William O'Keefe, George C. Marshall Institute CEO, 5/22/12, DOD’s ‘Clean Energy’ Is a Trojan Horse , energy.nationaljournal.com/2012/05/powering-our-military-whats-th.php
The purpose of the military is to defend the United States and our interests by deterring aggression and applying military force when needed. It is not to shape industrial policy. As we’ve learned from history, energy is essential for military success, independent of whether it is so called “clean energy” or traditional energy, which continues to get cleaner with time.
There are three reasons for the Department of Defense (DOD) to be interested in biofuels—to reduce costs, improve efficiency, and reduce vulnerability. These are legitimate goals and should be pursued through a well thought out and rational Research-and-Development (R&D) program. But it’s not appropriate to use military needs to push a clean energy agenda that has failed in the civilian sector. Packaging the issue as a national security rationale is a Trojan Horse that hides another attempt to promote a specific energy industrial policy. Over the past four decades such initiatives have demonstrated a record of failure and waste.
As part of the military’s push for green initiatives, both the Navy and Air Force have set goals to obtain up to 50 percent of their fuel needs from alternative sources. The underlying rationale is to reduce US dependence on foreign oil. But the Rand Corporation, the preeminent military think tank in the nation, recently conducted a study, Alternative Fuels for Military Applications; it concludes, "The use of alternative fuels offers the armed services no direct military benefit." It also concludes that biofuels made from plant waste or animal fats could supply no more than 25,000 barrels daily. That’s a drop in the bucket considering the military is the nation’s largest fuel consumer.
Additionally, there is no evidence that commercial technology will likely to be available in the near future to produce large quantities of biofuels at lower costs than conventional fuels. The flipside of that argument is that the cost of conventional fuels is uncertain because of dependence on imports from unstable sources. While that is true, it misses the point. For example, our reliance on imports from the Persian Gulf is declining and could be less if we expanded our own domestic production. Until alternatives that are cost competitive can be developed, DOD should look at alternative ways to reduce price volatility, just as large commercial users do.
The second reason for pursuing alternative fuels is related to the first. Greater efficiency reduces costs by reducing the amount of fuel used. The military has been pursuing this goal for some time, as has the private sector. DOD total energy consumption declined by more than 60% between 1985 and 2006, according to Science 2.0. Improvements will continue because of continued investments in new technologies, especially in the private sector, which has market-driven incentives to reduce the cost of fuel consumption.
Finally, there is the argument that somehow replacing conventional fuels with bio-fuels will reduce supply chain vulnerability and save lives. Rand also addressed this issue from both the perspective on naval and ground based forces. It concluded that there is no evidence that a floating bio-fuels plant “would be less expensive than using either Navy oilers or commercial tankers to deliver finished fuel products.” It also dismissed the concept of small scale production units that would be co-located with tactical units. It concluded, “any concepts that require delivery of a carbon containing feedstock appear to place a logistical and operational burden on forward-based tactical units that would be well beyond that associated with the delivery of finished fuels.”
Future military needs are met by a robust R&D program carried out by the services and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Letting that agency and the services invest in future technologies to meet their specific service needs and maintain our military strength without political meddling is in the nation’s best interest. Advances in military technology that has civilian applications eventually enters the market place. Take for example the DARPA’s research into improved military communication that eventually developed into internet technology that revolutionized how we communicate and obtain and use information. If DOD pursues research focused on lower costs, greater efficiency, and more secure fuel supplies, the civilian economy will eventually benefit.
At a time when the military if faced with substantial budget cuts, allocating scarce resources to pursue so called “clean energy” objectives is worse than wasteful. It borders on a dereliction of duty.
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