Logistics: The Military Battles The Rising Price Of Oil

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July 3, 2008: The U.S. Department of Defense consumes about 110 million barrels of oil a year (about two percent of all U.S. oil use). At current prices, that's over $15 billion a year just for fuel. About 8 percent of that goes for ships, giving the U.S. Navy a big incentive to find ways to move the ships using less fuel. Lots of ideas for that have been developed over the years, but there was little financial, or command, incentive to implement. Now there is, and the navy has managed to come up with ways to save about 12 percent on their fuel bills.

Two measures accounted for most of the savings. First, there was a program to simply tweak ship power systems to reduce fuel use, without getting in the way of running the ship. This has been a pet peeve of many sailors, and navy critics, for a long time. That's because it was noticed how the navy was falling behind commercial shipbuilding in areas like automation and more efficient operation in general. Navy crews were seen as too large, and not always making the most efficient use of their time. As is often the case, a serious shortage (of money to pay for fuel) has changed attitudes. Five years ago, oil cost under $30 a barrel. A year ago, it was under $70 a barrel. Now it's $140 a barrel. New ideas are suddenly welcome, 

The second initiative is to make the ships more hydrodynamic (moving through the water more easily.) This includes anti-fouling coating for the hull, stern flaps, and other tweaks.  Future initiatives involve low-power light fixtures, and lower power equipment in general, as well as sensors to shut off equipment when not needed. Plus anything else smart sailors can come up with.

A more long distance solution is to equip more ships with nuclear power. With oil headed to $200 a barrel, and over half a century of experience with this technology (and an exemplary safety record), this is one way to cut a lot of fuel cost. That won't help the fuel costs for aircraft (73 percent of all military oil consumption), or ground vehicles (15 percent), but every little bit helps.

 


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