Don’t Suppress Military-Led Innovation

In this letter, Amory Lovins responds to the wave of recent news on the Senate Armed Services Committee’s disappointing vote to limit the U.S. Department of Defense from pursuing their ambitious alternative fuels strategy.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, echoing the House, recently voted 13–12 forbidding the Department of Defense from buying (except for testing) any alternative fuel costing more than “traditional fossil fuels.”

Low-volume new technology generally costs more than high-volume old technology, so on this logic, DoD’s “demand pull” could never have created such transformative innovations as the jet-engine and microchip industries, the Internet, and GPS. Fortunately, propeller-driven airplanes and vacuum tubes, unlike fossil fuels, lacked Senators willing to strangle competitors in their cribs by suppressing military-led innovation.

The Navy drove society’s transitions from sail to coal to oil to nuclear energy, and since 2003, has openly explored prudent off-ramps from oil, testing advanced biofuels with small buys that have sped commercialization by years. DoD is also pioneering superefficient land, sea, and air platforms that radically boost combat capability while using little or no oil.

Our study Reinventing Fire confirms that these innovations can leverage huge savings in the civilian economy’s 50+-fold larger oil use. By 2050, the U.S. could get completely off oil, coal, and nuclear energy, $5 trillion cheaper, incalculably strengthening national security. This needs no Act of Congress—but Congress mustn’t block the innovations DoD requires.

I hope the full Senate will let DoD continue to lead America off oil so we needn’t fight more trillion-dollar wars over oil. Negamissions in the Persian Gulf, Mission Unnecessary, would honor our warfighters’ sacrifice.