US Military Can’t Afford to Fool Around With Feel Good Green Initiatives – Mike Fredenburg 7/3/23


The U.S. military is in decline and now faces a peer competitor, China, that vastly outmatches the United States in terms of military–industrial capacity. And in research, China has a “stunning lead” over the United States in 37 out of 44 critical and emerging technologies, many of which are directly defense related.

Yet our military is spending an increasing percentage of its time, money, and mindshare on so-called green initiatives. One of the latest of these initiatives is the Army’s plan to run a series of field tests on a multi-ton, wheeled battery pack as part of its efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

This initiative is just one recent example of the myriad green initiatives that are seeing our military services spending more and more to fight climate change. Under the assumption that climate change is a clear and immediate danger, the Department of Defense and the military service have plans and initiatives in place that between now and 2050 that will divert billions of dollars away from programs that have the potential to improve our military’s ability to protect our country into programs that will actually reduce our military’s overall capabilities.

And given the proliferation of these programs and their scope, over the next 25 years the tens of billions could grow into hundreds of billions as it’s revealed that the cost of these programs was underestimated—by a lot. And while there’s no doubt that the judicious incorporation of hybrid, and even all-electric technology, into our military’s vehicles, ships, and maybe even planes could improve capabilities, many of the so-called green initiatives will actually reduce our military’s capabilities and won’t be all that green.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being environmentally responsible, but when we’re talking about organizations responsible for protecting the country from harm, up to and including attacks by weapons of mass destruction, green initiatives should meet some basic criteria before being funded. After all, money spent on green initiatives will be money not spent elsewhere. Consequently, any green imitative being pursued by our military services shouldn’t reduce our country’s military capabilities. This means that pulling resources away from weapon systems and programs that improve our military’s ability to fight to fund “greener” less-effective weapons systems and programs should be off the table. And a green initiative should be able to demonstrate measurable, immediate positive environmental benefits.

If a green initiative can both save money and have a positive environmental impact while delivering the same or superior capabilities, then it should be pursued post haste. But such programs are few and far between. Instead, green initiatives that reduce our military capabilities while costing more than alternatives that actually improve capability appear to be more the norm.

One such initiative that stands out is the $420 million Obama-era Navy initiative to run our naval ships on a 50:50 mix of biofuel and fossil fuels. The end result was a biofuel being mixed with petroleum-based marine diesel fuel to produce a fuel mix costing around four times as much as standard fuel. So, a naval exercise for which fuel should have cost around $3 million ended up costing almost $14 million.

This large premium to produce and use a fuel that isn’t really all that green prompted then Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) to state that “it’s not about proving the technology. It’s [Navy Secretary Ray] Mabus wanting to waste money … on a publicity stunt for his green fleet. ”

Unfortunately, the U.S. Navy has continued to use biofuel that costs much more than fossil fuels that are of arguable benefit to the environment, especially when changes in land use are taken into effect. By increasing operational costs, this particular “green” initiative diminishes the U.S. security posture by increasing our operating costs while providing no additional capability.

Another major green initiative that the U.S. military and many in Congress seem eager to spend billions on is replacing and or converting 170,000 non-tactical vehicles (NTVs) into an all-electric fleet. Indeed, The U.S. Army is committed to a plan to establish an “all-electric light duty, non-tactical fleet by 2027” and an “all-electric non-tactical vehicle fleet by 2035.” These ambitious goals will divert billions of dollars from programs that might actually improve the U.S. Army’s ability to do its job into a program that will weaken its capabilities. But even these goals aren’t ambitious enough, as Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm recently stated that she supports the Biden administration’s move to require the U.S. military to implement an all-electric vehicle fleet by 2030.

Currently, the Department of Defense has about 170,000 NTVs that are used on military bases. These vehicles move supplies, fuel, and personnel and perform maintenance, etc. around the bases and between the bases. In the case of a national emergency, say, for example, an attack on our electric grid, these NTVs would play a crucial role in helping to respond to the emergency. Obviously, a petroleum-powered fleet is vastly more capable in this situation. But even in the event of a national emergency where the grid stays up, gas-powered vehicles, with their ability to quickly refuel, can maintain a much higher operational tempo and perform much more work over an extended period of time than an all-electric fleet. So, even if we assume the move to electric could be done for no cost, we end up with a less capable military. But of course, there’s a huge cost….

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