The year is 2022, and for the fourth time the Navy was the last contingent to arrive at the scene of a humanitarian crisis in the Pacific Ocean.
"This time it seems U.S. tardiness cost lives," a news broadcaster says.
The Navy was late, she explains, because of the 2018 directive on expeditionary energy consumption, which requires the Pentagon to prioritize engagements based on fuel requirements. The disaster in the Pacific wasn't deemed critical enough to merit a fuel exemption.
The trailer for the Navy Energy and Environmental Readiness Division's project energyMMOWGLI -- Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet -- launches viewers into this world of constrained fuel supplies and a handicapped military.
But the game, scheduled to be played for three days starting tomorrow, isn't designed to alarm. It's intended to encourage players to come up with ways to improve the Navy's combat capability and energy security by reducing energy consumption, improving energy efficiency and diversifying the Navy's energy supply using alternatives to ensure its future strategic readiness.
"This is an opportunity for the Navy to crowd-source different ideas on how to tackle our current energy problems," said Cmdr. James Goudreau, director of the Navy Energy Coordination Office.
The Navy hopes the game will attract a diverse group of talented minds from industry, academia, government and the general public and reveal new ways the Navy can reduce its energy consumption and vulnerability, he said.
The interactive project was produced in collaboration with the Office of Naval Research, the Institute for the Future and the Naval Postgraduate School.
Ongoing erosion of readiness
The Navy's current fuel use practices are putting it in danger in two ways.
First, the maritime forces are at risk of a direct attack when they refuel because they're either stopped at a dock or tethered to another ship traveling at a constant speed for a number of hours, which makes them a target.
Fluctuating oil prices are also weakening the Navy. In the past, the Navy has been able to mitigate price volatility by requesting additional funding from Congress or from Overseas Contingency Operations, Goudreau said. But as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan draw to a end and with increasing budget cuts on the horizon, the Navy will have to start making trade-offs within its operations in order to cover its energy costs, he said.
There have already been several instances in which the Navy has spent more than an extra $1 billion in unexpected fuel costs. In such scenarios, the Navy has been forced to give up flight hours or highly complex maintenance checks on ships and planes.
"We have to do everything we can to decrease consumption to reduce our vulnerabilities," Goudreau said. "If we continue to have to trade key readiness measures like spare parts and maintenance and training hours away because the cost of energy has increased, that ultimately erodes our readiness as well as our combat capability, making us less ready to deploy and do our nation's bidding."
Looking for a game changer
The energyMMOWGLI game is played using cards related to the best and worst things the Navy could do to secure its energy future. Participants type out their ideas on 140-character cards, then build on and vote for each other's concepts on a discussion board. The game also links players together for more in-depth dialogues on what some solutions might look like. The most innovative ways of thinking earn the most points.
While the Navy has taken climate change head-on through its work in the Task Force Climate Change, Goudreau said it will not intentionally introduce climate change in this week's game. He expects some players will bring up the climate card, however, and said it will be interesting to see how decisions based on putting less emissions in the air will complement the Navy's mission to be the best war-fighting operation it can be.