On The Front Lines: Energy, the Environment and Security

by Ellen Ternes


Global scientific observations and measurements confirm that higher sea levels, stronger and more frequent storms, melting glaciers, evaporating water sources and hotter deserts are here, with no signs of subsiding. Climate and environment are critical to how the Navy and Marine Corps operate today and how the Naval Academy prepares midshipmen for their roles as Navy and Marine Corps officers of the future.  

Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn ’67, USN (Ret.), returned from his second tour as a combat pilot in Vietnam in 1973 as the OPEC oil embargo, imposed after the Arab-Israeli War, was choking off America’s oil supply.

“I got back to the States and found myself, along with my fellow Americans, sitting in gas station lines, rationing gas for the first time since World War II,” McGinn recalled. “I was really struck that while I was an experienced combat Navy pilot, and I knew something about national security, it was evident that our energy security had a tremendous impact on the economy, our quality of life and, ultimately, on just about every aspect of our national security.”

As he moved up in the ranks, commanding a fleet oiler, an aircraft carrier, then the Third Fleet, serving as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Requirements and Programs, and, after retiring, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment, McGinn said, “I never forgot that energy impact. Over the years, I studied a lot about energy and came to the conclusion that our energy security, economic security, and more recently, our environmental security are all inextricably linked.”

Environment and Security
A 2007 Center for Naval Analyses Military Advisory Board report by a senior team of retired flag officers from all services pointed directly to security threats posed by potential environmental changes such as sea level rise, drought, the changing Arctic and increased storm frequency  and severity.

“One of the key conclusions was that climate change and the severe weather effects it will produce will act as a threat multiplier for instability in critical parts of the world,” McGinn said. “This has always been a factor, but the frequency and intensity are much greater. Whether it’s humanitarian assistance or all the way up to regional war caused by competition for critical resources or migration, climate change is a driver of more mission demands on our armed forces.”
Sea level rise has grown as a challenge for the Navy, especially in the Mid-Atlantic. A 2016 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists said the sea level around Naval Station Norfolk, much of which lies less than 10 feet above sea level, is projected to rise between 4.5 and 6.9 feet by the end of the century. Tidal flooding could increase from an average of nine times a year to 280 annual incidents by 2050.

The Naval Academy and the city of Annapolis are also experiencing higher water more often. A tide gauge at the Academy monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows sea level around Annapolis has risen by more than a foot over the last century—more than twice the global average. A severe storm like Hurricane Isabel in 2003 could bring a storm surge of five feet or more, damaging buildings, roads and piers. Ocean science and the Arctic are special concerns for Oceanographer of the Navy Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet ’89, USN, who heads the newly formed Task Force Ocean.

As reported in Seapower, Gallaudet told the 2017 Sea-Air-Space Exposition that Task Force Ocean was created to advance the Navy’s understanding of the oceans. Said Gallaudet, “Adversaries are using survey ships, unmanned vehicles and are using modeling to understand the ocean better … They are equaling, or coming up very closely, in their efforts to predict and to observe the environment … Our adversaries are catching up so we want to stay ahead.”

About the Arctic, Gallaudet told the San Diego Tribune, “I was up there in March on the Arctic ice … We made camp, and two submarines surfaced below the ice. It was all designed around using their sonar to hide from each other and hunt from each other. The breakup of sea ice changes the ocean structure, so we’re revising tactics to be effective in a new environment.”

Energy Security
When he was the fueling officer on his first ship, the steamship Dewey (DDG 45), Rear Admiral Rick Williamson ’85, USN, said, “I lived every single day knowing where that oiler was. As an ensign, if I could figure that out, I guarantee you somebody with much more experience as an adversary could too, so as you get older you realize that is a disadvantage.”

Today, gas turbine has replaced steam. “They can go 13 days and travel half way across the world,” said Williamson. “So using technology, we found different ways to procure energy,” a lesson that Williamson took to heart.

Now commander of Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia, Williamson has become one of the Navy’s staunchest advocates of environmental actions that give the Navy and Marine Corps a deeper reserve of energy options, at sea and on shore. 

“I’ve been the region commander in CONUS and OCONUS, and while the challenges are different, the essence is the same—to enable the fleet to do its mission. The bottom line is just like a ship, you don’t want to get into a single point of failure.”

When he oversaw the Navy’s Renewable Energy Program Office as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Dennis McGinn led efforts to help naval operations and installations build greater mission resiliency with energy efficiency programs, renewable energy and technologies such as micro grids.

“We need to continue to change how we generate, store and use energy, to increase our energy resilience in a way that makes sense for our Navy and Marine Corps and the communities where our bases are.”

