Sentence of the Day

by on June 27, 2011 at 2:44 am in Current Affairs, Data Source | Permalink

NPR: The amount the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan: $20.2 billion.

That’s more than NASA’s budget. It’s more than BP has paid so far for damage during the Gulf oil spill. It’s what the G-8 has pledged to help foster new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.

TheophileEscargot June 27, 2011 at 3:09 am

That sounds unlikely. Did he mis-speak “billion” for “million”?

James June 27, 2011 at 3:59 am

Read the link? No?

TheophileEscargot June 27, 2011 at 7:20 am

Yes I read the link, it seems to come from a verbal statement in an interview. Verbal statements can often be misspoken or misunderstood, I don’t give them as much credit as a written source.

Now, the annual cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars seems to be about $170bn. If air-con costs $20bn, then about 12% of the cost of the wars is the air-conditioning bill. This seems implausibly high to me.
http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0933935.html

If he didn’t misspeak, then I think when he says “escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in” he’s describing a large bundle of fixed costs that happens to include air conditioning, and they’re reported the whole thing as “air conditioning” to make it a better headline.

anon June 27, 2011 at 8:52 am

agree. There’s some interesting accounting going on here.

Craig June 27, 2011 at 9:17 am

You want to run an air conditioner in Afghanistan? Then you’ve got to not just buy, install and maintain the air conditioner, but provide a supply of fuel for the generator. That comes in on trucks from Pakistan. So you gotta buy and maintain X trucks and pay someone to drive them, just to transport the portion of your total fuel that goes to running the air conditioners. Some fraction Y of your convoys are attacked, resulting in some number Z of casualties. And so on.

What the article was doing was in fact the opposite of what you accuse it of–not lumping every conceivable support cost together and reporting it as “air conditioning,” but drilling deep into the numbers to work out the true costs. I don’t take a position for or against the number, but I have to admit, I’m not utterly shocked by it. Military inefficiency surprises you?

Silas Barta June 27, 2011 at 10:50 am

Wow, you almost wonder how Americans even afford air conditioning!

TallDave June 27, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Yeah, but still… 10% of the total cost? Doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Are they counting the cost of a shipment that has, say 12 M-1Abrams tanks and a couple 5000W air conditioners as “air conditioning?” Methinks they are.

TallDave June 27, 2011 at 3:29 pm

In fact, I think what they are doing are lumping all the force protection together.

So, yes, without that $20B you couldn’t have AC. You also couldn’t have food, medicine — any of a number of different things. One way of looking at it is that they each cost $20B — but you can’t add them together because they’re counting the same costs.

mulp June 27, 2011 at 4:18 am

Nope, it is $20 billion.

GBM June 27, 2011 at 3:10 am

Nice example of the differences in style between Alex and Tyler.

Oliver Beatson June 27, 2011 at 5:39 am

The company who donated air conditioning to the U.S. military isn’t looking so generous now.

Tim Schilling June 27, 2011 at 6:51 am

Add to it that the military units are not allowed to insulated the structures with spray-on foam because “it’s too costly”. According to the story, it would actually save a lot of money and a lot of trips on dangerous roads because the diminished need for fuel to run the generators to run the air-conditioners.

AndrewL June 27, 2011 at 7:59 am

How much does it cost to cut a highway along the supply route? you can hire locals to build it, creating jobs, facilitating trade. the locals will have a vested interest in not seeing the highway blown up. It is much harder to hide IED’s on a paved highway. and we are already very good at detecting and protecting against IED’s on highways from our experience in Iraq.

J Thomas June 27, 2011 at 8:29 am

If you hire locals to build a highway, it won’t actually get built. So that doesn’t work. It will create jobs and facilitate trade, though.

Locals who feel they have a vested interest in blowing you up, will not let damage to your highway stop them.

One of the big things we learned about protecting against IEDs on highways is to not let locals get near our highways. And if one of our drones sees locals with shovels who look like they’re repairing a road that we use sometimes, we kill them on the assumption they are planting IEDs and not just repairing the road.

Sorry to sound so cynical. It’s just, the more I learn the more cynical I get.

nitpicker June 27, 2011 at 9:49 am

Do you think all the locals there are out to blow you or a small fraction? Also, from what I read, the standard for a drone strike is higher than “seeing people with shovels on our road”. Do you have a news story or document to support this low hostility-assumption standard?

