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Navy Launches Green Hornet

The Navy intends to deploy an energy efficient “Great Green Fleet” carrier strike group consisting of ships powered either by nuclear energy or biofuels with an attached air wing of fighter jets fueled entirely by biofuels. The “green” strike group was part of an ambitious energy efficient agenda that will include a radical restructuring of the way the Navy and Marine Corps awards industry contracts, laid out today by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, at the Naval Energy Forum in McLean, Va.

The Navy conducted the initial tests yesterday of a biofuel powered engine for a new F/A-18 “Green Hornet,” Mabus said. He vowed the new plane would fly within three years. Hybrid electric power systems using biofuels will power the sensors, weapons and other electronic systems onboard the green strike group’s surface combatants. The strike group will demonstrate local operations by 2012 and will be fully operational by 2016.

Mabus said the Navy and Marine Corps intend to reshape their approach to awarding shipbuilding and weapons contracts to favor companies that provide the most energy efficient products. From now on, he said, lifetime energy consumption costs and the “fully burdened cost of fueling and powering” all ships, planes, weapons and buildings will be a “mandatory evaluation factor” used in awarding contracts.

“We’re going to hold industry contractually accountable for meeting energy targets and system efficiency requirements,” Mabus said. “We’ll also use the overall energy efficiency and the energy footprint of a competing company as an additional factor in acquisition decisions.” All new surface combatants will be built from the ground up with energy efficient systems installed, he said.

The Navy also plans to convert its fleet of 50,000 commercial vehicles at its many bases to electric and hybrid power by 2015. By 2020, half of all the service’s shore-based installation energy use will be powered by alternative fuels as well as solar, wind and geothermal sources. While readily acknowledging that biofuel prices are high, Mabus said prices will go down as biofuel production increases and that the military’s shift to greater biofuel use will incentivize more biofuel production.

Improvements to the traditionally fueled F/A-18 engines will increase the fuel efficiency of each aircraft by three percent, Mabus said. Those improvements will not only allow the planes to fly further on the same tank of fuel but could potentially save 127,000 barrels of fuel per plane per year.

While Mabus said the Navy and Marine Corps have an obligation to do something today to reduce their impact on the environment, the Navy is particularly mindful of rising fuel costs as oil prices climb above $70 a barrel. To fill the 450,000 gallon fuel tank on the Navy’s DDG-51 destroyer today costs $643,000, said RADM Phillip Cullom, who heads the service’s Task Force Energy. That’s an improvement over last summer’s $1.8 million cost to fill the destroyer’s tanks when oil prices soared above $100 per barrel.

Additional fleet-wide energy saving initiatives include tests of a new anti-fouling coating to be applied to ship’s hulls and the installation of stern flaps on amphibious ships intended to increase fuel efficiency, Mabus said.

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