Incorporating solar power in San Diego, forming partnerships with civilian power providers to MCAS Miramar and building solar farms on NAS Lemoore were among projects McGinn oversaw. One of the most significant accomplishments, he said, came about when “we worked with the Western Area Power Authority, Department of Energy, and Sempra Energy in San Diego. They built a large solar farm 50 miles west of Phoenix, which over the next 25 years will provide over a third of the energy needs of our Navy and Marine Corps bases in California, at less cost than continuing to rely exclusively on brown power,” he said.

Rick Williamson was commanding officer of Naval Base San Diego when the Secretary of the Navy challenged installations to be more energy conscious. “I was fortunate enough to have a team that embraced that,” Williamson said. By doing everything from turning off lights and computers at night to being conscious of their use of water, which requires energy to pump, the base earned the Presidential Green Award in 2011.

Said Williamson, “To old guys like me it was new and amazing. For the young sailors I was leading, they were like, ‘Hey boss, we kind of get all this stuff in elementary school and high school. We’re supposed to take care of the environment.’”

(Outside Continental United States)
In Williamson’s new command, which oversees three continents including eight bases in seven countries, it’s a different challenge.  “At CONUS installations there are tremendous opportunities to generate power through wind turbine or solar. In a foreign country, some of that technology exists in some places, in some it doesn’t,” said Williamson. “In Djibouti, for example, a hot day temperature can be 135 degrees. For someone to be effective in that environment, we have to provide some sort of air conditioning, have to ensure they get a shower.”

“At the other extreme, in January in Poland it was minus 21 degrees Fahrenheit this winter, so the heating becomes very critical. There’s a brand new structure there built with energy conservation in mind. The ability to be innovative and find alternative means to produce the power to run the installation is very crucial for us.”

Having multiple energy sources also can make a difference to the security of Marines in austere environments. “We should not just rely on diesel generators, which require long, predictable logistics lines for fuel convoys, exposing Marines to roadside bombs and RPG attacks” said McGinn. “By using a combination of energy efficient equipment, a mix of diesel, solar, wind turbine and other alternative energy at forward operating bases, our Marines greatly reduce the need to guard dangerous fuel convoys which take them away from applying forward combat pressure on the enemy.”

Cyber and Energy
“It’s not a question of if, but when you’re going to have a cyber attack,” McGinn said. “We need to make sure our cyber defenses are good, but also we must configure the power grid in a way that doesn’t cause widespread vulnerability or long term outages. That’s where the use of micro-grids comes in.”
“Having resilient and reliable means to keep the energy we need, to keep the planes flying the ships and submarines at sea and to take care of our sailors and their families on shore is vital,” said Rick Williamson. “We spend a lot of time, especially on the technical side, making sure we meet all the cyber regulations. It’s the life blood of the installation.”

Williamson found that diversifying the power grid at Naval Base San Diego had another upside. “Every cent, every dollar we can save of taxpayers’ money to correlate readiness and the environment can be redirected to other things I need as a base.”

“Take a close look at the costs, benefits and risks of doing something or not doing something about our energy security,” McGinn said. “The case is very compelling, business as usual is not a good option. And the business case is measured not just in dollars and cents, but in reducing the mission risks to sailors and Marines.”

The Future
McGinn says a big difference between his early years in the Navy and today is that there are new sensing and computational resources to help understand what’s happening in the ocean and throughout the environment. “We have a lot more sensing capability, whether it’s structural, on the ocean, under the ocean, in space. Our ability to understand weather patterns and climate trends is so much better. At both a strategic and operational level, there have been tremendous advances in our ability to measure and predict trends and to manage risks,” said McGinn.

“In terms of operational energy efficiency, more fight, less fuel, makes so much sense to the war fighter,” he added. “If you’re on a ship that’s charged with missile defense or covering in a Tomahawk launch window on a DDG that has hybrid electric drive, you can stay on station a lot longer without having to rendezvous with an oiler to refuel or even return to port. That adds directly to your war fighting capabilities.”

Rick Williamson is optimistic about how today’s young officers and enlisted think about the environment and security. “They’re innovative and tremendously smart individuals,” he said. “If you communicate where you’re trying to go, they really get that. I’m very proud of the Navy. We lead the way in a lot of respects, in this idea of energy conservation and environmental awareness, not only for our mission, but as U.S. citizens.”

Responding to Annapolis sea level data and impacts that are already occurring, the Naval Academy is planning for the future. The Sea Level Rise Advisory Council, formed in 2015, is putting together a detailed work plan for the Academy property. The Council also coordinates with the city of Annapolis and Historic Annapolis and the State of Maryland.

