Air Force helps incorporate operational energy into wargaming

  • Published
  • By Dominick’ Wright, PhD
  • Air Force Operational Energy (SAF/IEN)


“He who owns the oil will own the world, for he will rule the sea by means of the heavy oils, the air by means of the ultra-refined oils, and the land by means of gasoline and the illuminating oils.”

-- Henri Berenger, French diplomat, 1921


Assertions that energy logistics are an important feature of major combat operations are not new. Henri Berenger made his observation during the inter-war period when great powers were determining how to prevent the next global war, and how to win it if deterrence failed. While planning for combat operations against Imperial Japan in the Pacific during the Second World War, the United States military embarked on a series of wargames, and in doing so, discovered operational shortfalls that presented significant logistical challenges. As a result, the U.S. military identified game changing logistical advances, such as the advent of underway replenishment for fuel and resources, leading to the acquisition of required capabilities including liquid and dry bulk transport ships. These developments remain a critical enabler of operational reach today.


Despite the relevance of operational energy throughout history, military planning and execution over the last few decades has often assumed fuel and associated logistical resources to be readily available. Wargaming has not been much different. Prior to 2017, simulated planning and execution in the Air Force Title 10 wargame campaign, Global Engagement, largely ignored fuel flows needed to sustain base operations. At present, Air Force Operational Energy (SAF/IEN) is working with a host of defense and industry partners, such as the Naval Postgraduate School, Air Force Petroleum Office (AFPET), Defense Logistics Agency – Energy, and others to incorporate energy logistics into Global Engagement.


Energy logistics, as a system of activities for fossil fuel-burning platforms, includes the extracting and refining of crude oil, the bulk shipping of refined products, the operational storage of refined products, and the tactical distribution of refined products to combat or support platforms. Air Force Operational Energy’s goal is to facilitate better understanding of the logistical challenges that come with this system across the enterprise and to drive energy-informed leadership decisions in wargaming- and ultimately in basing strategy and investment priorities.


Some insights drawn from the fast paced, short duration Global Engagement 2018 Capstone Event, which took place at Schofield Barracks in July, are likely to have near-term, tactical-level impacts that may improve Air Force’s airbase resiliency efforts. Following its completion, Air Force Operational Energy turned its attention to incorporating energy needed to run installations and contingency locations into wargaming, developing capabilities to integrate logistics-related modeling and simulation tools into gameplay, and – most importantly – continuing to build and leverage partnerships throughout the defense logistics community.


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