NEWS

Burke-class destroyers aren't going to be the Prius of the sea

The United States Navy is shelving plans to turn 33 Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers into floating Priuses. One vessel, USS Truxtun (DDG 103), will get the modifications as a test program.


The Navy wanted to use a Hybrid-Electric Drive to increase fuel efficiency by having the ship's electrical generators turn the propellers as opposed to the drive shaft. The approach would work at speed of up to 13 knots, enabling the ship to carry out anti-submarine warfare, ballistic missile defense missions, or routine operations at night. However, the system had implementation problems, which ultimately led to generators being forced to run at nearly maximum capacity.

Lt. Cmdr. Frank Kim, fuel officer for Naval Supply Systems Command, Fleet Logistics Center San Diego, compares sample bottles of traditional diesel fuel marine and an algae-derived alternative fuel during the Navy's largest shipboard alternative fuel test at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego. The biofuels proved to be very expensive. (U.S. Navy photo by Candice Villarreal)

"At that point, you are a light switch flipping on away from winking out the whole ship," an anonymous official told Defense News.

A loss of power could be fatal for a warship in combat — even in peacetime, this presents its own hazards as the collisions involving the guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and John S. McCain (DDG 56) last year proved.

During the Obama Administration, the Navy pushed a "Great Green Fleet" initiative. The program was best known for pushing the use of biodiesel fuels in aircraft and ships. However, the green, alternative fuels proved to be far more expensive, according to reports from the Daily Caller.

In 2012, the DOD was spending as much as $424 per gallon of biofuel. In 2016, the guided-missile destroyer USS Mason deployed using a blend of 5.5 percent biodiesel based on palm oil – costing $13.46 per gallon as opposed to the $1.60 per-gallon costs of conventional fuel. The ratio was far below the goal of a 50-50 blend.

"Green" fuel that actually worked: The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), escorted by the nuclear-powered guided-missile cruiser USS Long Beach (CGN 9) and USS Bainbridge (then-DLGN 25)

The German Luftwaffe saw an even more spectacular failure in the fielding of "green" biofuels when they were forced to ground their force of Tornado IDS strike aircraft due to heavily fuel dilution.