When National Security Means Energy Independence

By / 10.12.2010

This post is the fourth in a series about the Progressive Military

The smell that will always take me and many other vets back to the old Army days is diesel exhaust fumes.  When you spend many years of your life rolling around the muddy trails of military training areas in 5-ton trucks or the bumpy roads of Iraq and Afghanistan in armored Humvees, the smell brings on instant nostalgia.  It is my hope, and the hope of many senior military leaders, that our next generation of servicemembers won’t know that smell because they won’t be using oil.

There is widespread agreement by institutions on all sides of the political spectrum that energy independence, security, and planning for the repercussions of climate change must be addressed.  Former CIA director James Woolsey has called this “the first war since the Civil War that America has funded both sides.”  However there is still opposition, mostly from the GOP Congressional minority, to taking real comprehensive steps.  Their opposition to a comprehensive energy and climate bill, such as the American Power Act, has stifled momentum on the issue.  Too many in Congress want to ensure nothing get done on the issue for quite a while.

Despite Congressional impasse, the military is looking at the issue from top to bottom and pushing forward.  The Army is investigating using the safflower as a biofuel and began its Fuel Efficiency Demonstrator (FED) program to develop new vehicle technologies in response to battlefield calls for the need to reduce the number of dangerous convoys that use and transport fuel.  The effort doesn’t extend solely to vehicles and equipment; it also extends to the power grids on it installations at home and downrange.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, strongly committed to the issue, has promised that the Navy and Marine Corps will get less than half of its power from fossil fuels within ten years.  As far as new energy and combat power are concerned, the electric hybrid ship USS Makin Island and the hybrid-fueled FA-18 “Green Hornet” fighter jet have already made their maiden voyages.  The Navy is also committed to making all of their installations energy self-sufficient by 2020.

Not to be outdone, the Air Force has developed an A-10 “Thunderbolt”, a ground attack aircraft, that also runs on a biofuels mixture and plans to test at least three other aircraft models this year.  This is a significant development as the Air Force is the military’s top energy consumer.  On the ground, Langley Air Force Base has installed a geothermal energy system as part of the Air Force goal to reduce its energy consumption 20% by 2020.

The Pentagon has begun to “wargame” the consequences of climate change that the military may be called upon to address.  As resources become scarce, it may lead to conflicts on several continents.  U.S. bases may be threatened by rising sea levels.  It may also lead to conflict between allies and destabilize stable states and further ruin already shaky ones.  It is also no secret that American dependence on oil from unstable regions leaves us vulnerable every time there is a hiccup in the supply caused by unrest or terror attacks.

There may be continued debate as whether we have already or will reach “peak oil”, whether the alarms raised about “foreign” oil are an overreaction, or, most of all, whether climate change is actually happening at all.  The U.S. military doesn’t seem to be willing to take the chance that these things aren’t or won’t happen.  In the words of energy security advocate and retired Army Chief of Staff General Gordon Sullivan, “We never have 100 percent certainty. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.”

If Congress and the American people trust the military to keep them safe, hopefully they will trust the military on energy independence and climate change.  General Anthony C. Zinni, retired U.S. CENTCOM commander, has said, “We will pay for this one way or another.  We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today . . . or we will pay the price later in military terms and that will involve human lives.”

Photo credit: US Army Africa