By, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
The U.S. Navy maintains naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas and, increasingly, it does so incorporating biofuel and other flexible, innovative energy-efficient technologies on ships and ashore.
Called the Great Green Fleet, it’s another phase of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ 2009 initiative to reduce by half the sea service’s reliance on fossil fuels and consumption of energy. The name is a nod to President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet that circumnavigated the world 109 years ago.
The centerpiece of the Great Green Fleet is a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) using energy conservation measures and alternative energy in the course of its normal operations. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower CSG departed Naval Station Norfolk on June 1 for a regularly-scheduled deployment. As a part of the Great Green Fleet initiative, IKE CSG ships and aircraft are employing operational procedures and energy conservation measures in order to enhance operational capabilities. The USS John C. Stennis CSG deployed from Naval Air Station North Island in January using similar measures and with an alternative fuel blend as part of its operational supply.
“When it comes to power, my focus has been about one thing and one thing only—better warfighting,” Mabus remarked. “The Great Green Fleet shows how we are transforming our energy use to make us better warfighters, to go farther, stay longer and deliver more firepower. In short, to enable us to provide the global presence that is our mission.”
Similarities of Green and White
The Great White Fleet, led by the Navy’s 16 battleships, embarked from Norfolk on Dec. 16, 1907 and returned Feb. 22, 1909 after steaming 43,000 miles around the world in 14 months.
“You have been in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres; four times you have crossed the line; you have steamed through all the great oceans; you have touched the coast of every continent,” said Roosevelt to the returning fleet. “This is the first battle fleet that has ever circumnavigated the globe. Those who perform the feat again can but follow in your footsteps.”
The U.S. Navy is indeed following in those footsteps. The ships may be bigger and cruise faster than those from 109 years ago, but despite their size and speed, today’s Navy hopes to leave a smaller and lighter footprint in the process and lead the way in becoming the most efficient and cost-effective fleet in the world.
In addition to sharing catchy names, the Great White Fleet (GWF) and Great Green Fleet (GGF) have many other similarities.
MISSION: The GWF was a show of might and power during a time when Japan was wielding its muscle in the Pacific after crushing the Russian Baltic Fleet during the Battle of Tsushima May 27-28, 1905.Roosevelt wanted the Japanese to know the United States could protect her interests in the Pacific. Following the lessons learned from the Russian defeat — blamed on the poor condition of the fleet and inexperience of the crew — GWF practiced operational exercises between port visits.
The same will be true this year of the GGF. The ships’ crews will document what works and what doesn’t as the fleet adapts to advanced biofuels and other energy efficiency technology, including shipboard energy dashboards to minimize a ship’s energy consumption, smart voyage planning tools for the most energy-efficient routes, and incorporating stern flaps to reduce drag and hull resistance. Some efforts are as simple as turning out the lights when leaving a room.
In keeping with GWF’s show of force, today’s GGF aims to do much of the same, with a twist. Technology rapidly evolves over 109 years, and new innovations help the Navy project power. Energy is critical to the Navy and Marine Corps’ mission to provide the global presence necessary to ensure stability, deter potential adversaries, and present options in times of crisis. It is through Sailors’ ability to remain on the cutting edge of warfighting that enables them to remain deployed where it matters, when it matters.
EAST COAST/WEST COAST: The GGF involves carrier strike groups from both coasts. Although the GWF launched from Norfolk, it also had ties to the West Coast. When the GWF was conducting exercises off the coast of San Diego, the city’s officials persuaded the fleet’s commanding officer to visit their city. The fleet anchored at Coronado while San Diego threw a memorable four-day party. The goodwill established during that event came to fruition when U.S. Destroyer Base San Diego was created in 1922.
PARTNERSHIPS: Establishing relationships with other nations was and still is an important part of both the GWF and GGF. For GWF battleships, the 20-plus port visits allowed the United States to negotiate refueling depots.
A terrible earthquake and a tidal wave brought death and destruction to Messina, Italy, and other towns along the Strait of Messina on Dec. 28, 1908. With the GWF making its way through the Suez Canal, President Roosevelt ordered the U.S. Navy to assist. The supply ship Culgoa was immediately dispatched with foodstuffs to the scene of the disaster. Yankton, before following, transferred spare medical supplies as well as six surgeons from the battleships. After coaling, Connecticut and Illinois set a course for Messina at top speed. When they arrived, Sailors and Marines provided survivors every possible humanitarian aid.
106 years later, the GGF continues its partnership with Italy. GGF operations in the Mediterranean included a multi-day passing exercise, or PASSEX, involving the IKE CSG and the Italian Navy’s Flotta Verde. Similar to the GGF, the Flotta Verde represents the Italian Navy’s effort to transform their energy use. The PASSEX highlighted energy efficient technologies and operations, a refueling-at-sea event and the IKE CSG conducting port visits throughout Italy.
On June 16, 2016, the guided missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) was refueled at sea alongside an Italian supply ship with biofuel. According to a Reuters report, the fuel was a mix produced by Italy’s Eni that has 5.5 percent palm oil biofuel blended into marine fuel.
“It’s a first today, but it’s the new normal. It’s what you’re going to see – refueling after refueling after refueling,” Mabus told Reuters aboard Mason. “Fuel can be used as a weapon. All you have to do is look at what Russia did to Crimea, what Russia did to the Ukraine. Look at what Russia tried to do to Europe before the price of oil went down.”
Maintaining relationships with partner countries remains a top priority for the GGF. Diversifying our energy sources arms us with operational flexibility and strengthens our ability to provide presence. It allows us to turn the tables on those who would use energy as a weapon against us, and ensure that we have the energy we need, when and where we need it.
TECHNOLOGY INNOVATION: When it comes to creating and accepting new technology, the Navy has always been at the tip of the spear. The GWF showcased the Navy’s eleven newest steel-hulled, coal-fired steam-driven battleships, but then, using the lessons learned from their voyage, adapted to oil-fired steam upon their return fourteen months later.
The GGF continues that tradition of cutting-edge technology with the adoption of hybrid-electric drive systems such as the one on USS Makin Island (LHD 8). The four million gallons of fuel USS Makin Island saved during her maiden deployment equates to 50 additional days underway. That’s 50 days she was providing presence instead of refueling at sea.
Many ships also use solid-state lighting, which uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to save energy. LEDs also last longer than an incandescent or fluorescent fixture, reducing maintenance and the chance of maintenance-related injuries.
SAILORS ARE SAILORS: Aside from technology, crewmembers who sailed with the GWF and those who sail the seas 109 years later all share many of the same characteristics – a desire to strengthen naval power at and from the sea. Whether sailing by coal-fired steam or a biofuel mixture, ships manned by Sailors and Marines leave on their missions ready to deploy, selflessly sacrificing to protect and defend our country.