Senator James Inhofe’s recent protest in these pages against the U.S. military’s field-proven use of secure, advanced biofuels overlooks both the bipartisan origins of the program and the black-and-white realities of powering the world’s largest fuel consumer in an age of unstable petroleum prices.
Today the military is dependent on a single source of fuel for most of their operations, a vulnerability for our troops and our nation. Advanced biofuels promise to be a dependable, affordable source of fuel for our military – a reality first recognized in the previous administration, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld created a task force to explore options for reducing the military’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Since 2010, nine different U.S. Navy vessels and aircraft have been successfully powered by advanced, domestic biofuels, including the super-sonic F/A-18 “Green Hornet,” the MH-60S Seahawk helicopter, the AV-8B Harrier, the Fire Scout unmanned vehicle, the Riverine Command Boat (RCB-X) and the frigate USS Ford. The “Green Fleet” exercise is the next step in the military’s ongoing commitment to advanced fuels.
The cost of our military’s dependence on fossil fuels should not be underestimated. In FY 2011 alone, the Department of Defense saw a $3 billion budget shortfall because of rising fuel prices. Developing speculative domestic sources of fossil fuels – many of which are years from realization and themselves quite expensive – is not a solution. Oil is priced on a world market, and even if we increase domestic production or only import oil from friendly countries, we cannot control its price. Meanwhile, over the past few years producers have reduced the cost of advanced biofuels used for military testing by more than 80 percent. That trend will only continue.
Our military has also known that innovation is critical to remaining the most effective fighting force in the world. Technology like the microchip and night vision were created through military investments in innovation. If Congress had prevented the Navy from investing in navigational aids more expensive than a compass, we never would have had GPS. Advanced biofuels could be the next big breakthrough, but not if Congress prevents the military from investing in these programs.
Members of Congress should trust our military leaders when they say that advanced biofuels could be a significant contribution to their operational energy security.
Breen is the vice president of the Truman National Security Project and a surrogate for the clean energy campaign, Operation Free. As a Captain in the U.S. Army, he served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.