships. For example, the military’s development of unmanned vehicles can be seen now in civilian use for fire fighting and mining rescue squads. Today, we see that in technology. With military research and development (R&D) budgets falling, and the fast pace of R&D at Amazon, Google and other innovation labs in the country, this is a time when we need to help each other. So why not go to the trucking industry, where you have experts who make trucks and drive trucks every day? We need to go into that industry and find out what they are doing, just as tech gurus of the military took advantage of Google and Microsoft advancements. The business of trucking also needs efficiency and economic advantage. The science and the technology that serves to advance that for the industry is also good for the military.

Q Some truckers say they see a decline in reliability and an increase in maintenance costs with fuel-saving technology on the newer trucks, and so are concerned about stricter regulations on fuel economy.

A Clearly, innovation and the activity of implementing that innovation sometimes have friction or conflict. Generally speaking, innovation will precede standards, but having standards to reach is so important. The members of the CNA Military Advisory Board understand that reasonable people need to have smart and expert conversations about what makes sense when talking about changes in this area. But anything is an improvement from what we have today. We can’t stay where we are. The MAB has great respect for the complexity of this issue, and for those who make and drive trucks. We know how hard this is, but moving forward is essential.

Q Is there any other point you want truckers and the public to understand about the issue?

A The cost of fuel is a calculation for the Department of Defense (DOD) that includes what it takes to store and protect that fuel. Inefficiency is a cost to our people and to taxpayers. The DOD is a huge consumer, so we are after fuel efficiency as its own endpoint, but also as a part of being responsible with the resources needed to support a robust, effective and successful American military.

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