Navy remains firmly committed to 'green fleet,' secretary says

The Navy looking to harness future technologies to become a leaner, more effective fighting force, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said April 16.

Mabus, speaking at the Navy League's 2012 Sea-Air-Space exposition, said he would not back down from his push toward green technology and better shipbuilding that will improve the nation’s security posture.

“We need to have a fleet that has enough of the right kinds of ships to do the missions assigned, and we need to change the way we get and use energy. The decisions in these two areas have been criticized by some folks; that criticism is based on either incomplete, inaccurate or outdated information,” he said. “Anytime we change, no matter how necessary or valuable or inevitable, [it’s] always opposed by some. We cannot remain locked into current practices because it’s the way we do things or it’s the way it’s always been.”

The Navy believes that by investing in renewable energy and biofuels it can save millions of dollars off the cost of fueling its ships and aircraft, according to media reports. Likewise, the Marines are looking to solar panels, rechargable batteries and other alternatives that will lower their power costs and reduce their dependency on vulnerable road convoys. 

Technology is one of the biggest drivers behind this change, although budget pressures and changing threats and obligations also are playing a central role, Mabus noted.

“We’ve all heard the quote that this is the smallest fleet we’ve had since 1917. But comparing our fleet today to the one in 1917 is like comparing the telegraph to the smart phone. It’s just not comparable. The technology we have today…is astoundingly different from what it was 100 years ago, but also from what it was 20 years ago,” he said.

Mabus stressed the Navy is uniquely postured to lead the charge, particularly in terms of developing alternative energy solutions.

“The Navy is leading in this because it is one of our absolute core competencies, and a critical part of history. We moved from sails to coal in the 1850s, from coal to oil in the early 20th century and we pioneered nuclear in the early 1950s,” he said. “Every time, there were doubters and naysayers. Every time they said that it was more expensive and that we were trading one form of known energy for another that’s unknown, and every single time, they were wrong. And they will be again.”

He acknowledged the upfront investments will be a challenge, but one that must be taken on.

“Of course it costs more today. It’s a new technology; there isn’t a demand yet. But if this argument had carried today, we’d still be using sails,” Mabus said. “We have to be and we will be relentless in the pursuit of energy goals that will continue to make us a more effective fighting force. Inaction is too expensive in too many ways.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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