J Thomas June 27, 2011 at 10:05 am

Nitpicker, I’m going from old reports from Iraq. The standards may have changed since then, leaving locals with more opportunities to plant IEDs.

It would take me time to look up those old reports, and currently I don’t think it’s worth that time. I’ll review that choice later.

Gabe June 27, 2011 at 6:08 pm

nitpicker,

I’ve seen lots of videos showing us airships shooting people for appearing to hold weapons. Where have you read about the “standards for a drone strike”? was it from the same MSM publications that have promoted the wars, “surges” and spreading democracy at the point of a gun the last decade?

Have you read about any of the wedding bombings?

k June 27, 2011 at 8:01 am

“Everyone in the army and no one unemployed”

Indy June 27, 2011 at 8:56 am

I can tell you for a fact this figure is absolutely bogus and, in reality, closer to about 1% of that figure – yes *two orders of magnitude* wrong. What a disgraceful and lazy “reporting” job – did anybody pick up a calculator? Did they call someone actually still working at DoD to verify? And as usual, Pentagon PR is asleep.

Combined OEF and OIF operations consume about 55-60 KBpd in fuel – you can look it up at the GAO. You can get into second and third order accounting “how many extra parts do I have to order for maintenance of the CH-47′s given the blivet delivery tempo”, etc.. but since the vast majority of the marginal operating cost is the fuel price it’s not necessary for a decent first-order calculation.

*Total* war fuel costs (OEF and OIF combined) are about $2 Billion – *one tenth* of NPR’s “A/C” figure – and, as you can guess, the vast majority of that goes into mobility (jets, helicopters, and military ground vehicles) and base operations which is mostly electricity, the majority of which is not used for A/C except for part of the year in the hottest locations.

The easiest way to actually do the proper accounting and estimate the counterfactual “how much would we save if we ordered the AC’s turned off” is to look at the seasonal difference in electrical base-op electrical requirements. Summer v. Winter works in Iraq because winter is mild, but Summer v. Fall is better for Afghanistan because electricity is also used to generate warmth in winter in the same ubiquitous dual-purpose heat-pumps.

When you look at the seasonal variation – you can come up with an AC expense, and, back-of-the-envelope from what I can recall – I’d guess something closer to $200 Million a year. Hell, double it, be my guest. You’re still at only 2% of NPR’s figure.

What an embarrassment.

Bernard Yomtov June 27, 2011 at 9:10 am

This story certainly sounded bogus.

Thanks for demonstrating that it is. Amazing what a bit of digging can do.

Andrew' June 27, 2011 at 9:11 am

Maybe we are, but who said we are just talking about electricity?

Bill June 27, 2011 at 9:16 am

Indy,

The SOURCE for the story was Patreus’s former head of logistics.

Here is part of the story: “When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world — escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in, we’re talking over $20 billion,” Steven Anderson tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Rachel Martin. Anderson is a retired brigadier general who served as Gen. David Patreaus’ chief logistician in Iraq.

Why does it cost so much?

To power an air conditioner at a remote outpost in land-locked Afghanistan, a gallon of fuel has to be shipped into Karachi, Pakistan, then driven 800 miles over 18 days to Afghanistan on roads that are sometimes little more than “improved goat trails,” Anderson says. “And you’ve got risks that are associated with moving the fuel almost every mile of the way.”

Anderson calculates more than 1,000 troops have died in fuel convoys, which remain prime targets for attack. Free-standing tents equipped with air conditioners in 125 degree heat require a lot of fuel. Anderson says by making those structures more efficient, the military could save lives and dollars.”

One of the issues in the article is how having different types of structures would reduce costs. Also, Fox News reported this also, so it must be true.

Here is the link: http://www.npr.org/2011/06/25/137414737/among-the-costs-of-war-20b-in-air-conditioning

Indy June 27, 2011 at 10:53 am

Believe me, I am fully aware of the logistical requirements and I have complete respect for the General. I’m not saying his number is utterly indefensible or a lie – in fact, given certain methods of accounting it might emerge out the end of the analysis. Here’s the deal – you *need* that methodology to really assess whether the “when you lump it all together …” makes sense. When I say “makes sense” – I mean that the normal person hearing “the news” on NPR will understand that a “cost” means that, “if it weren’t for the AC, we’d be saving $20 Billion a year”. That’s not even close to being true.

Gabe June 27, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Maybe lots of the transactions occuring over there are extremely corrupt.

