On December 16, 1907, President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt sent sixteen new American battleships on a historic voyage around the world. This “Great White Fleet“, as it came to be known (due to the freshly painted white hulls of each battleship), heralded the appearance on the world stage of a new power-player: The United States of America.
Though the Great Powers of the day were likely unaware of it at the time, it was also the harbinger of the coming age of American global dominance.
Some 105 years later, the USNS Henry J. Kaiser left port at Puget Sound, WA, last week on perhaps an equally historic voyage. The Oiler carried in its storage tanks nearly 900,000 gallons of biofuel blended with petroleum; to power the cruisers, destroyers and fighter jets of what the Navy has taken to calling the “Great Green Fleet“: the first carrier strike group to be powered largely by alternative fuels.
History may well look back on this day as the harbinger of the end of American global dominance.
Naval power is real power. It represents the ability of a nation to project power in furtherance of its interests anywhere in the world. At least since the release of Alfred Thayer Mahan‘s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660-1783 in 1890, nations and governments have understood that on a planet that is primarily composed of oceans, naval power is the ultimate instrument of hegemony. As such, there is no greater expedient of American power or symbol of its global leadership than the US Navy.
But such power does not come without an equally real price: navies are expensive.
The year that Teddy Roosevelt launched the Great White Fleet, the American Navy’s budget was $107,372,000. By the end of WWII, with America taking over Britain’s role as sovereign of the seas, that budget had grown to a staggering $29,190,924,000. (It’s almost quaint to remember that $29 billion was once considered a large number, even in Washington!)
The Navy’s budget in 2012 has grown to $161.4 billion; just under 5% of the total Federal budget. Now, as a percent of total spending, that is far less than it was in 1945; when that $29 billion navy represented 27% of the Budget (Federal Budget 1945: $106 billion).
However, the United States is at a time of trillion-dollar deficits (the Federal deficit last year was reported at $1.3 trillion; thought the real number may have been as high as $5 trillion). Congress is enacting draconian cuts on defense through sequestration; that will reduce Defense spending from about 20% of the overall budget in 2012, to a meagre 13% by 2017.
This is the fiscal backdrop for the Obama “Green Navy” initiative. So, what is the cost of conversion to a lean, “green” Navy?
Currently, the cost of standard “conventional” fuel is $3.60 a gallon. The cost of going “Green”? A whopping $26-a-gallon!
At such a time of shrinking budgets and belt-tightening, how can the Obama Administration and the Navy justify their “Green Navy”, which will see the cost of fuelling the fleet increase seven-fold?
The answer is that they cannot.
Navies, like armies, exist for the purpose of defending their nations, projecting power and fighting (and, presumably, winning) wars. Yet politicians (and political Admirals and Generals) cannot resist using our military as a petri dish for social experimentation. Sometimes these experiments are beneficial to the military and society as a whole; such as when the military began to desegregate the races in the late 1940s.
However, social experimentation can never be allowed to hamper the military in its prime mission of defending the country and protecting its interests throughout the world.
By vastly and unnecessarily increasing fuel costs at a time of intense budget strain, the President’s “green” policy threatens to not only hamstring the Navy; it will possibly cripple our ability to patrol and protect the vital sea lanes that are the life-blood of our economy.
With a greatly reduced budget to work with, how will the Navy respond to these higher fuel costs? Will they build less ships to replace the aging ships currently scheduled for decommission? Likely, yes (and this at a time when our over-all fleet strength is the lowest it has ever been since the end of World War One!). Will they cut-back on training missions by ships and aircraft, which consume this costly fuel at prodigious rates? Again, the likely answer is yes. Will deployment of forward elements across the Pacific and into the Indian Ocean; where an increasingly belligerent Iran threatens to close the Persian Gulf to international shipping, become fewer in both number of ships and frequency of mission as budget constraints keep our fleet in harbor? Without a doubt, yes again.
Chinese leaders, perhaps reading Mahan, are building a “blue water”, ocean-going navy of their own. China understands that who controls the sea controls the land. Beijing’s leaders must be looking upon this Obama “green” Navy insanity with grim amusement.
You can bet that Chinese plans for future naval dominance will not be hampered by ships that burn $26-a-gallon “green” fuel.
Either should ours.
China’s “Great Red” fleet
July 12th Update:
FROM THE NEW AMERICAN
REPUBLICAN LAWMAKERS AND ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS CRITICIZE THE “GREEN NAVY” INITIATIVE AS NEITHER COST EFFICIENT NOR CLEAN!
Republican lawmakers are unconvinced, however, as “green fuel” will cost almost seven times more than conventional fuel.
Last month, Senators James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) were given bipartisan approval to add amendments to the Defense Authorization Bill that would restrict the use of biofuels.
The Hill explains:
Inhofe’s measure relieved the DOD from buying biofuels if they cost more than traditional sources. Petroleum cost about $3.60 per gallon Monday. McCain’s provision barred the department from building biofuel refineries unless authorized by law. Both passed with a 13-12 vote in the Armed Services Committee.
“There are many areas of research that are wholly appropriate to the Department of Defense mission, such as efforts to extend the life and reduce the weight of batteries, adapt solar technologies to battlefield conditions, and reduce fuel consumption through more efficient engines and weapon systems. But defense funds should not be used to invigorate a commercial industry that cannot provide an affordable product without heavy government subsidies.
“This is not a core defense need and should be left to the Department of Energy, which received over $4 billion last year for energy research and development and related programs, or to the private sector to take the lead. In a tough budget climate for the Defense Department, we need every dollar to protect our troops on the battlefield with energy technologies that reduce fuel demand and save lives. Spending $26 per gallon of biofuel is not consistent with that goal.”
Meanwhile, despite the Navy’s efforts to go green, Environment News Service contends that the use of biofuel will actually pollute the ocean:
U.S. groups oppose plans to use the biofueled vessels to sink three obsolete U.S. warships off Hawaii during the RIMPAC war games later this month. They say toxics aboard the target ships will contaminate the sea and the old vessels should be recycled instead.
In fact, environmental groups have already petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency and gone to court in an attempt to put RIMPAC on hold because of the sinking exercise (SINKEX) scheduled during the RIMPAC. This year’s SINKEX would be the first since the moratorium was place on the exercise last year by the Chief of Naval Operations, as well as the first since the Sierra Club and Basel Action Network filed a formal complaint against the EPA.
According to ENS:
The groups warn that SINKEX operations violate U.S. ocean dumping regulations, including the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act; and the Toxic Substances Control Act; as well as several international treaties such as the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972, known as the London Convention; the Stockholm Convention on Persistant Organic Pollutants; the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal; and a variety of OECD agreements.
The groups point out that in addition to the environmental concerns, sinking the ships deprives the U.S. ship-recycling industry of resources. The cost of sinking the ships is estimated at $27.6 million, not counting the loss of hundreds of American ship-recycling jobs.
“The hypocrisy of the Navy’s new ecological ‘Great Green Fleet’ demonstrating its “greenness” by sinking ships containing globally banned pollutants off the coast of Hawaii is particularly ironic,” observed Colby Self of BAN’s Green Ship Recycling Campaign. “But the realization that this choice by the Navy to dump poisons into the marine environment is not only unnecessary, but also is costing Americans hundreds of green recycling jobs, makes this SINKEX program both an environmental and an economic insult.”