ASCF Report | 4.1.14
By Alan W. Dowd
Earth Day comes each April,
and the U.S. Air Force is celebrating Earth Day 2014 under the banner,
“Conserve Today—Secure Tomorrow.” Focusing on “sustainability,” USAF says it
is “committed to reducing energy demands at its installations and increasing
the availability of renewable energy sources.”
At first blush, that sounds
like a good idea. Given that the Defense Department is the nation’s largest consumer of energy—the U.S. military consumes the equivalent of 330,000
barrels of oil a day—more efficient use of energy by the Armed Forces makes
sense. Indeed, if conservation efforts by the military can lower costs, decrease
dependency on a global oil market still beholden to the likes of Venezuela’s petrocrats,
Libya’s militias and Russia’s kleptocrats, and keep the military operating at
optimum levels, then such efforts serve the national interest.
Regrettably, many of the
military’s green initiatives—most forced upon the Pentagon by agenda-minded policymakers—do
not meet that test.
The Good, the Bad and the Costly
The examples of the
“greening” of the military are seemingly everywhere. Some of them reflect smart
policy and sound economics.
USAF, for instance, has cut
fuel consumption by 12 percent in recent years by converting to newer, higher-efficiency
engines in some platforms.
The Navy is incorporating
high-efficiency, hybrid-electric propulsion systems into some of its ships. Not
unlike a hybrid car, the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island relies on electric power at lower speeds—ships like Makin Island spend 75 percent of their
underway time traveling at 12 knots or less—and fossil-fuel energy at higher
DoD is replacing the
fluorescent lighting in parts of the Pentagon with LED lights,
yielding a 22-percent energy reduction.
DoD plans to convert its
fleet of 50,000 commercial vehicles to electric cars and hybrids. The Army has
set a goal to lease some 4,000 neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) for
on-base use to conduct security patrols, transport passengers and carry out delivery
This greening of the military
extends far beyond low-energy light bulbs, high-efficiency jet engines, hybrid
amphibs and electric cars, however. It appears that some policymakers are using
the Armed Forces to promote an environmental agenda, create a market for alternative
fuels where none exists and test enviro-economic theories.
“I will not walk
away from the promise of clean energy,” the president declared in 2012,
announcing his decision to dragoon DoD into the effort by ordering it to “make
one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history.” Specifically, the president wants DoD “to
deploy three gigawatts of renewable energy—including solar, wind, biomass and
geothermal—on Army, Navy and Air Force installations by 2025.”
Thus, the Air Force is
exploring the use of synthetic fuels in its aircraft. Already, B-52s, C-17s,
B-1Bs and F-22s have tested or are in line to test synthetic fuel alternatives
and blends. A 2012 demonstration of jets powered by synthetic fuels cost USAF $59 a gallon, staggeringly higher
than the $3.60 per gallon USAF was paying at the time for conventional
That’s not the only example
of biofuel sticker shock. Reuters reports that the Pentagon purchased 20,055
gallons of algae-based biofuel at a cost of $424 per gallon.
The so-called “Green Warrior
Convoy” concept is testing fuel cells, hybrids, battery technologies and
alternative fuels on Army combat vehicles. The Army is working with industry to
develop diesel-hybrid trucks that consume less fuel and (not coincidentally) are thousands of
pounds lighter than their predecessors—not a comforting thought in a world of
IEDs and rumbling Russian tanks.
Worse, the Army is using
so-called “earth-friendly ammunition”
in certain training venues—and even engaging in what might be called “green
training” from time to time: At Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, environmental
activists pressured state officials to block the Army from deploying fog oil
during nighttime training—and to limit daytime use of fog oil to short 15-minute
Some Navy officials dream of a “Great Green Fleet.” Toward that end, the Navy
conducted a green-fleet demonstration during Pacific Ocean exercises in July 2012.
The five-ship flotilla included nuclear-powered ships, vessels powered by
renewable diesel blended with marine diesel and aircraft powered by renewable
jet fuel. (The Navy even has a cleverly named “Green Hornet” in development—an
F/A-18 that flies on bio-fuel.)
The problem is biofuel blends are more corrosive than traditional fuels,
leading to increased costs for maintenance, repair and replacement of Navy
vessels. And as with USAF, the Navy’s blended
biofuels—at $26 per gallon—are far more expensive than conventional fuels.
A 2011 Pentagon report
concluded that replacing just half the military’s conventional fuels with
alternative fuels would add between
$800 million and $2.2 billion per year in fuel costs.
is no direct benefit to the Department of Defense or the services from using
alternative fuels rather than petroleum-derived fuels,” a RAND study concludes.
Yet Aviation Week reports that the Obama
administration ordered the Navy to spend $510 million of its
increasingly-constrained budget “to help private industry partners develop a
viable alternative energy market capable of producing cost-competitive marine
and jet fuels.”
This reflects a profound
misunderstanding of markets. At 330,000 barrels a day, the Pentagon represents
0.38 percent of global oil demand—not nearly enough to signal the market to develop
new supply streams.
Arguing that “using defense
dollars to subsidize new-energy technologies is not the Navy’s responsibility,”
Sen. John McCain calls the military’s biofuel purchases “politically-driven
demonstrations.” And he’s right. One of McCain’s main concerns is that diverting
resources to costly green experiments negatively impacts “the readiness and
safety of our sailors and Marines.” Which is true: every dollar spent on these
pet projects is a dollar not spent on training, maintenance or construction.
None of this is to suggest
that the military shouldn’t make adjustments to its energy consumption, but
rather that those adjustments should be sensible and smart. The purpose of
America’s Armed Forces is to defend America’s interests, deter America’s
enemies and win America’s wars—not to serve as the
R&D arm of a green agenda.
This use of DoD as a
green-energy guinea pig ignores two important realities: First, thanks to
sequestration, the military doesn’t have the resources to fund these
experiments. After all, Washington has lopped off nearly a trillion dollars in projected military spending.
Second, the U.S. is awash in
energy resources. Total domestic supply has grown from
8.3 million barrels per day in 2007 to 11.2 million last year; there are some 3 trillion barrels of oil in America’s Rocky Mountain states; and the U.S.
will be the world’s leading oil producer by 2017 and a net oil exporter by 2030. As
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey observes, an energy-independent
America “has the potential to change the security environment around the world.”
He calls on policymakers to view “energy as an instrument of national power.”
other words, America is not some shriveling shell of its former self thirsting
for fossil-fuel alternatives. To the contrary, it is a resource-rich superpower.
And its military needs to focus on defense and deterrence—not the latest fads
in environmental theory. After all, our enemies don’t fight with green ammo,
don’t wage war in 15-minute increments and won’t beat their swords into
plowshares because our military is converting to biofuels.
*Dowd is a senior fellow with the American Security Council Foundation, where he writes The Dowd Report, a monthly review of international events and their impact on U.S. national security.