SAS12: SecNav touts ‘green fleet,’ shipbuilding

Navy Secretary Mabus comes to the defense of renewable energy and shipbuilding in the face of fierce criticism.

Navy leadership has heard the critiques leveled at its service loud and clear: The Navy isn’t building enough ships and it’s wasting money trying to go green.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus used his speech at the Navy League’s 2012 Air-Sea-Space Exposition to attack those critics, saying they are using “incorrect information” or trying to “protect the status quo.” Texas Republican congressmen and U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., have ripped the Navy for investing in alternative fuels, complaining that the added military capability does not justify the cost.

Mabus said the Navy has no choice but to pursue renewable energy sources and alternative fuels.

“We have to be, and will be relentless, in our pursuit of energy goals that will continue to make us a more effective fighting force, and our military and our nation more energy independent. Our Navy and our nation can afford no less,” Mabus said.

He argued that Congress would never agree to sell the Iranians a ship building contract, yet the U.S. military continues to allow the world oil market, which includes Iran, to dictate the service’s ops tempo.

“We buy too much fossil fuel from potentially, or actually, volatile places on earth. We would never let the countries that we buy fuel from build our ships or our planes, but we give them a say on whether those ships sail or those planes fly because we’re dependent on them for fuel,” Mabus said.

He compared the Navy’s progression to renewable energies and alternative fuels to past technological leaps in maritime history such as the switch from sail to coal, and then coal to oil, to power ships. Those advances cost more up front just like the Navy is experiencing with renewable energy. Like past technological advances, it will be worth the investment, Mabus said.

“If this argument would have carried the day than we’d still be using sails. We’d never have built nuclear subs and we wouldn’t be building them today because they are still a lot more expensive than conventional submarines,” Mabus said.

The Navy is already seeing a reduction in the costs for biofuels. In the future, renewable fuels will produce “considerable cost savings for the Navy and the Marine Corps,” Mabus said.

Shipbuilding concerns

Much like the repeated questions he receives on the Navy’s Green Fleet, the Navy secretary has heard enough comparisons of the service’s fleet size to the pre-World War I U.S. Navy.

In response, Mabus had a comparison of his own.

“Comparing our fleet to the one of 1917 is like comparing the telegraph to the smartphone. It is just not comparable. Technology that we have today, the ability to use our fleet today, is astoundingly different from what it was 100 years ago, than from what it was 20 years ago,” he said.

When Mabus took over as the Navy secretary in 2009, he said the ship building programs were a “mess” with costs spiraling out of control. The Navy has recaptured control by harnessing unrealistic requirements, he said.

The Navy now stands ready to field a fleet of 300 ships by 2019 and sustain that fleet size, Mabus said.

“We will have the right number of the right kind of ships to meet all our missions under the new defense strategy,” Mabus said. “I think that is something remarkable.”