Could one of the world's most elite fighting units really be "going green?"
"They’re going to produce all the energy and the drinking water that they need. They’re going to use flexible generators that are many times more efficient than the generators we’re using today. They’re using portable solar battery chargers. They’re using portable solar rays. They’re using highly portable water purification units."
But Mabus rejected any notion that the moving the military towards green choices has to do with political correctness or ideology. "Energy is a gap," Mabus said, "It’s a vulnerability. So we’re doing this for one reason: to be better war fighters."
In the case of the SEAL Green team, the idea is that they won't have to be resupplied as often, and will be able to stay in remote locations longer. SEALs operate in all climates around the world, and need power for electronics, air conditioning, water purification and heating in remote outposts. The Green Seal unit will use solar arrays, solar battery chargers and flexible generators to power their devices, Mabus said.
Recent solar debacles have cast a negative light over government involvement in solar technology, but as Mabus pointed out, historically speaking the U.S. military has always been a leader in emerging energy technology. Mabus said, "We pioneered energy use and have almost throughout our entire history: in the 1850s, sail to coal; in the early 20th century, coal to oil; in the 1950s, pioneered the use of nuclear for transportation."
Even more importantly, there have already been small-scale but highly successful trials involving military use of solar and other renewable technology with the Marine Corps.
India Company, a component of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, was the first deployed combat unit to be equipped with highly portable, front-line solar gear. Developed by Navy scientists, the equipment received its first boots-on-the-ground testing over the summer, and set a new blueprint for Marine Corps energy use.
The portable solar gear was so popular, soldiers have apparently requested more of it be shipped to Afghanistan even faster than originally planed. “Guys didn’t want to give it up,” said Maj. Sean Sadlier, a logistics analyst with the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office. “What better review can you get than that.”
One officer involved in Marine operations in Sangin said he was skeptical of the gear at first and didn't want to burden his men with "science projects," but when he asked his men the response was that “They found it was a combat multiplier," according to military times.
This December, the U.S. Marine Corps plans to send 10 sets of 20 solar panel systems to Afghanistan to power patrol and forward operating bases. Marine Corps brass believed using energy saving systems such as tent liners, LED lights, solar powered radios mini-generating grids could save the taxpayer more than $40 million per year as compared to gas generator use.
Right now, Marines consume 5 million barrels of oil a day a a cost of $1 billion a year. And most importantly, the solar plan cuts down on resupply missions, which can result in marines killed or wounded in action. Statistically speaking, one Marine is wounded for every 50 fuel and water resupply convoys driven into Afghanistan.
Mabus said he views this all very pragmatically. “When it comes to energy, everything we’re doing is to make us better warfighters and more secure," he said, "Energy conservation and efficiency increase our combat range and endurance.”
If renewable energy tech truly saves marine lives and helps them in their war fighting efforts, "going green" could increasingly become a military necessity in the 21-st century.