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Secretary Of Navy Talks

Energy Security At ASU Event

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Ray Mabus, the 75th U.S. Secretary of the Navy.
Secretary Ray Mabus Discusses The Department Of Defense’s Plan To Increase Its Renewable Energy Use By At Least Half By 2020, And The Navy’s Collaborative Research With Universities And Other Agencies

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By Chris Braswell
Modern Times Magazine

April 25, 2014 — With yesterday's globalized economy, 90 percent of the world's trade moves by sea, and 90 percent of the world's data moves by undersea cables.

Ray Mabus, the 75th U.S. Secretary of the Navy, spoke at the Tempe Center for the Arts on Thursday morning. The subject of his remarks was “Power Matters: Energy Security and The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps,” and Mabus summarized the importance of the subject as it relates to the Navy's global mission.

The worldwide presence of the U.S. Navy helps deter potential regional and international conflicts, and it helps avoid escalation of situations when conflicts do emerge, Mabus said. At the same time, the Navy is the first responder when it comes to maritime terrorism, illegal movement of drugs and people, and piracy.

Unlike typical land-based operations, U.S. Naval and Marine Corps forces are constantly deployed, as Congress is Constitutionally charged with raising an Army, as needed, but must maintain a Navy, at all times; there is a key difference in the language provided by the founding fathers of our nation, “that global reach and that global necessity remains today,” Mabus said.

Naval administration can be considered from four perspectives, he said: People, platforms, power, and partnerships, and the focus of yesterday's breakfast was power.

“Five years ago I began to talk about power; it is clearly a major and powerful issue in a lot of ways,” Mabus said. “My concern is also about the national and international security implications.”

Access to power and fuel is a diplomatic pressure point, the control of which has been historically used as a military strategy. A good example is the dependence of European countries on Russian oil and gas. On the other hand, “Russia depends on oil and gas revenue for over half of its government's budget,” he said.

Dependence on fuel sources can be a precarious situation, security-wise, and even if the United States could control all oil and gas production, it would not be able to control price, he said, “oil is the ultimate global commodity and it is often traded on speculation and rumor.”

The U.S. Department of Defense is the largest institutional consumer of oil on Earth, known to surpass its fuel budget of $15 billion per year, Mabus said. That price tag is thought of as a security premium, “and if the bill gets too high, we'll have fewer platforms,” he said.

To avoid such instability, the plan for the Department of Defense is to increase its renewable energy use by more than half by 2020.

And it is not just the Navy that is meeting the issue head on. For example, the Army will break ground tomorrow on the largest solar panel installation in the United States, at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

The Marine Corps have been some of the most aggressive leaders in renewable energy, as reducing dependence on fuel convoys makes military field work safer and more effective and affordable, he said. Today, packable solar panels, which only have to be resupplied every three weeks rather than every few days as with gasoline/diesel fuels, are a standard part of every Marine's equipment.

“In actuality, alternative energy saves lives,” Mabus said.

Changing the air and sea fleets to liquefied natural gas would be prohibitively expensive. However, when using a 50/50 biofuel mix for aircraft and ships, mixed with either jet fuel or marine diesel depending on the vessel, no retrofitting or reconfiguration of the engines is necessary. A national biofuel industry initiative (the farm-to-fleet joint venture between the Navy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture) has developed the drop-in, military compatible fuel that costs less than $3.50 per gallon, and can provide the fleet with 25% of its annual fuel demand.

The typical budget for amphibious assault ships in the Pacific Rim is $30 million per deployment, but with the biofuel mix, the expenditure was reduced to $18 million for the USS Makin Island, for example.

Beyond sea-based operations, the Navy has a 500-million-square-foot footprint at its bases worldwide, many of which feature such renewable energy infrastructure as solar, wind, geothermal, hydrothermal, and hydrostatic/wave source. For example, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest began work on solar panels and smart grid infrastructure at Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma in 2009.

Naval research and development is also investigating more efficient propulsion systems.

The vessels that are currently under construction are an important part of the 2020 fleet, and their design is an important part of the Department of Defense's goals to increase renewable energy use. Like the USS Makin Island, the forthcoming USS America and USS Tripoli amphibious assault ships will make use of new technology and alternative fuels, Mabus said.

“Scientists and engineers here at ASU are helping Navy sail to that next horizon of research,” he said. Intergovernmental research and development agreements are in place with America's international allies as well, such as Australia and Britain. “Sustainability for American forces isn't just an American concern,” he said.

ASU is one of the two universities that have established a Navy ROTC program since the Obama Administration took office (the other one is at Rutgers University). Also, the Navy post-graduate school offers a masters degree in energy (content includes alternate energy sources, and research and development), as well as shorter training courses for leadership.

Remaining prepared in an ever-changing world is part of the key to keeping the peace and responding to emergencies.

“Each time the Navy has switched energy sources, there have been people that have fought it tooth and nail,” Mabus said, whether it was when changing from sail power to coal, or eventually to nuclear propulsion. “Change is always coming. Things change. Technology is change.”

He quoted a Saudi Arabian official from his time served as the U.S. Ambassador to that country: “The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones. It ended because we invented something better.”

Mabus said the best course of action is to take a proactive role in addressing climate change.

“It's happening, whether we like it or not, and it is going to have an impact on our Navy,” he said. “The Navy is big enough to change a market; we use enough fuel to change a market. If you keep pushing long enough, that change just happens.”

Chris Braswell is the managing editor of Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at cgbraswell@moderntimesmagazine.com.
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