U.S. Navy Rethinks Fuel Tank Convoys

Allison Loudermilk

A Pakistani firefighter looks at burning trucks allegedly attacked by militants in Nowshera near Peshawar, Pakistan, on Oct. 6, 2010. (Image courtesy AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

Fossil fuels are under attack these days -- literally. In October 2010 alone, attackers have targeted NATO fuel convoys in Pakistan on six different occasions, killing seven people and destroying dozens of oil tankers, according to Nasir Habib's CNN story. In one instance, 54 different tankers went down, Habib reports.

When you think about the great, big lumbering trucks and factor in some basic military strategy, it's easy to see why the vehicles are picked off. Cut off the fuel supply of the opposing force and you put a serious crimp in its ability to get things done. War has always been a materially intensive gig, so blocking the flow of supplies like fuel makes strategic sense. Why else did the Union Army jockey to control the Mississippi River during the Civil War? In Pakistan, the recent attacks succeeded in shutting down the Khyber Pass, a critical route linking Afghanistan and Pakistan, for 11 days.

Given that background, it starts to become apparent why the U.S. military is rethinking its stance on fossil fuels. "First and foremost, energy reform is about the lives of our troops. For every 24 fuel convoys that go into Afghanistan, we lose one American, killed or wounded. That is too high a price to pay for energy," writes Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, on the White House blog. What's the Navy doing about it? Among other lofty goals, it aims to derive more than half of its total energy needs from alternative sources by 2020. (You can check out all of the U.S. Navy's energy goals here.)

One question still remains for me (and maybe for you, too). No matter the energy source, won't strategically significant military technology and supplies remain targets, green or otherwise? No doubt, greening the armed forces comes with cost and resources benefits, but will it come with arguably the most important benefit of all? Fewer lives lost? A fuel tank full of ethanol is still a pretty handy target; electric vehicles maybe not so much. What do you guys think?