It is funny to see the military true believers get all uptight, protective and self-righteous about the racket.

Andrew' June 27, 2011 at 9:17 am

Also, to illustrate one of their other points of the transit costs, running an A/C unit on the moon would not just cost a gallon of fuel for the electricity. The direct cost would be trivial compared to the cost to transport the fuel to the moon. Getting at such numbers seems sketchy.

Rahul June 27, 2011 at 9:58 am

@Indy:

Your calculations seem reasonable but something doesn’t add up. Take this story I link to. It says that the marines in Afghanistan alone consume 800,000 gallons/day. Further it says that the average cost of Jet6 is $400/gallon. That works out to 320 M$/day. Of course, that cannot be true. But what gives? It isn’t just NPR that is fuddled up; the rot seems somewhere deeper. Maybe Army PR? Maybe the Accounting Committee?

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/63407-400gallon-gas-another-cost-of-war-in-afghanistan-

It says the average cost per gallon is $400. The Marines in Afghanistan, for example, reportedly run through some 800,000 gallons of fuel a day.

Indy June 27, 2011 at 10:38 am

800,000 gallons = 19,050 Barrels so only 19 KBpd – and it’s typical to do financial accounting for petroleum in barrels per day since that’s how the product is quoted.

And $400 per gallon of even specialty fuel at the most remote FOB is just absurd – no normal or reasonable accounting procedure could justify that figure – not like I expect that from the Comptroller in a report to Congress, but still, it doesn’t pass the laugh test. It’s very useful to be able to “allocate expenses” to certain things that it would very difficult for politicians, when they looked at the budget, to say “Oh, let’s cut that wasteful stuff out!”. Who’s going to turn off the troop’s AC’s? Don’t be *that* guy!

Look – to you and the others who has thoughtful replies – there is a kind of deep question here about what methodology should we use to do proper war accounting. How do you both price and allocate the expense of certain operations. So – we have to replace 500 Chinook rotor blades because the sand and grit they stir up wears the titanium off the carbon-fiber. How much of that do we allocate to “fuel delivery costs” or “A/C”. Do you use fraction of air hours or, what, exactly? Or you have to send some guys out on a fuel convoy – how much does a convoy “cost”? Do you add up the Joes’ salaries – but, if they’re active, they’d get paid mostly the same amount if they were back in Garrison. What about the hazardous duty and family separation pay, or the tax breaks?

One of the things you have to consider is “What is the strategic bottleneck?” That is to say – if, say, using 25% less fuel freed up an extra 1,000 Joes for alternative operations – would we send them home, or just use them in an equally expensive way for something else? So – there is definitely an opportunity cost in terms of mission capability, but probably not in overall budget. In our wars the real bottleneck is the size and manpower of the overall force – what kind of optempo we can sustainable handle with the numbers of people we have – and not budgetary.

And how do we value the opportunity cost of that diminished capability from the current manpower allocation? You need to know the present value of Victory. How much is “a slightly more intensely prosecuted Afghanistan War” worth to USG? I mean, have we increased spending to the point where the marginal value of an extra dollar of war spending is worth an extra marginal dollar in the present value to USG of a slightly-better Afghanistan situation? (BTW, I think I’m going to trademark, “The Present Value of Victory” – catchy!)

These are classic imponderables. So, in my judgment – the best way to really “follow the money” and assess the cost of a particular feature of war expenditures is, like I said, to do the thought-experiment of estimating the counterfactual and asking “How much less money would we spend were we to order this particular feature eliminated – where would the ‘savings’ come from, etc.?”

Like I said, I estimate it’s 1-2% of the NPR interview with BG (RET) Anderson. I have complete respect for the General, but without methodology – it’s *highly* misleading on a politically-charged matter, and it’s irresponsible for NPR to not do the tiniest amount of investigation or verification into the reasonableness of figures like that.

Craig June 27, 2011 at 10:06 am

I’m still inclined to think Brigadier General (Retired) Steven Anderson, has a better than average grasp of the relevant numbers. But it’s also not immediately obvious to me that your 200M in fuel can not be reconciled with Anderson’s 20.2B in total costs. The ascent module of the Apollo LM only weighed five tons or so, and the fuel inside it didn’t cost much at all. But delivering that fuel to where it was needed–that was a pretty steep bill. Similarly, if we imagine the Pentagon just writing a contract to someone to deliver, say, one BTU of heating or cooling to a tent in Afghanistan, we’d expect the final cost to have pretty little to do with the actual quantity of diesel being burned, wouldn’t we? I don’t think your offer to “double” the base price of the fuel is especially generous.

