RISING COST OF FUEL A CONCERN FOR CANADIAN MILITARY

 

By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen

The Canadian Forces is eying fuel efficiency as a factor in the purchase of new equipment and plans to set military-wide standards for the use of alternate energy sources such as biofuel as it tries to deal with increasing costs of petroleum.

 

It is also keeping close tabs on developments in the U.S. on alternate energy sources for military uses, according to the head of a recently created office whose job is to monitor fuel as a strategic resource.

 

Canadian Air Force Lt.-Col. Bernard Poulin said fluctuating oil prices have hit military budgets hard and has sparked an interest in better fuel efficiency as well as monitoring the use of energy resources more closely. “People are taking it pretty personally when their budgets are cut by 10, 20 or 30 per cent to compensate for fuel increases,” Poulin, head of the fuel and lubricants directorate, said. “It really hit home last year.”

 

Some Canadian military officers have been pushing for the creation of such an office for years, noting that Canada’s allies in the U.S., Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have similar organizations in place.

 

In January the Canadian Navy had to cancel a sovereignty patrol off the country’s east coast because of a lack of funds. Increased fuel costs were partly to blame for the lack of funds for the patrol, according to naval officers. The patrol was reinstated after Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor ordered the navy to transfer the money to pay for the patrol from another part of its budget.

 

According to figures provided by the Defence Department the Canadian military spent 219 million Canadian dollars ($186 million) during fiscal year 2005/2006 to purchase 292 million liters of fuel. The fiscal year ends April 1 of each year.

 

But Liz Hodges, a spokeswoman for the office of the Assistant Deputy Minister Materiel, said based on anecdotal evidence received from units and bases it is believed that the fuel use was much more. But at this point the military lacks a way of accurately tracking its fuel use.

 

Poulin, whose office was created eight months ago, said one of his first projects will be to create a central method of monitoring fuel use across the Canadian Forces and measuring fuel efficiency in specific pieces of equipment.

 

Another area to be dealt with is the fuel efficiency of new equipment being brought on line. “On the procurement process we’re trying to influence the efficiency of the vehicles when they’re being procured,” Poulin explained. “It’s low on the priority list but it’s still there. We’re starting to ask those questions.”

 

He said, in turn, procurement officials are asking his office for its views on the fuel efficiency of new equipment.

 

The Canadian Forces also wants to make more use of alternate fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol. There have been trials of such fuels at some bases but the initiatives are done by local base commanders and units, rather than controlled centrally from the Defence Department headquarters.

 

In January, officers at Canadian Forces Base Halifax, Nova Scotia asked for permission to conduct a trial using a fish-based biodiesel in a fleet of commercial-pattern diesel trucks. Such a fuel would be a blend of diesel and fish oil.

 

Poulin said it is important to set standards for the use of such alternate fuels, including how they might affect particular vehicles. In some cases such fuels cannot be used in cold weather, he noted.

 

“Biodiesel has different qualities so we’re trying to set standards to say, ‘Okay, Forces-wide this is how you’re going to proceed if you want to go biodiesel,” Poulin said. “So if ever we’re faced with an operation or an on-the-spot decision the process is in place.”

 

He said his office is also watching closely U.S. military efforts on alternate fuels and whether that any such developments could be of use to the Canadian Forces. Poulin noted, for instance, a U.S. Air Force test flight in December involving a B-52 bomber using a synthetic fuel.

 

Other research is being done into bio-degradable hydraulic oils for aircraft. Poulin said his office wants to conduct studies on such oils to convince flight units of the potential value of using them.

 

He also said Canada’s mission in Afghanistan is putting more pressure on fuel budgets, although it’s unclear at this point by how much. Poulin noted that the fuel consumption on the mission not only involves in-theater use of petroleum products but, as well, increases in the training tempo for troops in Canada as they prepare for Afghan duty.

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

 

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