Tuesday, March 18, 2008

As a prelude to tomorrow's blogswarm: fueling the Iraq war machine

The cover article can be read here. Just to whet your curiosity:

Today the average American G.I. in Iraq uses about 20.5 gallons of fuel every day, more than double the daily volume consumed by U.S. soldiers in Iraq in 2004. Thus, in order to secure the third-richest country on the planet, the U.S. military is burning enormous quantities of petroleum. And nearly every drop of that fuel is imported into Iraq. These massive fuel requirements—just over 3 million gallons per day for Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Energy Support Center—are a key reason for the soaring cost of the war effort.

But America’s presence in Iraq isn’t making use of the local riches. Indeed, little, if any, Iraqi oil is being used by the American military. Instead, the bulk of the fuel needed by the U.S. military is being trucked in from the sprawling Mina Abdulla refinery complex, which lies a few dozen kilometers south of Kuwait City. In 2006 alone, the Defense Energy Support Center purchased $909.3 million in motor fuel from the state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corporation. In addition to the Kuwaiti fuel, the U.S. military is trucking in fuel from Turkey. But some of that Turkish fuel actually originates in refineries as far away as Greece.
In 2007 alone, the U.S. military in Iraq burned more than 1.1 billion gallons of fuel. (American Armed Forces generally use a blend of jet fuel known as JP-8 to propel both aircraft and automobiles.) About 5,500 tanker trucks are involved in the Iraqi fuel-hauling effort. That fleet of trucks is enormously costly. In November 2006, a study produced by the U.S. Military Academy estimated that delivering one gallon of fuel to U.S. soldiers in Iraq cost American taxpayers $42—and that didn’t include the cost of the fuel itself. At that rate, each U.S. soldier in Iraq is costing $840 per day in fuel delivery costs, and the U.S. is spending $923 million per week on fuel-related logistics in order to keep 157,000 G.I.s in Iraq. Given that the Iraq War is now costing about $2.5 billion per week, petroleum costs alone currently account for about one-third of all U.S. military expenditure in Iraq.
It's going to get worse:
But even the newest armored Humvees, which weigh about six tons, haven’t been enough to protect soldiers against the deadly explosives. Last year, Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon agreed on a four-year plan to spend about $20 billion on a fleet of 23,000 mine-resistant ambush protection vehicles or MRAPs. Last August, the Pentagon ordered 1,520 of the vehicles at a cost of $3.5 million each.
The MRAPs mean even greater demand for fuel from U.S. troops in Iraq. An armored Humvee covers perhaps 8 miles per gallon of fuel. One version of the MRAP, the Maxxpro, weighs about 40,000 pounds, and according to a source within the military, gets just 3 miles per gallon. The increased demand for fuel for the MRAPs will come alongside the need for an entirely new set of tires, fan belts, windshields, alternators, and other gear.
This swelling of the logistics train creates yet another problem for the military: an increase in supply trucks on the road, which demands yet more fuel and provides insurgents with a greater range of targets to attack.
Now, if one reads through the rest of the article, I'm less sanguine than the author about the power of "the market", although the expectation that the chaos caused by the Iraq War (most likely intentional) is starting to change the political calculus in the region seems reasonable enough. If nothing else, the article is useful for pointing out one facet of that godforsaken war - oil is the Achilles heel of the US empire as it wages its Global War on Terra:
For the US, it is oil. If you even give a cursory glance at the article, you'll find that the US military is going through some 340 thousand barrels of oil per day. That's a lot of Texas Tea. Turns out that having upwards of 700 military bases around the globe (the sun does not set on the US), and keeping the machinery of war running in Iraq and Afghanistan is extremely energy intensive. Not only are the various invasions and occupations energy intensive, but they are extremely vulnerable to the potential of supplies or supply routes for necessary petroleum products (and other goodies) - the Iraq occupation alone has a very long "logistical tail" that could be severed by emboldened insurgents or our oil suppliers turning off the spigots.

The article does make mention that the current consumption needs of the military are simply not sustainable over the long haul. I'm personally wagering that even over the short to medium term the current imperial setup is not viable. I've periodically made reference Dmitry Orlov with regard to the eventual post-peak oil crash that we will be experiencing sooner or later, and some lessons that we in the US could learn from the Russian experience after the crash of the Soviet government. One thing Orlov says in particular jumps out as I read about our military's oil habit:
I am also worried about soldiers getting stranded overseas – abandoning one's soldiers is among the most shameful things a country can do. Overseas military bases should be dismantled, and the troops repatriated.
That is a concern that I share as well. Stranded soldiers tend to fare poorly, especially when the governments they represent have bad reputations. Starting the process of dismantling overseas bases, repatriating troops, and abandoning imperial ambitions would actually be useful in terms of our nation's economic well-being, reducing dependence on petroleum, and reduced risk to life and limb. At this juncture, I'm quite pessimistic about any of our current crop of political "leaders" showing the good sense or the courage to even so much as advocate such a thing. One can hope, I suppose.
More to come.

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