USA Broadening Conservation Focus to Weapons Systems
The Pentagon’ has increased its attention to energy conservation in the wake of a recent Army Corps of Engineers report, as well as its rising outlays for fuel. House Armed Services committee force Projection subcommittee chair Rep. Roscoe Bartlett [R-MD] is looking at current and projected fuel prices, and asking seriously about expanding the use of nuclear power plants in the US Navy. Others are floating technologies like KiteShips. Meanwhile, Inside Defense adds further insights as the breadth of the issue and its implications seep in at the Pentagon:
“A departmental focus on improving energy conservation in weapon systems would represent a change from the current DOD emphasis on reducing energy consumption at its facilities. One observer familiar with the Pentagon’s energy programs says there appears to be “growing recognition” within the department that the energy conservation issue is much broader than facilities.
While the Defense Science Board in 2001 said the department could significantly reduce costs and boost performance and environmental benefits if it were to make fuel efficiency a priority across its weapon platforms, more recent factors, such as the Gulf Coast hurricanes and rising fuel costs — seem to be spurring a focus on the issue. At the time, the DSB found fuels’ true costs when delivered far into the battlefield could reach hundreds of dollars per gallon.”
Meanwhile, on the maritime front, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett [R-MD] had this to say in his opening remarks [PDF] at the April 6, 2006 Hearing On Efficient Propulsion Systems for Navy Vessels :
In a recent briefing given to me by Admiral Donald, Director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion, he stated that the life cycle cost efficiency lines have already crossed for our large deck amphibious ships [LHA Tarawa Class, LHD Wasp Class, and the future LHA-R] to go nuclear, and that when crude oil reaches $205 dollars a barrel, those lines will cross for our surface combatants – and the International Energy Agency agrees oil will eventually reach over $200 dollars a barrel.
In the Inside Defense article, Ronald O’Rourke of the Congressional Research Service noted that as of February , the price of the Navy’s diesel was $84 per barrel, and that $80/bbl was the crossing point for the 42,000t-50,000t LHA/LHD ships. See O’Rourke’s complete April 6, 2006 testimony before the subcommittee [PDF] for more, as his testimony also included figures related to ship design, the efficiency of various power plant options, and even way-out sounding options like Kiteships and SkySails. This snippet was particularly interesting:
“…the RMI team started by calculating what it’s worth to save a kilowatt-hour [on a CG-47 Ticonderoga class vessel]. Since the electricity is being made inefficiently from fuel that’s mainly delivered by “oiler” ships, the answer is an eye-popping 27 cents, six times a typical industrial tariff ashore. This high cost makes “negawatts” really juicy. For example, each percentage point of improved efficiency in a single 100-horsepower always-on motor is worth $1,000 a year.”
Naval analyst Mr. Norman Friedman also gave testimony before the committee [PDF format]. He sketched out the critical role played by oil in all of the 20th century’s major conflicts, discussed the military’s difficulties and challenges around shipboard nuclear power plants, and asked a provocative question: If 30-50 years is probably the time scale for dramatic changes in the availability of fossil fuels, and also the expected lifetime of many US Navy surface ships, to what extent can a ship be designed with what amounts to an open architecture for propulsion? Electric drive may represent one such option.
On which subject, Rep. Bartlett added:
“The subcommittee understands the Navy is currently emphasizing electric propulsion to improve the efficiency and operation of its surface ships and submarines. Most notably, the subcommittee is aware that the Navy’s original choice for DD (X) propulsion was the Permanent Magnet Motor, or P M M. During testing of the P M M, technical difficulties were experienced and the Navy hastily decided to switch to the program’s back-up solution, the Advanced Induction Motor, or A I M.
…Here we are 7 years later, and the Navy has regressed to implementing the very same technology they said in 1999 cost too much, weighed too much, and didn’t meet acoustic requirements.
In an analysis provided to me last week, completed in May 2005 by the DD (X) program offices of the Navy and Northrop Grumman, the same logic applies today as it did in 1999… Given that P M M’s technical issues were quickly resolved after the initial setback, the subcommittee will be interested to learn why the Navy is not planning to test the more cost efficient, more energy efficient, Permanent Magnet Motor for implementation into DD (X).
The DD (X), now known as the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class, looks more like a research test-bed and less like a warship class every day. Nevertheless, this is precisely the kind of issue that can be expected to rise in importance and profile if increased focus on energy efficiency in future military designs becomes a reality.