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GOP leaders fight back against Navy’s ‘Great Green Fleet’

Melissa Quinn Contributor

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ “Great Green Fleet” is proving to be less than great, and a host of Republican leaders are advocating against the ships, which are set to hit the high seas in 2016.

Mabus first unveiled his plan to build a green fleet in October 2009, but further analysis of the ships has shown that the fleet may be a flop.

Republican leaders believe the green fleet comes at the taxpayers’ expense at a time when the Department of Defense needs to be saving money as opposed to spending it.

“There’s no question that the military can be more fuel-efficient, and we should leverage innovative developments in the private sector to help make that happen,” said Amanda Henneberg, a spokeswoman for presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. “But sinking $70 million worth of taxpayer money into a Solyndra-style showboat is not the answer. The purpose of our Armed Forces is to keep Americans safe — not act as a centerpiece for green energy pet-projects.”

Last October, in opposition to President Barack Obama’s cuts to shipbuilding, Romney pledged $40 billion to build new ships.

“As the Department of Defense faces drastic budget cuts, the last thing the military needs is to be forced by President Obama to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on an expensive green energy agenda,” Republican Sen. James Inhofe told The Hill.

The Navy has already slashed more than $58.1 billion from its 2013 budget — the most out of the armed services — and faces sharp declines in military personnel and ship production. The service has also committed to cutting production on drones by more than 50 percent while other countries are upping theirs — and looking to domestic defense companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to develop them.

“Alternative energy is a great thing for us to do research on and keep on the horizon, but what we should not be doing is spending millions and millions in taxpayer money that we have to take from men and women in uniform,” Republican Rep. Randy Forbes, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Daily Caller.

Forbes, along with members of the committee from both parties, has demanded analysis and research into alternative energy from the secretary of the Navy but has gotten nothing in return.

Once the fleet leaves port, Forbes said, the taxpayers are going to be paying for a fuel that could be as much as 5 percent less efficient than others. And, for those ships heading into foreign waters, almost 10 percent of all fuel purchased will be bought overseas.

“That’s just it,” Forbes said. “What the secretary will tell you is that this is designed to lessen the need for foreign oil, but there’s absolutely nothing in biofuels that lessens that need.”

The biofuel industry in the United States has yet to take off, but the Navy — along with the Departments of Agriculture and Energy — has already committed to pumping more than $170 million into the industry to act as a catalyst.

Some speculate the secretary is working to satisfy a need by the Obama administration — a charge that Forbes agrees with.

“He’s trying to help out an industry that’s helping out the administration in some way by paying four times as much as we would for any other fuel,” Forbes said of Mabus. “I think this is a huge boon dog on the part of the administration.”

According to a report released by the Department of Defense, the Navy would have to buy 336 million gallons of biofuel each year to satisfy the needs of the green fleet at a cost of $$1.89 billion annually. The cost of the fuel alone totals more than the cost of the ships it’s being pumped into.

“I think it is an unimaginable for me that, when were facing all these cuts in every other area, that this is the one area where the DOD would increase their spending when they have no analysis as to what the ultimate cost will be,” Forbes said.

But the Navy’s Great Green Fleet incorporates more than just ships. So far, the Pentagon has tested a 50/50 combination of biofuel and conventional jet fuel in a series of current fighters, including the F-18 Hornet. The Navy’s newest aircraft, the F-35, has yet to be tested on biofuel — and the Navy will soon be seeing a lot more of those.

On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reaffirmed the Pentagon’s commitment to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is currently in production by Lockheed Martin.

“The F-35 represents, I believe, the future of tactical aviation for both of our armed services,” he said at a press briefing on Wednesday. The planes will make it possible to “effectively control the skies to confront the enemies of tomorrow.” (RELATED: Top five reasons the F-35 will rule the sky)

The fighter, which costs upwards of $1 trillion, has been the source of major controversy at the Pentagon — and is only proven to fly with conventional jet fuel. So far, the Navy has committed to purchasing 27 of the planes from Lockheed Martin by 2016 — the same time the green fleet will set sail. By 2017, the Navy will have a grand total of 41 fighters.

Lockheed Martin continues to test the aircraft running on conventional jet fuel, said Bob Rubino, program director for the F-35 in Lockheed Martin’s Washington, D.C., office.

Once the plane is fully certified, it will be up to the Navy to decide to test it using biofuel.

Mabus’ Great Green Fleet is currently being paraded around at the Rim of the Pacific exercise, with demonstrations taking place on Wednesday.

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