The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island remains docked in the port city of Valparaiso on August 20, 2009.

Jeremy Hobson: Oil is trading around $85 a barrel this morning, and regular unleaded gasoline is averaging $3.61 a gallon nationwide. Those figures are important to just about everyone with a car. They are really important to the U.S. military, which spent $13 billion on fuel last year. Well in the next month or two, the U.S. navy is going to do something about that -- with a new hybrid electric warship.

From the Marketplace sustainability desk,
Scott Tong reports.


Man: Please watch your step. We have some lights out on these next couple levels here.

Scott Tong: Onboard the USS Makin Island, a next-generation assault ship, they don't like to call it the USS Prius. But, come on, it's a hybrid.

Operations chief Jeff Brotherton says there's gas, and there's "auxiliary electric."

Jeff Brotherton: I start the auxiliary propulsion motor, it will cause the gas turbine to stop.

It gets 33 percent better nautical mileage and saves at the pump.

Brotherton: When we took the ship from Pascalouga, Miss., to San Diego, we sailed around the southern tip of South America. Our savings was nearly $2 million in fuel costs.

It sips fuel at low speeds. Like when fighters take off from the deck, or amphibious landing craft emerge from the belly. The Navy wants this hybrid ship to be part of a future, greener fleet.

Why? Oil prices have sailors cussing like -- themselves. Retired general Chuck Wald.

Chuck Wald: Back in 2008 when oil peaked out at $147.50 a barrel, that was about $11 billion extra for the U.S. military.

Which in today's budget environment will be slimming down. Analyst Larry Korb is with the Center for American Progress.

Larry Korb: The Navy wants 313 ships, they can only afford 280 now. So maybe if they can save money on oil, they can buy more ships.

On the Makin Island, sailors talk up other onboard efficiencies: special filters turn sea water into fresh; recycling contests give winning squads first place in the chow line.

PSSR Wright: We got turkey burgers, we got baked beans, we got chicken patties.

Today's chef: PSSR Wright.

Wright: Spinach. And we got cake for dessert.

The serious part about saving oil is, the less the military buys, the less it funds unfriendly places. Still, it'll take decades to undo. So the real question lies with future Pentagon brass, and whether saving energy floats their boats as well.

In San Diego, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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