If your number is correct, then Anderson is saying it takes, at the end of the day, $100 in “shipping and handling” to deliver $1 worth of fuel to any given corner of Iraq or Afghanistan. That isn’t the craziest thing I’ve heard this morning.

Indy June 27, 2011 at 11:10 am

Actually, the final marginal cost of energy is indeed closely related to the base fuel price. Logistics to war is much, much closer to Logistics to Peace than it is to Logistics to Space. That’s why I’m asserting that the whole 100:1 “shipping and handling”, “infrastructure and support” ratio estimate is profoundly suspect.

What we need is a budgetary breakdown of that $20 Billion to see how sensible it is. Something like “$1 Billion in saved fuel costs, and $19 Billion since we would have 19,000 fewer troops in theater”. Does anyone buy we’d have a Division+ smaller footprint in Southwest Asia if only we’d turn off those A/C’s?

Craig June 27, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I guess we’ll just have an honest disagreement on that–the complexity and cost of supplying a modern army in Afghanistan is so, well, astronomical that I don’t think an illustration from the glory days of NASA is entirely out of bounds. While I certainly agree that a detailed breakdown is called for, I can’t bring myself to reject the headline figure out of hand. What is the NPV to the government of a single traumatic brain injury suffered on convoy duty? Very large and very negative.

Bill June 27, 2011 at 10:17 am

Indy,

Where I think some of the difference is is in the infrastructure and support costs necessary to deliver the fuel. Now, some of those costs would exist with our without air conditioning, so the issue would be what additional costs and additional infrastructure and support come from this.

What I think the argument really talks about is reducing footprint, inventing solar designs and equipment, design of buildings, insulation etc. I think it is overstated as well, but the overall costs of logistics is probably not.

The other way to frame the question is: how many US lives were lost to cool a tent when there are or should be better alternatives.

J Thomas June 27, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Indy, first you say that the vast majority of the marginal cost is the fuel, and then you calculate that the fuel cost must be low.

You look at seasonal differences in electricity use at bases, figuring that they use lots of air conditioning when it’s hot but not when temperatures are just right.

You estimate total fuel cost at $2 billion. At $400/gallon that comes out to 5 million gallons/year. But in 2009 we were using 1,300,000 gallons a day in Afghanistan. So clearly, you are estimating total fuel cost at around 2% of the usually accepted value.

However, just because your figures are bogus, that does not at all imply that the official figures are not bogus. They could be bogus too.

Indy June 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm

$400 per gallon is what is bogus. How people find this at all plausible or reasonable is a mystery. The level of blind trust is amazing. You have to take any particular report of military expenditure accounting statistics from DoD with a huge helping of salt – it’s not worth the presumption of credibility without an accounting-principles methodology and a budget breakdown. You can’t just waive the magic “war” stick over it and get to a 100:1 ratio.

You can and should demand better of your public servants than bald assertions who can easily provide how they came up with claims like these if only the press would ask them to. Why the press just turns off their typical BS-detectors and goes along with it as if they seemed eager to be able to report it … well, that’s an interesting question.

Again – $400 a gallon is just BS.

J Thomas June 27, 2011 at 1:51 pm

You can and should demand better of your public servants than bald assertions who can easily provide how they came up with claims like these if only the press would ask them to.

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/63407-400gallon-gas-another-cost-of-war-in-afghanistan-

“Pentagon officials have told the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee a gallon of fuel costs the military about $400 by the time it arrives in the remote locations in Afghanistan where U.S. troops operate.” ….

“The Pentagon comptroller’s office provided the fuel statistic to the committee staff when it was asked for a breakdown of why every 1,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan costs $1 billion.” ….

“The $400 per gallon reflects what in Pentagon parlance is known as the “fully burdened cost of fuel.”

“The fully burdened cost of fuel is a recognition that there are a lot of other factors that come into play,” said Mark Iden, the deputy director of operations at the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), which provides fuel and energy to all U.S. military services worldwide.

“The DESC provides one gallon of JP8 fuel, which is used for both aircraft and ground vehicles, at a standard price of $2.78, said Iden.

