Military Aims to Save Money and Lives By Slashing Petroleum Usage

To many Americans, energy security might seem a vague, quasi-utopian concept—along the lines of “paying off the national debt.” But for the U.S. military, finding new ways to deploy renewable energy as quickly as possible is about more than saving money at the pump or cutting emissions. According to The New York Times, top Pentagon officials have made the determination that reducing dependence on petroleum in the theater will not only save lives, but could someday mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Navy secretary Ray Mabus has called for 50 percent of the power used by Navy and the Marines Corps to come from renewable energy by 2020. The target may seem overly ambitious, but rapidly adjusting to changing situations on the ground is one of the core components of all military training—and right now, energy transportation is proving to be among the most costly and dangerous operations in the current war.

According to The Times, fossil fuels make up between 30 and 80 percent of the convoy load in Afghanistan. Transporting petroleum there can cost as much as $400 per gallon, and according to a retired senior logistician who served under Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq, as many as 1,000 military personnel and contractors have likely lost their lives in fuel convoys since 2001.

The vast majority of that fuel doesn’t go toward ground vehicles, but to powering the generators needed to supply both larger bases and squadrons in the field. Last week, the Marines deployed portable solar panels, solar-generating tents and energy efficient lighting for the first time, to the Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

The Navy has also recently experimented with hybrid assault vessels, launching its first one last year. On just its first voyage from Mississippi to San Diego, the U.S.S. Makin Island saved 900,000 gallons of fuel versus a similar conventional ship. The Army has also ordered a hybrid Ground Combat Vehicle that will one day replace the ubiquitous Bradley Fight Vehicle.

The Pentagon has been actively soliciting a host of other oil and energy-saving solutions from contractors, making green warfare a possible boom industry for the thousands of companies that supply the armed forces. Unlike cash-strapped municipalities or private energy companies looking to make their investments gradually, the Military usually finds the money it needs to get the groundbreaking technology it wants. Even if initial overhead in research and investment proves to be steep, the Pentagon is confident that moving to renewables will begin paying dividends almost immediately.

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  • Anonymous

    Our war with folks that believe in Islam is fueled by our need for foreign oil. The easiest way to think about extremists is to say they know they are right and therefore it is ok to use compulsion to bring about their goals. The dictatorial elistists in Washington think regulating our lives is justified because they know what is best, and the teenage Muslim bomber knows his or her action is in the will of their God who condones compulsion. Believe and conform or die.

    The best spent money in this War against extremists is the money spent to give us the choice of energy.

  • Navy_LT

    If the Marine Corps (a part of the Department of the Navy) are not part of Mr. Mabus’s forces, whose forces are they?

  • veek

    Thanks for the article, and I hope the Pentagon succeeds in its goal.
    In financial costs alone, we pay a high effective tax (maybe an extra dollar or so, depending on the figures you use) in hidden costs for every gallon of fuel we consume, to pay for wars for oil. We also pay a heavy price in other ways, too, as Anonymous and others have pointed out.
    Militarily, vulnerable logistics lines were all too apparent in the Iraqi war, and the Middle Eastern wars have done little or nothing to enhance our military’s readiness.

    Many of America’s finest have given their lives or their physical and mental health to “secure” foreign oil sources for the US and its allies (and for China, too).

  • Paul Barthle

    Smart. Logistics is what wins wars. If we can reduce the risk to our supply operations then we gain an advantage. Range extension is another value in combat. The Germans ran out of fuel at the Battle of the Bulge before they could break through Allied lines.
    This will eventually drive innovation in numerous sectors of the civilian economy in much the same way that the space program did. I do not blindly support defense spending, but this seems to be smarter than some of the most notorious boondoggles.

  • Matt Chatham

    I’m usually ultra-liberal in terms of being eco-friendly, but this is one of those rare cases when I feel like we should focus more on power. In my opinion it makes a lot more sense to try and get everyday folks, commuters and such, to use hybrid and EV technology, because while it might sacrifice a little bit of their power, they don’t need that much power. The military on the other hand, is actually driving to and from life-threatening situations. I guess I’ve always felt like we should save gas guzzling for people who need it (IE actual Humvees, not Hummers).

    But I can’t stray too far from ultra-liberalism. Electric motors have faster acceleration than conventional, and I doubt the military would really sacrifice that much power in their vehicles. So I guess it’s pretty great that with all the effort we put into coming up with new war technologies we’re finally looking into making them more efficient.

  • Anonymous

    Hybrid Humvees and hybrid navy ships ???? Navy ships with solar panels (there is enough sun down there ..) ? Maybe solar/EV humvees for those regions?

  • Old Man Crowder

    Go nuclear!! It works for submarines, why couldn’t it work in naval destroyers and aircraft carriers?

    Not exactly renewable, I know…

  • Navy_LT

    All of our carriers are already nuclear. Our cruisers/destroyers have been nuclear in the past and our cruisers may be nuclear again in the next 10-15 years. As far as being renewable, we can (as in have the technical capability) recycle spent fuel to get the unfissioned uranium and the plutonium/americium/etc to put back into the same or another reactor, or maybe we could pursue the breeder reactor.

  • NeMo1553

    I do agree that renewable energy is something that needs to be looked at here. My concern is that if we are using dollars as a compelling argument to make the switch, how much does it cost to maintain these new types of vehicles over time. Do we have the materials needed readily available to support them? How reliable are they? Can such a source of energy be manufactured at the rate that the Navy will need to consume it? I know these are big questions and there is definitely an argument for renewable energy here. However, I’m concerned about how much could this could potentially cost the tax payers during the lifetime of these proposed new vehicles?

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