Innovation (in a broad sense) is not a new concept for the U.S. military. If you have flown on a commercial aircraft, used the Internet or navigated with GPS assistance, you’ve benefited from innovation led by the military need.  

The DOD and Congress have recognized that decreasing military reliance on traditional fuel sources and making operations more energy efficient will make our military more flexible, agile and powerful. Today, the military leads a number of efforts that will eventually benefit the entire U.S. For example:

•    By updating hybrid and vehicle battery technologies in combat-vehicle systems, it would ultimately leading to advances in the U.S. auto and battery industries.
•    Efforts to increase the energy-efficiency of permanent and temporary installations would dramatically cut the amount of electricity used in combat zones.
•    Research on use of alternative fuels will soon help the Air Force cut fossil fuels by nearly 50 percent – these efforts may help bring alternative energy sources to the mainstream market with the efficiency levels they need to be viable energy sources.

How do we move America forward and maintain leadership on both energy and defense? Publicly, we need policy leadership from both Congress and the administration to support DOD’s efforts to implement energy security and innovation policies. We need a serious effort to look at how policy can drive energy efficiency across the military. In the private sector, the scope of what the military needs to research, test and accomplish simply is not possible without public-private partnerships. The military will need cooperation from a number of U.S. industries to achieve our security goals.

Fortunately, progress is being made. The National Defense Authorization Act for FY2012, as just passed by the House, increases the emphasis on energy efficiency, reducing energy consumption, and increased use of alternative energy technology. The support for multiple year investments in programs like the Energy Conservation Investment Program, the Installation Energy Test Bed, and the Operational Energy Capability Improvement program is to be applauded. This week, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is reintroducing the "DOD Energy Security Act" that he has developed in close collaboration with Rep. Gabby Giffords office.

Information and communications technology will play one of the most critical roles in supporting DOD efforts to help us stay safe and energy-independent. Modern defense and warfare require not only independent energy supplies, but also advanced ICT resources. Traditionally, more computing and communications power has meant an increased need for electricity. Yet where we need the most power, electricity is not always in ready or easy supply.  

Recent advances in intelligent energy innovation, like smart microgrids, new building energy management systems, more energy-efficient computers and enhanced battery life of mobile devices, are ones our fighting forces can put to use. The military offers a breadth of real-time technology validation not available in the private sector, and ICT innovation will supply our troops with more powerful, but less energy-intense, tools that help keep us safe.

Against the backdrop of Middle East conflicts, continuing threats to U.S. security, and fiscal realities of constrained DOD resources, energy innovation will directly impact our ability to defend America’s priorities and interests in the short and long-term. We have a time-sensitive opportunity to give our military the support it needs and take the steps to make our fighting forces both stronger and energy-independent. In the long-term, nothing short of the security of all Americans depends upon it.

Chris Hankin is senior director of Environment and Sustainability at the Information Technology Industry Council.