“The Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Conway, told a Navy Energy Forum this week that transporting fuel miles into Afghanistan and Iraq along risky and dangerous routes can raise the cost of a $1.04 gallon up to $400, according to Aviation Week which covered the forum.

“These are fairly major problems for us,” Conway said, according to the publication.

“The fully burdened cost of fuel accounts for the cost of transporting it to where it is needed, said Kevin Geiss, program director for energy security in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment.”

Again – $400 a gallon is just BS.

OK. You’re probably right. So, General Conway and the Marines and the Pentagon Comptroller’s office and the DESC are serving bullshit to Congress about this topic, probably for their own nefarious propaganda purposes.

Why should we believe them about anything else?

If we can’t trust the US military about basic things like this, we need to first pull out of Afghanistan, and then fire every military officer responsible for the lies and start over with a brand new officer core.

Sigivald June 27, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Well, note that “… can raise the cost of a $1.04 gallon up to $400,…” is not the same as “a gallon of fuel costs $400″. (Which was what TheHill was saying was “average”, and what Indy was reacting to.)

It’s saying that in the worst case, it can cost something like that very round and convenient number.

(Remember, that he was wanting that price lowered, I imagine, and thus has every incentive, as one does, to make it sound as high as possible. But as long as it was at least once close enough to $400 to justify rounding it up, he won’t be lying either. I’d be shocked if the average or median price was near that, or if that wasn’t a cherry-picked worst-case. Again, this is how you do politics, and politics is the core of military appropriations and jockeying.)

So $400/gal is just BS as he said, as a normal cost, or indeed anything but an outlier.

(If the General could support the idea that it was a common cost for the fuel, he damned well would have said so, because it would strengthen his case.

If we assume everyone involved is honest and rationally trying to fulfill their interests, we still end up concluding that the military very, very rarely pays $400 in total cost for a gallon of fuel – if it indeed ever happened more than once.

I believe the General in what he actually said – but I also believe that what he said was not about the typical case, again because of the language he used.)

Gabe June 27, 2011 at 6:26 pm

The whole endevaeor has been backed by lies. Senator Max Cleland resigned from the 9/11 comission saying it was a fraud against the American people. Other comissioners have come out saying they were lied to by high level people in the government at every step of the investigation.

Many people still try to claim that we invaded these countries because we care so much for the people there. It is laughable the lies that are constantly promoted for these wars.

J Thomas June 27, 2011 at 10:20 pm

It’s saying that in the worst case, it can cost something like that very round and convenient number.

Sigivald, did you look at the link? The military claimed that the worst case was more like $1000/gallon.

And note that the magic number $400/gallon comes from 2009, and does not include the changes since then which increase the cost. The increase in base price of 70% or so is trivial given the cost of delivery, of course.

Here’s a link describing the system the military uses to estimate fully burdened fuel costs. They really do have the mechanics set up to calculate the costs. So if you want to know those costs, they can tell you — if they will.

http://karbuz.blogspot.com/2009/12/source-dipetto-2008-slides-7-9-merged.html

Here’s a more recent report.
http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Current-Affairs/ISN-Insights/Detail?lng=en&id=127187&contextid734=127187&contextid735=127186&tabid=127186127187

“In October 2009 Pentagon officials testified before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee that the “Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel” (FBCF) translates to about $400 per gallon by the time it arrives at a remote Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Afghanistan. Last year, the FBCF reached $800 in some FOBs following supply route bombings in Pakistan, while others have claimed the FBCF may be as high as $1,000 per gallon in some remote locations.”

The $400/gallon figure is not averaged over all fuel, but only fuel that reaches FOBs. There were reports elsewhere about soldiers at FOBs who spend time in air-conditioned tents, with the claim that spray-on insulation can reduce the airconditioning fuel costs by as much as 92%. That’s $400-$1000/gallon fuel used for airconditioning.

Here’s the NPR report that got people upset about $20 billion air conditioning.

It has a nice picture of an airconditioned tent.

http://www.npr.org/2011/06/25/137414737/among-the-costs-of-war-20b-in-air-conditioning

Here’s something with a quick report by former logistician Anderson with a short description of his methodology. He used an estimate of $30/gallon for FCBF. He said he low-balled it so people wouldn’t think he was cooking the books.

http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/06/27/wars_air_conditioning

I was disappointed in the communications from the US government and particularly DoD about this. I didn’t find much and what there was, was mostly uninformative. It’s no wonder the media latches onto magic numbers and a small handful of factoids, when that’s all they have.

