Pentagon energy self sufficiency. The U.S. military has looked at the problem of dependence on foreign fuel realistically & now leads in developing technology for energy independence
In early October, the war in Afghanistan took a different turn when the Taliban started targeting NATO convoys transporting much-needed fuel to our troops from Pakistan. Last month’s attack caught most of the media’s attention because of the brazenness and coordination of the attacks and the damage that was inflicted. However, attacks on supply convoys are in fact frequent occurence in the Afghanistan war – the Pentagon has reported that for every 24 convoys the military sends out to resupply the troops, one U.S. soldier or one Afghan guard gets killed defending the supply trucks.
Supply lines throughout history have always been the vulnerable underbelly in an army’s war infrastructure. The sooner the U.S. military is able to effectively address the issue, the better it will be able to win this war and similar wars in the future. It is with this reality in mind that the Pentagon, for some years now, has embarked on an aggressive push to develop new technologies to make their units, facilities, and vehicles more energy-independent.
The New York Times reported last month that a marine unit from California has deployed in Afghanistan last month and brought along portable solar arrays to power all their equipment. The Scientific American also reported that the U.S. Marine Corps along with Air Force have field tested micro-grids in bases in California and Hawaii that are capable of distributing power from renewable energy sources generated locally.
Even the most sensitive parts of the defense arsenal are being refurbished to be powered with renewable energy sources. According to the Pentagon’s Admiral Charles Bollinger:
“Starting February 2011, up to twenty U.S. nuclear weapons and facilities will be operational using mostly the sun as their source of power.”
The initiative is part of the defense establishment’s drive to reduce dependence on fossil fuel-based energy sources. Nuclear weapons facilities are voracious consumers of electricity and reducing their energy costs (while maintaining the same level of readiness) represents significant reductions in the Pentagon’s total energy consumption .
As Bollinger observed, the U.S. military or parts of it have been using renewable anergy sources for years now,but the effort has been sporadic and dependent on the commanding officer of a particular unit: “It’s mostly by sub-agency, by base, or at the whim of officers on the ground.”
Its only recently that the shift toward renewables has been institutionalized with all branches looking for ways to develop energy independence through cutting edge green technology. Speaking to the New York Times, Secretary Ray Mabus of the United States Navy said:
“There are a lot of profound reasons for doing this, but for us at the core it’s practical. Fossil fuel is the No. 1 thing we import to Afghanistan and guarding that fuel is keeping the troops from doing what they were sent there to do, to fight or engage local people.”
The aim is to make the U.S. military less dependent on foreign fuel and less costly to supply. At present, the military buys fuel for as low as $1 per gallon, but to get that gallon of fuel to the unit that will actually use it would cost about $400. When you factor this and the human costs of transporting fuel, the decision to go full steam ahead with renewables appears to be the most logical option. Admiral Bollinger adds:
“Look, the mission is number one. But if we can get the job done and save energy and money while reducing our carbon footprint, I say let’s do it. It’s a no-brainer and I’m sure tax-payers would agree. I think there is a kind of mental block when it comes to this kind of thinking, even in the military. I don’t buy into the view that things like nuclear weapons and bunker-busters can’t be made more sustainable. It’s my job to make sure the war-making ability of the U.S. is done in a sustainable manner.”
As the Scientific American article noted, it’s ironic that when Congress has miserably failed to pass climate legislation and is expected to block further energy initiatives by the administration, it’s the U.S. military that has looked at the problem of fossil fuel dependence realistically and has led the way in adopting a no-nonsense policy towards sustainability.