“ ‘The real difference in performance between a weapons system and its predecessors was usually not the consequent of one, two or three scientific advances or technologic capabilities but was the synergistic effect of 100, 200, or 300 advances each of which alone was relatively insignificant.’ That’s true of complex military systems and it’s true of our energy system,” said John Alic, panelist and report author, at an event hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) last month that examined the opportunities and challenges to developing advanced energy technologies at the Department of Defense (DoD).
The event featured several leading defense and innovation experts and highlighted findings from a new BPC-commissioned report, Energy Innovation at the Department of Defense: Assessing the Opportunities, by the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes at Arizona State University and the Clean Air Task Force.
As the panelists noted, the DoD has increasingly focused on the ways in which energy affects its operations and the opportunities to improve its performance through the development and adoption of advanced energy technologies. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs, Sharon Burke, and Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, Dorothy Robyn, discussed recent efforts and tools that the DoD is using to improve both operations and installations.
Still, although DoD has been one of the most potent innovators in history and can clearly help advance certain energy technologies, its security mission will always take priority. As Former Air Force Commander Gen. Ron Keys wryly put it “the only time you have too much fuel is when you’re on fire.”
The discussion made clear that DoD will continue to contribute to progress on energy-related technologies in ways that advance its security mission—as an early adopter, as a technology test-bed, and a producer of spin-offs, for instance—but it is also made clear that there are managerial and institutional lessons at DoD that could be applied to other energy innovation programs. Panelists commented extensively on the unique connections at the DoD between technology developers and end users and between R&D and commercialization programs. BPC board member Norm Augustine noted that “DoD has done a great job understanding that basic research is best done when it is not targeted. On the other hand, innovation is best done when it is highly targeted, solving really tough problems.”
As the event demonstrated, there is an important role for DoD to play in advancing U.S. energy technologies, and BPC, through its Energy Project and through its American Energy Innovation Council project, will continue to examine this suite of issues.
The panel was moderated by David Garman, Principal, Decker Garman Sullivan, and Former Under Secretary of Energy, U.S. Department of Energy, and included:
- Norm Augustine, Member of BPC’s American Energy Innovation Council, Former Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, and Former Undersecretary of the Army
- Dorothy Robyn, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, U.S. Department of Defense
- Sharon Burke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs, U.S. Department of Defense
- Gen. Ronald Keys, Senior Advisor to BPC and Former Commander, Air Combat Command, U.S. Air Force
- John Alic, Report Author and Project Consultant to the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes, Arizona State University
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