Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Raising the Level of Debate: Politics and Energy Security

Retired Rear Admiral and former CIA branch chief, Robert James opines in the WSJ that the Military is taken in by fads and charlatans. Other than “The Army Wants to Join You” or George “Slam Dunk” Tenet, that appears to be a bit much. What ADM (R) James observes is that food for fuel and Amory Lovins are the latest incarnation of this. Some things I just cannot let pass.

With all due respect, Admiral, really??? We all get it, food for fuel is a bad idea. That being said, you do not make Grey Poupon out of camelina. The reference to camelina as a member of the mustard family is a ruse. "Look, they are using food!!!" In a similar vignette, a well intended Marine Sergeant conducted a cotton seed to fuel experiment in Afghanistan. This was a local “good idea” that was not sponsored by the USMC. Why? Because food for fuel is a bad idea. Next question. Fuel on the battlefield will be whatever is available; right now, fossil fuel is available. But if Kyrgyzstan starts growing camelina as a cash crop and makes fuel out of it, good for them and DLA-E can buy it and our equipment can use it. By the way, fuel on the battlefield does not cost $400 a gallon. Speechwriters, stop telling that to your bosses. Read this.

As far as worrying about the enemy seeing a windmill, you can see Camp Leatherneck from space! Of course the big, honking fuel trucks for the diesel generators wouldn't give up your position. Alternative and renewable energy is intended for big FOBs and small units. Thirty pound of batteries or ten pounds and a solar blanket (and twenty pounds of additional ammo) seems like a smart choice.

I do not know if Admiral James actually read “Winning the Oil Endgame” (WOE) all the way through or if he just dismissed it out of hand as the rantings of an “enviro”. If you read it, it is a business case argument for reducing mobility energy requirements and then providing that reduced requirement by, first, renewable fuels and then, for ground mobility, with electricity from renewable sources. Since only 1% of the energy used to move a car actually moves the driver, perhaps we could do better. Light weight, lower drag materials is what Amory talks about. Remember the Rand report quote? "…the military is best served by efforts directed at using energy more efficiently in weapons systems and at military installations." I would give WOE another read. If you would like to know what Amory Lovins thinks, read this.

Can we please elevate the discussion? We need not worry about the DOD giving up its mission in order to be "green". It is doing it to because commanders in the field are asking for it. It did not start with the Obama administration. It’s not political. The Joint Urgent Operational Needs statement that awoke the Military to this issue came from a Marine General in Iraq in 2006. As my first platoon sergeant said to me, "LT, if you are doing something stupid, you ought not do that". To imply that a commander who must deny the enemy knowledge of his location would put up a wind turbine intimates that the commander is stupid or that the reader is stupid. We old retired guys have to keep in mind that these kids out there commanding brigades are pretty sharp. Let us not use political paintbrushes to tar those who seek greater security. Dan Nolan


Joe Hirl said...

See my response to article. Still much can be done with energy efficiency and advanced analytics.

Ed DeSantis said...

The James WSJ commentary and the Dolan response both have merit. The fact is that DoD and its sizable R & D budget are often used to press for unique breakthroughs, among which would be synfuels. However the fact also remains that much of this effort is currently politically motivated, and that the money might be better utilized. Hundreds of millions could be saved from the Defense budget by applying basic energy management strategies well proven in the private sector. Now that does not respond to demands by field commanders for a forward base energy capability to reduce the risks to columns of tankers delivering fossil fuel. So that research should continue in a measured manner. However, most experts engaged in this area clearly state that the "solution" is still years away. So in these times, when Defense budgets are the targets for major cuts, where should the majority of the dollars flow? To saving hundreds of millions in wasted consumption costs and preparing for those coming cuts, or to major investments in strategies which will likely be still highly experimental when the budget ax falls? The real problem is that the only body in government that can't object "publically" is the military, which must salute and concur, even if they actually disagree. As I stated originally both comments in my view have merit.

R. James Woolsey said...

I have worked on both energy and national security issues for a number of years. "Of Mustard Fuel and Marines" by R.Adm. Robert James (ret.) in the Wall Street Journal of August 2 is both tendentious and inaccurate to an extraordinary degree. Our fighting men and women and Rocky Mountain Institute Chairman Amory Lovins, who often advises them on energy issues (and has posted a detailed reply under James’s oped), should be proud that a former oil company executive (VP of Mobil, economist at Continental Oil) should have to descend to such distortions in order to attack their efforts to move our military forces as quickly as possible away from dangerous oil dependence.
What motivates the military to work hard at this? "Fads" says James and "political correctness". He misrepresents Lovins as advocating the use of land appropriate for food crops to produce alternative fuels when in fact for decades the scientist has rather been a leading advocate of the use of feedstocks such as agricultural waste, prairie grass, and trash. James also ignores the innovative efforts by the Navy, his own military service, to use algae that require no land (just underground steel tanks) to make aviation fuel out of cheap sugar, as well as other types of algae that use very small amounts of land.
James ridicules "inventing cars that get 125 mpg". But my family already drives two that come near that: a plug-in Prius and a Chevy Volt. He also mocks the Marines, because of land-use issues, for experimenting with a truck-based plant that turns poppies into biofuels. But poppies are not known for their nutrition.
His strangest strawman is a mythical Marine unit commander, fanatically green, whom James feels he must caution not to endanger his unit by erecting a three-story windmill that discloses its position to the enemy. I have known a number of Marines over the years. This argument of James's is like the 13th chime of a clock – it is not only bizarre in and of itself, it calls into question everything that issues from the same source.

R. James Woolsey is Chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a venture partner with Lux Capital, and a former Under Secretary of the Navy and Director of Central Intelligence.