For several years, the U.S. military has been one of the most active proponents and early-adopters of renewable energy and alternative fuels, with their Operational Energy Strategy. Why? Several reasons:
1. Fuel delivered to the remote front-lines such as in Afghanistan for use in power generation and transportation has an “all-in” cost of $400/gallon. Any energy source that can be supplied locally, such as solar, to reduce fuel has significant potential for economic savings.
2. Being of critical logistical importance, convoys to deliver fuel are often the target of insurgent attacks, resulting in casualties to American servicemen and -women. Anything that can reduce the quantity and frequency of these convoys should obviously be a very good thing.
3. In buying so much oil, America sends hundreds of billions of dollars each year to regimes that not only don’t like the U.S., but actively attack U.S. interests. As many astute observers such as James Woolsey, former head of the CIA has said on a number of occasions, “we are funding both sides of the war on terror.” Military reliance upon oil is a key contributing factor.
Now comes James Bartis of the RAND Corporation, who argues in a recent study that “military planners are afflicted with petroleum anxiety.” He says that the military shouldn’t be so worried about oil price increases and supply insecurity: “they think prices are heading in only one direction: up. But history teaches us otherwise.”
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is piling on to this argument. McCain is alleging that the U.S. DOD long-term strategy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels is “an incredible waste of taxpayers’ money.” In the mother of all current smears, McCain is wary of “another Solyndra” that might stem from this effort.
I pronounce Bartis and McCain guilty of imprudent short-term thinking — which is surprising and highly disappointing, since I have generally considered RAND and McCain himself as having a good grasp of the big picture.
Fortunately, the military is keeping its head down and pushing forward with its plans: earlier this month, the Army released a $7 billion RFP for renewable and alternative energy projects to be installed over the next 10 years.
The military’s energy strategy is not solely or even mainly about minimizing $/gallon or c/kwh, and it’s certainly not about environmental benefits. This is about building and operating a military that is best suited to win against a dispersed enemy that derives its income from oil sales and targets oil supply lines to impede American military effectiveness and kill Americans.
Reducing oil consumption as much and as quickly as reasonably practicable is key to unhooking our military from this thorny problem. True, part of reducing oil consumption is through increased efficiency, but part of reducing oil consumption can also be via substitution of alternatives: biofuels, solar, and wind.
Whether the military’s push for renewable energy will be as successful as desired is unclear. However, the only way to know is to try. If they don’t try, the U.S. military — and our country more generally — will just paint itself further into the corner in which it finds itself strategically today.