Selection board, Battle ‘E’ criteria to include efficiency
By Joshua Stewart
The Navy Times
If you’re an officer, saving energy may earn you a promotion or your command a Battle “E.”
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who has spent the past two years trying to wean the service off of fossil fuels, said promotion boards will consider an officer’s energy management when deciding whether to move him up. Furthermore, Battle E commendations will be based, in small part, on a command’s ability to sip fuel instead of guzzle.
Those are two of the ways Mabus and senior Navy officers are trying to cut the amount of fossil fuels ships and aircraft burn and resources spent while ashore. It’s part of a comprehensive campaign that turns energy efficiency into as much of a combat necessity as ammunition. It includes the basics of energy management, steps like turning off lights and using more efficient appliances ashore. But it also means that ships may sometimes steam at slower, more fuel-efficient speeds, aviators will spend more time in simulators than in the sky, and sailors on the ground will carry solar panels on missions.
Speaking at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Naval Energy Forum in Washington, D.C., Mabus said increasing energy independence reduces the sea services’ dependence on oil from adversaries while reducing the need to refuel, which takes ships out of combat while making them vulnerable to attacks.
“Energy is a gap. It’s a vulnerability. We’re doing this for one thing: To be better war fighters,” Mabus said in his Oct. 13 address before military and defense industry officials.
It requires changes across the service. Some, like replacing fossil fuels with a blend of vegetable-based fuels, won’t be noticeable if all goes as planned. Others, like using routes that take advantage of favorable currents, may have a more obvious impact.
“A dollar spent on wasted energy is a dollar you’re not spending on war fighting,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert.
People attached to ships will notice some changes. For one, some training exercises may occur while still tied to the pier, allowing sailors to train without burning fuel, said Adm. John Harvey, head of Fleet Forces Command.
“Some things have to be done at sea, but with high-fidelity simulation, a great deal of very, very effective training can still be done while tied up pierside,” Harvey said.
Hulls and propellers will be painted with special coatings to increase efficiency, and hybrid drives like the one on the amphibious assault ship Makin Island will become more common, he said.
Part of the success, Harvey said, is convincing sailors that energy efficiency is important. He doesn’t expect it to be much of a problem because young enlisted and officers come from a generation that’s more concerned about fuel efficiency than his own. It will make them more receptive to the Navy’s initiatives.
“Our audience, I think, gets it,” he said.
Inside the ships, sailors can expect a few new things, said Rear Adm. Ann Phillips, deputy director of the Surface Warfare Division.
A $23 million contract was just awarded to install solid-state lighting in some ships to reduce energy use and maintenance. And stern flaps are being added to amphibs. So far the Makin Island, Kearsarge and dock landing ship Whidbey Island have been retrofitted with stern flaps, making them around 3.5 percent more energy efficient.
“These ships burn large amounts of fuel every year. So even a small savings will add up to a considerable amount over time,” Phillips said. Ships will be equipped with programs that consider tides, energy and weather to plan efficient routes, she said.
While the surface warfare community will drill more in port, aviators will spend more time in simulators. Aviation fuel accounts for about two-thirds of the Navy’s energy costs, and each time the price of petroleum fuels goes up, it strains flying hours. But simulation training saves gasoline and maintenance costs while reducing wear on aircraft, said Vice Adm. David Architzel, commander of Naval Air Systems Command.
The Navy is researching ways to insulate itself from hiccups in the global energy market. For one, it’s trying to power more vehicles with biofuel blends, fuels that use a mix of processed vegetable oil and traditional fuel. In late September, an MQ-B Fire Scout flew on biofuel, completing a series of demonstrations in which every airframe in the Navy went airborne on the alternative fuel.
“We usually have small challenges, as always, in testing, but I tell you quite frankly that there have been no anomalies,” Architzel said.
Even SEALs will cut their energy use. Mabus said a SEAL team will soon deploy with equipment that will make them entirely energy self-sufficient. They’ll carry flexible solar panels, their own water treatment equipment, and their own battery chargers. In effect, they’ll do their mission off the grid.
“We hear a lot about our special operators, and they are special,” Mabus said. “Allowing them to not have to be resupplied with fuel and water will make them even better at what they do.”
This article appeared on page 19 of the October 24th print edition of The Navy Times.