By Maj. Craig Poulin, P.E., M.SAME, USAF, Alexander Pina, Jean Sack, and Nicholas Judson, Ph.D.

Recent trends have shifted the relationship between defense missions and energy infrastructure. First, technological advancements have provided new technical options, such as microgrids and distributed solar generation. Second, mission capabilities have increased the dependence on energy systems. Third, new threats to energy infrastructure, both natural and man-made, have emerged. And fourth, underinvestment in aging infrastructure systems has made operations more challenging and increased the risk of failure.

Spanning these trends is energy resilience, which focuses on how energy infrastructure can resist, absorb, recover, and adapt to disruptions. Importantly, energy resilience is concerned with when—not if—an installation is faced with a disruption, and whether the mission requirements are met by the infrastructure capabilities in place.


With the sponsorship and direction of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy and the military services, MIT Lincoln Laboratory (MIT-LL) has led efforts to assess and improve the energy resilience posture at over 30 installations, with support ranging from technical reviews to base-wide utility outage exercises. The results have highlighted that while fixed installations often take energy for granted, many operations and mission capabilities may be severely degraded during a power outage.

In particular, MIT-LL has supported an increased focus on energy resilience with three mutually reinforcing activities: installation-wide exercises, tabletop exercises, and technical reviews. Each activity provides its own set of insights, limitations, and support to other activities.


Recent policy changes highlight the focus on energy resilience as a key component of military readiness and operational capability.

In 2016, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics updated DOD Instruction 4170.11, Installation Energy Management for defense components to “ensure energy resilience on military installations” through requirement identification and capability validation. Elaborating on these processes is Energy Resilience: Operations, Maintenance, & Testing Strategy and Implementation Guidance, published in 2017 by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Energy, Installations, & Environment). This document provides tiered testing examples from routine checks to installation-wide power outage exercises.

In a recent statutory change, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 amended 10 USC 2911, Energy Policy of the Department of Defense to include new authorities. The Secretary of Defense may “require the secretary of a military department to perform mission assurance and readiness assessments of energy power systems for mission critical assets and supporting infrastructure, applying uniform mission standards.”

Real-World Scenarios. Since 2018, MIT-LL has executed five Energy Resilience Readiness Exercises (ERREs), with several more planned, that are intended to identify gaps between infrastructure capabilities and mission requirements, as well as unexpected electrical configurations or equipment failures. Each “pull-the-plug” event involves an entire installation, requiring organizations to respond to, operate during, and recover from an actual electrical power outage. Preparing for these events involves significant planning and coordination, with exercises ranging from hours to days.

Lessons learned from the ERREs are wide-ranging. Observations can be technical or organizational, specific or broad, infrastructure- or mission-focused. Examples include unexpected equipment failure, contingency response capability, and mission transfer processes. By involving the entire installation, ERREs highlight the ability of facility occupants to identify and resolve energy challenges. However, as these events are both disruptive and confined to the selected scope, tabletop exercises should be considered to explore more extreme scenarios and multiple actions.

Tabletop Exercises. At three installations, also with sponsorship from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, MIT-LL developed and implemented Energy Resilience Tabletop Exercises (ERTTXs). This format provides an opportunity to consider multiple, long-duration scenarios based on realistic conditions. Scenarios are selected to challenge the installation’s specific mission and capabilities. An illustrative sequence is a partial base outage, then a regional power outage, and culminating with a targeted cyberattack. Realistic scenario development requires extensive preparation and will be most effective when informed by technical assessments and ERREs.

However, whereas ERREs involve the entire installation, ERTTXs are limited to organizational leadership, such as the Emergency Operations Center and Crisis Action Team. As participants respond to unfolding events, the exercise team provides injects and acts as a conduit for all external information. Installation leaders are forced to consider first- and second-order impacts, such as equipment failures, mission prioritization, and supply chain logistics. The biggest advantage of ERTTXs is their flexibility to explore multiple scenarios and timescales. A disadvantage is their reliance on assumptions about both installation operations and infrastructure performance. In addition, ERTTXs cannot validate whether the proposed solutions are completely supported by the existing infrastructure and configurations, which are better addressed through ERREs and technical reviews.

Technical Reviews and Modeling. Exercises alone are insufficient to understand an installation’s energy infrastructure. ERREs can only assess one scenario and operating configuration. ERTTXs rely on assumptions about the system’s performance. Technical reviews and modeling, meanwhile, support these efforts in both problem identification and solution development. MIT-LL began this work in 2012 and has since reviewed the energy infrastructure at dozens of military installations. A technical review considers the combination and operating modes of energy technologies and asks: Will this work as intended? Examples include the ability to operate islanded solar photovoltaics and reconfigure distribution circuits. These reviews require detailed understanding of infrastructure and mission requirements and are fundamental to modeling, ERREs, and ERTTXs.

To assist in developing technical solutions, MIT-LL developed the Energy Resilience Assessment. This software compares possible combinations of  technologies  available  to an installation—such as solar, diesel generators, microgrids, and batteries—based on their lifecycle cost and performance. Rather than provide an optimized result, it identifies opportunities for more robust analysis and project development, such as through the Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program.

Both the tool and the technical reviews enable engineers to consider many options and establish a baseline of performance, but they are not sufficient to fully describe an installation’s energy resilience posture. While new technologies (microgrids, for instance) provide resilience opportunities, the added complexity may actually reduce the installation’s ability to respond to real-world events. Accordingly, model outputs are best used in combination with institutional knowledge and the context provided from ERREs and ERTTXs.


ERREs, ERTTXs, and technical reviews and modeling each have their own scope, level of preparation, and expected results. For a selected scenario, ERREs provide the most robust insights on gaps between mission requirements and infrastructure capabilities. ERTTXs provide more numerous and extreme possibilities, and allow organization leaders to examine second- and third-order effects. Meanwhile, technical reviews and modeling can provide the full understanding of the infrastructure’s performance under expected modes of operation.

A combination of all three activities through an external group, like MIT-LL, or simply the initiative of local engineers, provides the most comprehensive picture of an installation’s energy resilience. Future work in this area should seek to improve complexity and realism of all three activities and formalize their interactions with one another.

Maj. Craig Poulin, P.E., M.SAME, USAF, is Military Fellow, Alexander Pina is Technical Staff, Jean Sack is Associate Staff, and Nicholas Judson, Ph.D., is Assistant Group Leader, Energy Systems Group, MIT Lincoln Laboratory. They can be reached at;;; and

[This article first published in the March-April 2020 issue of The Military Engineer.]