Pentagon going green -- because it has to
Greener military is a 'strategic imperative' for the United States, top military officials say.
Wed, Oct 13, 2010 at 6:28 PM
GREENER FATIGUES: U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen is pushing for greener military practices, including solar power in the field. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
The U.S. military's heavy dependence on fossil fuels is a dangerous vulnerability, officials said Wednesday as they made a fresh push to develop renewable energy solutions for the battlefield.
In the wake of a spate of deadly attacks on tankers carrying fuel to foreign troops in Afghanistan, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke of a "strategic imperative" for the U.S. military to become more efficient and find new sources of energy.
The Department of Defense is burning through 300,000 barrels of oil a day, using more energy per soldier every year and its top import to Afghanistan is fossil fuels, the highest ranking U.S. military officer said as he kicked off a Pentagon discussion on energy security.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, has set a goal of having renewable energy account for 50 percent of power for the Navy and Marines by 2020.
"We're not going green just for green's sake. Energy reform and the new energy future aren't about politics or slogans," he said.
"It's about protecting the lives of our troops. It's about making our military better and more capable fighters. It's about making our country more secure and more independent. That's why we are doing this, that's why we have to change."
Projects under way
Last month, 150 Marines from India Company, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, were the first to take portable solar panels, solar-powered electricity generation systems, insulated tents and energy-saving lights to the battlefield in Afghanistan's rugged Helmand Province.
Other initiatives underway range from developing hybrid tactical vehicles, deploying a solar-powered microgrid to Afghanistan by the end of the year to the U.S. Air Force and Navy certifying their fleets to operate on a 50/50 blend of standard fuel and biofuels.
The Pentagon's push to develop alternative energy could also reduce costs for the average consumer as the military becomes a steady customer of such products.
Officials speaking at National Energy Awareness Month events said getting access to more sources of renewable energy would also improve national security because too much oil consumed by the United States comes from the Middle East and other volatile regions.
"This is raw self-interest on our part," Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment Dorothy Robyn told AFP. "We care about improving our energy performance because it will improve our ability to carry out our mission."
She noted the push was part of President Barack Obama's pledge to help build a new green economy, a "night and day" difference compared to the more staid approach of ex-president George W. Bush.
A top concern
The cost of relying too heavily on fossil fuels, both in blood and treasure, is also a top concern for military planners.
A September 2009 Army study found that for every 24 convoys carrying fuel to bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, one soldier or civilian is killed.
Estimates vary on the cost of fuel.
The U.S. military sets a standard price at about $3 a gallon, but the Marine Corps once found the price of delivering that gallon to troops in the Afghan province of Helmand could reach up to $30. A 2001 Defense Science Board report said it could cost a whopping $400.
"We have not been the most cost-conscious culture over the years," Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz acknowledged, stressing that any renewable energy projects must both cost less and be more efficient than current systems.
Earlier this month, militants in Pakistan attacked fuel convoys headed for foreign military bases in Afghanistan, highlighting the vulnerability of the main land route for NATO supplies across the Torkham border crossing into the Khyber Pass.
Scores of NATO vehicles were destroyed in gun and arson attacks as thousands of oil tankers and supply vehicles became stranded during an 11-day closure.
Copyright 2010 AFP American Edition
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