By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – The U.S. may have the most powerful, advanced and flexible military force in the world, but it also requires plenty of fuel – often from sources not necessarily aligned with its own interests.
U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus – who was Mississippi’s governor from 1988-1992 – said the Navy hopes to have 50 percent of its energy from alternative sources and non-fossil fuels by 2020.
He was the keynote speaker Thursday at the sixth annual Biofuels Conference at Mississippi State University.
“We’re doing this to be better war fighters, to be a better military organization,” he said. “Energy security is national security. If we don’t do it as a military force, we’re taking huge risks.”
Mabus said for every $1 rise in the cost of crude oil, the Navy spends an additional $31 million.
“That’s fewer ships in the water, fewer forces on the ground,” he said. “That money has to come from somewhere, and it comes from our operational budget.”
The federal government is the largest buyer and user of fossil fuels, purchasing 2 percent of all annual output. The Department of Defense, in turn, uses 90 percent of that share.
As Secretary of the Navy, Mabus oversees the Navy and Marines Corps. Today, about 40 percent of the Navy’s fleet of 285 ships is “forward deployed,” meaning they’re out for at least six months. About 55 percent of the force is at sea at any given time.
“We have to have fuel,” Mabus said. “We’re in the military and we look at the vulnerabilities of potential adversaries. But we have to look at our vulnerabilities, too, because they are. … we’re having to get fossil fuels from volatile places on earth.”
And because of that volatility in both supply and price is a deep concern for military brass, the Navy is leading the charge to find alternative energy sources.
“We import into Afghanistan gas and water more than anything,” Mabus said. “For every 50 convoys, we lose a Marine, who’s either killed or wounded. That’s too high a price to pay.”
Mabus said one Marine company used alternative energy sources, in this case solar cells, to replace batteries for the GPS and radios. It save them from carrying 700 pounds in batteries and reduced the number of resupply routes.
In another example, Mabus said the Navy’s first hybrid ship sailed from Pascagoula, around South America and to San Diego, and saved $2 million in fuel.
The Navy has been at the forefront of change and continues to take a lead role, Mabus said.
“There were people who said it couldn’t be done when we went from steam to coal and from coal to oil. We pioneered nuclear power,” he said. “Every time they said it couldn’t be done. But I’m absolutely convinced that the naysayers will be wrong again this time.”