Trey June 28, 2011 at 3:31 am

http://www.sprayfoam.com/npps/story.cfm?nppage=505
http://people.forbes.com/profile/steven-m-anderson/142789

Its so much cheaper to buy $32 million of foam than spend $20 billion on fuel, right? Or so says a Retire Brig Gen that happens to be selling the spray foam. NPR really should check there sources before just giving out free advertisements.

caveat bettor June 27, 2011 at 9:03 am

As one born during the Vietnam conflict (and the conscription policy of that time), I am thinking that they should get a/c before me. I’m sure my kids would disagree, which only affirms my thought.

Andrew' June 27, 2011 at 9:09 am

Dear Pakiraqistani. Here’s how to run your country correctly.

First, install modern technology…

Henry June 27, 2011 at 10:02 am

20 Billion sounds like a lot of money. I true the question is:

Is the operation of the AC being run by contractors on a cost plus scheme? Because in that case there is room for a whole lot of thievery, (like in Iraq with the tanker trucks, where Halliburton was paying several times what the army did) just hire a subcontractor to do some part of the job and have him bill you an extraordinary amount, after all the subcontractor will no be audited, and that get the kick backs deposited to an account in Dubai.

Rahul June 27, 2011 at 10:24 am

Here’s what’s bizarre about the whole fuel logistics issue. A gallon of locally sold gas in Afghanistan (circa 2009) was around 6$-$10. Maybe the army needs to buy locally for once. The locals seems to be having a more efficient supply chain than centralized heavy handed army beaurocrats and contractors. Or the boss at Halliburton is laughing home all the way.

There seems a very well developed “smuggling” infrastructure set up that gets the gas from Iran and other central Asian oil sources.

This report makes very interesting reading:

http://www.a-acc.org/files/Understanding%20Markets%20Petroleum%20Fuels%20CS.pdf

Indy June 27, 2011 at 10:48 am

The problem with local-sourcing fuel is not only getting the right distillate blends, but diluting, sabotage, and fuel-fowling. A tiny amount of the right additives can really do a lot of damage, like sugar in the gas tank – and even trusted suppliers can sometimes fail to ensure refined purity and occasionally deliver fuel out of tolerance. The money saved is just not worth the risk.

John Schilling June 27, 2011 at 11:40 am

The risk of having to do without air conditioning for a few hours while your mechanic cleans the fuel filter, outweighs a twenty billion dollar annual cost? Granted, the $20E9 figure probably does improperly account for fixed costs, but even for $200E6/yr I think locally sourcing fuel would be worth looking into. As an added benefit, any Iraqi or Afghani who is making a profit selling fuel to an FOB is a heart and a mind won to our cause. Probably an extended family’s worth of hearts and minds, and better still if the local insurgents are daft enough to ambush local smugglers’ convoys.

Also, a technical correction. Sugar in the gas tank causes no damage to engines, as a simple google will quickly confirm. There do not seem to be any fuel additives of which small quantities will destroy engines – people have looked, hard, starting with the OSS in WWII, and it’s just not that easy. Particularly if the user takes basic precautions like point-of-use sampling. Oil additives are a different matter, and a strong argument against locally-sourced oil.

Also also, just to clarify, the United States Army basically doesn’t use gasoline. Everything is kerosene of some sort, most often JP-8, to simplify logistics and reduce fire risk, and most of the engines are multifuel diesels. They aren’t going to burst into flames just because the cheap diesel fuel someone smuggled in from Iran had the wrong cetane number. They might not last quite as long, but they will burn many times their own weight of even the lowest grade of kerosene before they have to be replaced, and that’s a net win from a logistics standpoint.

Locally sourcing helicopter fuel might be unwise. Locally sourcing generator fuel, if the local suppliers can deliver any sort of diesel or kerosene at $5-10/gallon, would definitely be worth considering.

J Thomas June 27, 2011 at 1:35 pm

There do not seem to be any fuel additives of which small quantities will destroy engines – people have looked, hard, starting with the OSS in WWII, and it’s just not that easy.

Not even calcium carbide? Damn, another urban legend shot down. …. OK, I did a quick search and silicon carbide added to engine oil or lubricant can be somewhat effective sabotage, not so much calcium carbide added to kerosene. Probably somebody got the carbides mixed up.

