Our military faces long term strategic risks due to its dependence on petroleum- based fuels. Oil is the sole source of liquid fuel used in military operations. That makes it a ‘single point of failure’ that we should not allow to undermine our budgets or our security. Investing in biofuels is a potential way to remove that dependence on oil.
The US military faces strategic, operational and tactical vulnerabilities due to its reliance on foreign oil. The price of oil is set on a global market and therefore oil is susceptible to price and supply shocks, caused by political turmoil and natural disasters around the world. Volatile oil prices, as we have seen in past decades, pose budgeting risks for companies and the military alike. Unbudgeted fuel costs lead to cuts in our military’s budget for operations, reducing flying time, sailing time and training time, reducing the military’s overall effectiveness.
The Navy has recognized our energy security risks and has set into motion ambitious goals to reduce its oil usage. By 2020 the Navy plans to supply 50% of its fuel needs with non-fossil-fuel sources. To meet this goal Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, has stated that the Navy will use 8 million barrels of biofuels a year.
Policymakers should note that the military has been at the forefront of energy innovation for 150 years. The Navy has innovated from sail to coal to oil to power its ships, and pioneered the nuclear powered vessels in the 1950’s. Each time the Navy has innovated its energy source it has faced criticism for cost ineffectiveness and every time critics have been proven wrong. Though initial costs have always been high, the innovative energy source has always proven to be more effective. Biofuels should be the next energy source.
Biofuel investment is a part of a strategic effort to improve our military’s energy security future and the effectiveness of our military operations.
LtGen John Castellaw USMC (Ret.) is a member of the Consensus for American Security