Mabus: Energy Initiatives ‘Make Us Better Warfighters’

WASHINGTON — The Navy is lead­ing the nation in the quest for alter­na­tive ener­gy sources, Navy Sec­re­tary Ray Mabus said here yes­ter­day, and “it is doing so pri­mar­i­ly for one rea­son: it makes us bet­ter warfight­ers.”
Speak­ing at an indus­try ener­gy, envi­ron­ment, defense and secu­ri­ty con­fer­ence, Mabus embraced the Navy’s role as a leader in the alter­na­tive ener­gy move­ment that he said can lay the foun­da­tion for gov­ern­ment and indus­try to fol­low.

The Defense Depart­ment is America’s largest user of bio­fu­els, Mabus said, and the Navy and Marine Corps account for about one-third of that use. Reliance on bio­fu­els, he added, increas­es secu­ri­ty risks and puts the mil­i­tary at the mer­cy of “price shocks” in the oil and gas indus­try.

Fuel sup­plies make up the most truck con­voys in Afghanistan, Mabus said, and one U.S. Marine is killed by an insur­gent attack for every 50 con­voys that make the long trek through Afghanistan.

For its part, the Navy is adapt­ing to alter­na­tive fuels in the same way it adapt­ed from sail to coal, Mabus said. On Earth Day last year, he not­ed, the Navy demon­strat­ed a 50/50 blend of bio­fu­els and a mus­tard seed alter­na­tive in a super­son­ic F-18 Hor­net flight.

The USS Makin Island amphibi­ous assault ship uses a hybrid sys­tem of an elec­tric engine for speeds under 12 knots and diesel pow­er above that speed, the sec­re­tary added. By 2020, at least half of the Navy and Marine Corps’ ener­gy use must come from non­fos­sil fuels, he said.

“We’ve adapt­ed, we’ve been flex­i­ble, and that’s what has made the Navy and Marine Corps the most pow­er­ful expe­di­tionary fight­ing force on Earth,” Mabus said.

The push for alter­na­tive ener­gy requires some upfront costs, but will pro­duce a high return on that invest­ment, Mabus said. By reduc­ing flights by 180 and tak­ing 450 tankers off the roads, he said, a $40 mil­lion invest­ment could save the Navy $65 mil­lion per year on the ener­gy used by one Marine unit.

The Marine Corps has real­ized the ben­e­fits of alter­na­tive ener­gy first­hand in Afghanistan, the sec­re­tary said, where at least two for­ward oper­at­ing bases in Hel­mand province are run entire­ly on solar pow­er and oth­ers run most­ly on solar. The Marines also use solar pow­er to reduce their reliance on and heavy bat­ter­ies, he added.

The Marines have embraced alter­na­tive ener­gy not because they were forced to or want­ed to fol­low a trend, Mabus said, but because they have seen results on the bat­tle­field.

“Nobody’s ever accused the Marines of being tree hug­gers,” he said. “What they’re real­ly good at is warfight­ing, and they’re aware of how ener­gy affects that.”

Navy lead­ers are reach­ing out­side their usu­al cir­cles, includ­ing talk­ing to ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists, to cre­ate an envi­ron­ment favor­able for indus­try to pur­sue research and devel­op­ment in alter­na­tive ener­gies and Defense Depart­ment con­tracts in those areas, Mabus said. “We’re try­ing to get com­pa­nies past ideas and into pro­duc­tion,” he said.

The Navy now con­sid­ers total own­er­ship costs of equip­ment, includ­ing a life­time ener­gy sup­ply, in all its acqui­si­tions, Mabus not­ed. Orga­ni­za­tions that aren’t pur­su­ing alter­na­tive ener­gies “can say right now that the infra­struc­ture is not in place, he added, but they won’t be able to say that much longer.”

Mabus said the Navy has rules for alter­na­tive fuels:
— They must be “home­grown” to avoid for­eign reliance;
— They can’t impede food pro­duc­tion; and
— They must be usable with exist­ing vehi­cles.

Increas­ing­ly, Mabus said, researchers are test­ing non­food items such as algae, tree limbs and wheat stalks as alter­na­tive ener­gy sources that would not affect food pro­duc­tion. One naval research patent, he not­ed, tests fuels from the bot­tom of a sea bed.

“The Amer­i­can mil­i­tary can be a cat­a­lyst to do this — to move from the fos­sil fuel econ­o­my we’ve got to one of alter­na­tive fuels,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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