As an added benefit, any Iraqi or Afghani who is making a profit selling fuel to an FOB is a heart and a mind won to our cause.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/world/asia/10afghan.html

“About 40 percent of Afghanistan’s fuel comes through Iran, on its western border, although most of it does not originate there.

“Afghan officials say that the Iranian authorities have told them they have been blocking the trucks out of concern that the fuel is being used by NATO military forces in Afghanistan, an assertion that NATO and the Afghan government deny.”

Rahul June 27, 2011 at 3:29 pm

The money saved is just not worth the risk.

I disagree. When the money saved is 20 billion dollars, heck that is worth a lot of risk.

I agree with John. Petroleum quality is not rocket science. There are easy field tests for a lot of the adulteration and quality aspects. Just visit almost any gas station in India: we have such an ingenious and large fuel adulteration mafia that every gas station owner conducts almost daily tests on all his stocks. Worst case, there are adsorbent kits avilabl in case lead or sulfur content etc. are issues.

Again, the quality you feed into a generator for an AC doesn’t matter much; if this were an F16, yes, I’d be more concerned. A typical IC engine is a marvel of robustness. I’ve seen so much crap put into it and it still keeps chugging.

I’m not saying this is the _right_ way. Just not good to dismiss it offhand.

Gabe June 27, 2011 at 6:35 pm

It is silly to just abstractly ask “is it worth 20 billion?”

If you are a student of human action then you have to ask “to who is it worth 20 billion?” Not me, what about to the girl getting drone attacked at a wedding?…of course it is worth it to Halliburton, to Petraus it is worth it etc. We are individuals…some of us have no power and others do…some of us enjoy stealing 20 billion, others don’t like having our money stolen.

Do economist here really think these decisions are made via some differential equation on what is “optimal”. The world doesn’t work liek that.

J Thomas June 27, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Some of that cheap afghan oil is smuggled from us.

Buying it back wouldn’t cut costs much, really.

http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/03/army_tries_to_rein_in_rampant_afghan_fuel_theft.php

Jim June 27, 2011 at 11:54 am

NPR is not exactly known for accuracy, especially when it comes to the military. I expect the number 20 billion comes under the category of “too good to check.” If you actually believe that one out of every eight dollars would be saved in these wars by shutting off the A/C, please contact me about real estate offers.

In the meantime, we can hope that the next country Obama decides to bomb on a whim is a little more temperate.

Foghat June 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm

“In the meantime, we can hope that the next country Obama decides to bomb on a whim is a little more temperate.”

The historical amnesia from the right just keeps getting better and better…

J Thomas June 27, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Yes, but this particular claim is not totally out of bounds. Obama did step up bombing in Pakistan, and perhaps as a result attacks on US fuel convoys through Pakistan have increased a lot. Supplies through Pakistan have dropped from something like 80% down to 40%.

However, the idea that reducing fuel convoys would reduce casualties may be mistaken. If there were fewer convoys, maybe attacks on them would be more concentrated.

Gabe June 27, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Jim is probably not on the “right”…probably smart enough to see a false left-right paradigm has been pushed on a herd Bushbama sheeple.

Dan June 27, 2011 at 4:37 pm

The fuel is carried in a truck from Pakistan. There’s the cost of the fuel, the amortized cost of the truck, the pay for the driver, the pay and benefits for the soldiers who guard the convoy, the amortized cost of the vehicles the soldiers ride in, the replacement cost for vehicles destroyed by the enemy, cost of maintenance on the vehicles, the cost of fuel for the soldiers vehicles, the cost of the extra fuel trucks to haul the extra fuel burned by the soldiers’ vehicles, the cost, associated with the soldiers who maintain all these vehicles, the cost of food, clothing, ammunition, medical supplies (which need their own vehicles, and more fuel trucks), the cost of all of the above for the helicopters and aircraft that protect the convoys…. Oh, and don’t forget you need to make the return trip to Pakistan, so you need to haul even more fuel, in even more trucks, with even more guards….

Foobarista June 27, 2011 at 8:14 pm

I’m inclined to be with Indy on this; this reminds me of the old Internet blubs that claimed that your 500 byte USENET post would cost “the net” mega-thousands of dollars. The argument was based on rolling the fixed and sunk costs for computers, networking gear, etc needed to move and store USENET messages into the incremental costs of each message, when the marginal costs of such messages was nearly zero, even “back in the day” (ie, the mid eighties).