In a time of sometimes heated debate about climate change and security, McGinn is clear where he stands. “We’ve got to get the politics out of science, out of engineering. Climate is changing, and human activity has a direct bearing on that. To operate in a future national security environment, we have to seize the leadership mantle and prepare now to be successful in our missions. That brings us to that intersection of energy, economy and environment, and its tremendous impact on the national security of the United States.”


Sea Level Rise is Here

Captain Emil Petruncio ’85, USN, military professor in the Naval Academy’s Oceanography Department and co-chair of the Academy’s Sea Level Rise Advisory Council, recently spoke to the Climate Stewards of Greater Annapolis about what the Academy and Annapolis could expect from rising sea levels. He presented recent studies and projections and talked about how the Academy is preparing. Following are some highlights from his presentation.
What’s Happening
Coastal area sea levels are rising. The rate of sea level rise is especially high in the Northeast region. The Academy and Annapolis are already seeing significant increases in the frequency of nuisance flooding on low-lying roads and sidewalks.

 • Causes include glacial loss, thermal expansion caused by warming temperatures, changes in ground water storage and vertical land movement. 
 • Dealing with projected rise includes considering the range of plausible scenarios, comparing costs of protecting to costs of repair and replacement and considering acceptable levels of risk for various buildings and infrastructure.

Computer modeling by NOAA, the DoD-led Coastal Assessment Regional Scenario Working Group and other experts project:

 • Sea level rise along most of the coastal Northeast is expected to exceed the global average rise by 2100. According to NOAA, the plausible range of sea level  rise scenarios for Annapolis is from 0.6 to 3.6 feet by 2050, and 0.9 to 11.7 feet by 2100 (relative to mean sea level in 1992). 
 • Hurricane Isabel, with its 6-foot storm surge, caused more than $100 million in damages to the Academy. Similar water levels could become a one in five year event by the end of the century.
 • The 2014 National Climate Assessment reported that sea level rise of two feet, without any changes in storms, would more than triple the frequency of dangerous coastal flooding throughout most of the Northeast.

Academy Action
 • Formed the Sea Level Rise Advisory Council to investigate USNA vulnerabilities and mitigation strategies.
 • Considering adapting facilities to cope with flooding—moving heating and ventilation equipment to rooftops and building underground reservoirs to capture storm water.
 • New construction designed for flooding. The new cybersecurity building, Hopper Hall, will serve as a flood barrier; other new buildings to be constructed at higher elevations.
 • Coordinate plans with Annapolis and the State of Maryland.

Source: Shipmate: August 2017

Preparing Midshipmen for Energy Challenges
In 2014, in response to SECNAV energy goals, Naval Academy faculty from four very different majors—engineering, political science, oceanography, economics—got together to create an interdisciplinary elective on energy that would appeal to midshipmen in all the majors.

The goal, said Professor Karen Flack, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, “was to make a really interesting course that challenged their ideas about energy. We thought long and hard about the things we wanted to teach and how to challenge them to think as naval officers.

“We had two main things to push. One was that their use of energy as naval officers matters, that they’ll be able to do their mission better if they use it in a wise way. And, two, that energy is related to national security of all nations. If there’s a vulnerability or a scarcity, they could be called in as naval officers to help do something, and they need to understand the complexity of international policy and security.”

The result was a course called Energy Analysis, Policy and Security— Energy Security for short. Now entering its third year, the course gets midshipmen to look at energy from all angles and think critically about how energy affects security and mission. 

“We let the midshipmen know from day one it’s going to be a very different class,” Flack said. “We have four classes at the same time, half the time in their own discipline and half of them all together. There have been similar versions at other schools, but not with the breadth and as many disciplines as we have.”

The course got its start with some funding from the Navy’s Office of Energy, Installations and Environment, when Dennis McGinn was at the helm, and the faculty still works with the office, said Flack, “to germinate the Navy with energy leaders.”

Military and government leaders visit the class to give the midshipmen a real-world look at energy issues. McGinn has talked about energy security. Directors of the Marine Corps expeditionary energy office have shared concerns about the energy profile of forward operating bases. The midshipmen have travelled to the State Department to hear from energy experts of various regions talk about hot topics and national security issues.

For their semester project the midshipmen form interdisciplinary teams to conduct an energy policy analysis for another country including South Korea, Pakistan, Ukraine and Japan.

“We feel strongly that understanding energy and being a good steward of the resource is important for mission operations,” said Karen Flack. “It’s about mission effectiveness and the effects on national security.”

Flack says the course is already showing good enrollment for the fall. “Most of the midshipmen have said they’ve learned to think in a different way. And the faculty can’t believe how much we’ve learned from each other.”  

© 2018 United States Naval Academy Alumni Association & Foundation 410-295-4000