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McGinn: Navy Energy Programs Are ‘All About Warfighting’

Retired Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn. US Marine Corps Photo

Retired Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn. US Marine Corps Photo

When asked what happens to the Navy’s energy initiatives when President Barack Obama leaves office in January, the service’s top civilian official overseeing those efforts said, “Nothing”—because the business and warfighting cases “just makes sense.”

Retired Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, speaking Tuesday at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., added, “It isn’t a zero sum game” in achieving energy, economic and environmental security. “It’s time to change,” a broad concept from better efficiency, different kinds of fuels, solar power, hybrid-electric drive in amphibious ships and refitted destroyers, etc.—which he said has been adopted in both the Navy and the Marine Corps.

“There is also a constrained budget,” said Phyllis Cuttino, an energy expert at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “Any money they [the Navy and the Defense Department] can save can be put into mission.”

“This is all about warfighting,” McGinn said. In July, during the Rim of the Pacific exercise involving 54 nations, he said, the U.S. Navy will be “providing samples of our biofuel blends” for others to examine. In June, an Italian oiler will replenish American warships in the Mediterranean with biofuel blends produced there.

While petroleum prices now are low—fluctuating from about $30 a barrel several months ago to about $40 now, McGinn said that the Navy takes a long view on energy prices and energy needs—”five years, 10 years, 15 years down the road, over the horizon.”

The current low prices are also creating a movement to consolidation in the energy production market, said Daniel Chiu, of the Atlantic Council. That, in turn, he said, could drive prices back up. “The only prudent thing is to hedge,” as the Navy is doing.

In that view, McGinn said the service expects increased competition for fuel and other energy sources as the world’s population increases from 7 billion to 9 billion. In the United States, continued climate change has produced severe droughts in California—with its significant Navy and Marine Corps presence—and “King Tides” in Hampton Roads, the largest concentration of naval forces in the world. It also threatens global fault lines that can change fragile nations to failed states in trying to cope with disasters and humanitarian relief in times of crisis. It’s “a recipe for more missions” for the United States, McGinn said, and presents a common threat to allies and partners..

“It makes sense of diversify our portfolio.”

McGinn said that Navy has been actively seeking public-private partnerships in these efforts in solar, biofuels, geo-thermal and wind, where a case can be made. “We’re trying to bring in as many new ideas” as possible from established large businesses, and beginning small ones.

“It’s actually a two-way street,” Chiu said, with the government and the private sector learning from each other what is needed and what works.

Cuttino noted the rebalance to the Pacific means that the Navy and Marine Corps will be operating over greater distances and 80 percent of what the services had shipped in the past was fuel, with most of it bought overseas. Chiu added that anti access/area denial moves by potential adversaries usually target the long energy supply chain.

“Energy is a priority,” Cuttino said. Citing the need for continuous energy on domestic installations, she said disruption could affect operations of unmanned aerial vehicles on missions being flown in the Middle East.

Those efforts afloat and ashore should not be judged by “how much money we save” but “time on station,” McGinn said.

Chiu said, “Most of the focus is on adaptation” of energy sources, and “that’s good.” But “it still leaves the mitigation piece [dealing significantly with climate change] off the table.”

“This is really an enduring proposition,” and “the Navy has been a real leader” in looking at its future energy needs, Cuttino said.