The United States military is a solutions-driven organization; leadership is willing to pursue whatever resources are necessary to get the job done. Because of this attitude, innovation has always driven our military and our country forward not for the sake of novelty but because these advances provide tactical and operational opportunity. Since 2011, the departments of Defense, Energy, and Agriculture have been collaborating to develop advanced biofuels and become a more cost-effective and capable force.
Unfortunately, some don’t seem to see the clear benefits of this partnership. On Monday, the House majority on the Space, Science, and Technology Committee introduced several anti-biofuel provisions into the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015. The constraints they propose on the Department of Energy would effectively prohibit it from partnering with the military in further advanced biofuels development.
Limiting our military’s potential in this way would be a shortsighted move for multiple reasons. The Department of Defense is the largest institutional consumer of fuel in the world, budgeting approximately $15 billion per year just to ensure freedom of movement. Even that immense budget, though, is at the mercy of volatile markets; for every $10 increase in the price per barrel of crude oil, the department is left with a $1.3 billion shortfall. And because oil is priced in a global market, that cost will still go up regardless of how much we produce at home—with much of the revenue going to nations who oppose our interests.
Those working against advanced biofuels ostensibly do so in the name of reducing costs. They ignore the realities of the global marketplace, insisting that temporarily low oil prices at home are sound bedrock upon which to build national security policy. But military leaders have a different opinion. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus called the Navy’s dependence on oil a “strategic vulnerability.” With most of the world’s oil traveling through two or three major chokepoints, the military must allocate significant manpower and resources to keeping those sea lanes open and secure.
Moreover, biofuels are not a mysterious or unproven fuel source, but have been in use since bipartisan legislation first promoted research and development during the Bush administration. Hardware as diverse as the F/A-18 Hornet and Riverine Command Boat (RCB-X) are running on American-produced biofuels. These advances are essential to a new military strategy that sees wider engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. Pushing fuel from Basra to Baghdad was one thing, but moving fuel, supplies, and troops thousands of miles from the coast of California is another.
For reasons of cost and capability alike, biofuels strengthen our national security. They represent the best of military innovation, and like microwaves, GPS, and the Internet, are filling an essential need and will ultimately serve society for the better. Congress has a responsibility to listen to our military leadership when they state clearly and repeatedly what tools they need to get the job done.
Breen is a former captain in the U.S. Army and the executive director of the Truman National Security Project and the Center for National Policy.