In this case, can anyone seriously argue that the fuel convoys would not move if the AC was turned off?

J Thomas June 27, 2011 at 11:12 pm

In this case, can anyone seriously argue that the fuel convoys would not move if the AC was turned off?

I’ve seen two claims about the convoy contents. One is that fuel is 70% of the cargo. The other that fuel is 50%, water 30%, and other stuff 20%. These estimates probably came at different times, and I don’t have the time for either of them.

Munitions were and are carried by air, which is faster.

At one time 80% of these supplies came through Pakistan. As Pakistan became more dangerous, routes were established through the ‘Stans. The last estimate I saw claimed it was 40% through Pakistan, 40% through the ‘Stans, and 20% by air to get into Afghanistan. Also, there’s now a pipeline from the north to Bagram, from a former Soviet airbase.

So, if it were to turn out that AC was responsible for 10% of the fuel used in summer, that might account for 5% or maybe 7% of the late spring/early summer convoys. That’s a significant amount, but nothing like the whole thing. The more fuel AC (and winter heating) uses, the more the indirect costs add up.

Solar cells, which have been tried at 2 FOBs with great fanfare, might make a big difference. Better insulation could help with AC and heating, but anything which provides energy directly at FOBs etc pays off at $400-$800/gallon. I’ll be curious how vulnerable the solar cells are to sabotage and sniping etc.

DK June 27, 2011 at 11:25 pm

It’s funny how professor of economics buys so completely into NPR propaganda despite its numbers making exactly zero sense with regard to economics.

J Thomas June 28, 2011 at 3:56 am

DK, we have a choice.

We can believe the numbers that come from people who have access to the real data.

Or we can believe people whose common sense tells them that the reports from the experts who know the numbers, must be wrong.

I say we have a dilemma. If the military is lying to us to make themselves look bad, that isn’t good. On the other hand, if the military is actually as inefficient as they say they are, that isn’t good either.

What should we do? The military has promised that they will do a whole lot better. They have gotten a lot of projects funded to let them have victories while using much less oil. They are starting to use biofuels at some US bases. They are starting to insulate their tents. They are starting to use solar power. They are designing a new generation of weapons and platforms that will use less energy, and when those R&D projects are complete and the new equipment replaces the current equipment all of which is obsolescent, they will do much better.

So if you believe them, they are getting a handle on the problem. It will be very very expensive, but by 2015 they will reduce military oil consumption by a significant amount. Just increase their funding enough and it will pay off in the long run.

If you don’t believe them, then the better choice might be to bring them home and reduce the military budget a whole lot. Build it back up when they seem to know what they’re doing and when we can afford it.

Nate June 28, 2011 at 1:05 am

I may be too late to the party for anyone to actually read this…
But, not only are these units being shipped across the world and installed in far away places by special contractors, they are constantly monitoring their own performance with sweet high-tech digital gauges. The expensive units aren’t keeping troops cool, they are keeping the high power computer rooms running. That $20.2 bn is why Google and the like are trying to cut deals with Greenland and Iceland to locate server farms there.

DK June 28, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Just increase their funding enough and it will pay off in the long run.

Haven’t we heard that tune many times? Aren’t we hearing it all the time? Has it ever worked out this way with the governmental spending? Do we ever learn from experience?

J Thomas June 29, 2011 at 9:15 am

Yes.
Yes.
No.
Sometimes.

So, we do have 100+ FOBs in Afghanistan, and for the ones that have their fuel supplied by air, the cost averages around $400/gallon. And a whole lot of FOBs are supplied by air because the roads are not secure.

We do for example have uninsulated tents at those FOBs that do get air-conditioned with $400/gallon fuel.

And this is part of why it costs us $1,000,000/soldier/year to occupy Afghanistan. And of course that $1,000,000/year is averaged over all the soldiers, including the ones who do logistics, including the ones who spend their careers delivering fuel. It does not count the unfunded obligations to soldiers who will be maimed or killed, including the ones who die when fuel convoys are attacked.

If we can’t trust the US military to competently manage the Afghanistan occupation and install a strong, US-friendly government there, shouldn’t we bring them home?

C. D. Johnson June 29, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Considering the military just got charged $370 million dollars for $37 million in plane parts, I’m not at all surprised. Obviously, a well-connected third party corporation is providing the AC and making billions off of our stupidity and lack of interest.

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