The Department of the Navy’s energy strategy relies on this effort to find alternative fuels instead of capitalizing on burgeoning national fossil-fuel resources. The Navy is to be commended for its cost-effective energy-efficiency initiatives both onshore and at sea—geothermal and solar for naval installations and hybrid diesel electric and gas turbine drives. But then the broader “all of the above” issue is selectively redefined by the SECNAV statement: “Our energy sources are not secure, we need to be more energy efficient in our energy use, and we emit too much carbon. Over-reliance on fossil fuels is bad energy strategy, bad business, and bad for the planet.” In truth, a bad strategy is neglecting the obvious: that reliance on our own fossil fuels for the next several decades is the sine qua non of economic growth and strategic energy independence. The search for alternatives in a climate of reduced military budgets, force-structure reduction, and necessary weapon development is better left to other governmental agencies while the Navy defines a coherent energy strategy and directs the savings to procurement and readiness requirements.
To the Navy’s credit, its current energy strategy focuses on securing a reliable and sustainable energy supply; deploying new technologies for greater efficiencies; and safeguarding Navy infrastructure while shielding it from a volatile supply. Worthy goals; diminished, however, by a policy of “aggressively reducing our reliance on fossil fuel.”
A January 2011 study by the Rand Corporation (“Alternative Fuels for Military Applications”), which was requested by the 2009 Defense Appropriation Act, concluded:
• A number of alternative fuels being developed are technically viable for use in tactical weapons systems, but uncertainties exist regarding commercial viability in terms of cost;
• Despite unknowns, the DOD is directing substantial personnel and finance resources to alternative fuels;
• Algae alternative fuels are a research topic with limited potential to fill large military requirements; and
• Benefits from the DOD’s investment in alternative fuels accrue to the nation with no benefit to the armed forces.
The fact is that viable alternative fuels may be available in the distant future, but abundant domestic fossil-fuel is available now and awaiting development to meet our strategic-security requirements for decades to come.
We obtain 41.9 percent of our crude-oil imports from overseas sources that are susceptible to unstable geopolitical conditions and are a huge proportion of our imbalance of payments. Interruptions of oil imports for whatever reason adversely affect not only military readiness and national security but also our economic strength. The strategic imperative is the exploitation of our enormous domestic energy resources to become independent from unreliable foreign suppliers.
The Navy must be the catalyst for the development of a credible and coherent national energy strategy. It must repudiate its policy of “aggressively reducing our reliance on fossil fuels” and leave the relevant research to other national departments. It must recognize the need for sufficient fuel to be available on a global basis to sustain our naval forces. These demands are far more pressing than costly energy alternatives with uncertain futures. Strategic energy independence should dominate the focus of our national defense team.
Captain Forbes is a 1950 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and naval aviator who served during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He holds a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan and is an active member of Virginia Scientists for Energy & Environment.