Washington DC – on July 12, the American Security Project’s CEO, BGen Stephen Cheney, USMC (Ret.) spoke on a panel of four retired military officers representing each of the four branches spoke at the Senate Hart Office Building at a public event hosted by the Truman National Security Project. Also featuring LtGen Norm Seip, U.S. Air Force (Ret.); Rear Admiral Larry Baucom, U.S. Navy (Ret.); and Colonel Dan Nolan, U.S. Army (Ret.); the panel touted the benefits of alternative fuels to U.S. national security.
The U.S. military is making significant investments in alternative fuels, particularly in a variety of biofuels, to test the viability of drop-in replacements for oil. The military believes that the total dependence of military operations on oil for fuel presents a national security risk, prompting a coordinated effort to seek alternatives. The Navy’s “Green Strike Group” is scheduled to sail off the coast of Hawaii in next week’s RIMPAC exercise using a 50-50 mix of biofuels and petroleum-based fuel.
LtGen. Norm Seip reiterated that “flexibility is the key to national security,” and flexibility in this sense means options. The more fueling options that the military has in its toolkit, the less vulnerable the military is to supply disruptions and oil price volatility. As it stands, the military only has one option – oil – and “one option equals no option,” according to Colonel Nolan.
For example, for every $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil, the U.S. military suffers a $1.3 billion increase in unbudgeted costs, which is equal to the entire procurement budget of the U.S. Marine Corps. This forces entire squadrons to be idled due to lack of funds. As a result, training operations are cut short, damaging military readiness.
But, biofuels can provide the military with options. While the cost per barrel right now is high relative to oil, the costs will come down as companies scale-up and the technology improves. As Gen. Cheney noted, “You’ve got to pay up-front to get the benefit down range. It’s going to be amortized over the life of the program.”
Admiral Baucom emphasized this point, “as prices go up, we must reduce our readiness. But, an alternative that is better, smarter, and cheaper is the goal of all of this R&D.” Colonel Nolan noted that the U.S. can be a leader in developing alternative fuels, “in the first half of the last century we electrified the world, in the second half we computerized it. Why shouldn’t we lead the world into a new energy era and be the ones who reap the benefits from that?”
Listen to audio of the event here.