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The Green Zone: The Military's Addiction To Oil

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Editor's note: After this post was published, some commenters and bloggers, especially Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard raised a number of questions about its accuracy. As is our policy, we asked Mr. Sanders to either provide backup for his factual claims or retract them. His response follows. In it, he acknowledges three "flat-out" inaccuracies: Apache helicopters fall under the auspices of the Army not the Air Force; the USS Independence was not, as claimed, headed to the Persian Gulf in 2002 (it was decommissioned in 1998); and Sanders left out the word "battalion" in the sentence, "a pair of Apache helicopter battalions can devour more than 60,000 gallons of fuel in a single night's attack." These have been corrected in the post.

Sanders also raises the issue of jet exhaust that results when "a squadron of F-22s, say, fly sortie after sortie, at fairly low elevations, over a crowded neighborhood in Baghdad." Goldfarb says "an F-22 has never, ever, flown a sortie over Baghdad, let alone at low altitude and in squadron formation." In his response, Sanders disputes this, but Air Force spokesperson Maj. Kristin Marposon told HuffPost that F-22s have not been used in Iraq.

As for the other facts in dispute -- namely the number of jets stationed on aircraft-carrier groups in the Gulf, the number of stealth bombers and US planes in Saudi Arabia, and the number of aircraft carrier task forces stationed in the Gulf -- Sanders offers a detailed explanation of how he arrived at his figures. We'll leave it to you to decide the persuasiveness of his explanation. For us, it confuses as much as it clarifies.

Mr. Sanders feels that the dispute over these details obscures the larger point of his argument. Maybe so, but we are committed to maintaining the highest possible standards of accuracy and transparency. Accordingly, we will not be running the remaining parts of his Green Zone series.

Here is Mr. Sanders' response:

Let me begin by saying that this is a new world for me, the world of blogging. I might have expected people responding, correcting my data; but I did not expect the vitriol, the great desire to pick at the details without facing the entire argument. In fact, what I see is some people--and I have to keep in mind that a lot of the comments in the past two days were positive--wanting to destroy the piece by pointing out errors of fact. I admit several errors. But that is part of my point: so much of the data that one needs to mount an argument is hidden and obscure. Sometimes, it takes a military expert to find the facts. Sometimes a chemist is needed. That is why at the outset I said: "I write as a citizen. . .as a layman, not a scientist; as an outsider from the academy, not an insider from the Pentagon." Let me be me and let's get a discussion going about the main issue.

The argument about pollution stands; and nothing on the Weekly Standard takes on the pollution numbers! I begin the essay by saying that I write as a lay person--I am not a mathematician, not a military person, not a trained climatologist--and it would be wonderful to put together such a team and reach an absolutely authoritative version of this essay, if such a thing is even possible. At any rate, I feel initiated into this world of blog politics. As a friend told me from the outset, one cannot take on the military in this country, without getting knocked about.

To the issues: on the first and second days, several people took issue with my CO2 numbers. I use for my formula the one used by WorldChanging and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These are the standard, accepted formulas, used by a good deal of the world. I quote from WorldChanging: "roughly a round trip from LA to New York puts out a ton and a half of CO2 for every person on the plane." I used as a plane the Boeing 747-100. Two commenters did not like that I used the 100 series. They wanted the 400 series. So be it.

As for the Standard, Goldfarb does not like the line, "The USS Lincoln helped deliver the opening salvos and air strikes in Operation Iraqi Freedom." He says the Lincoln has no "guns." I took that line from the Navy's own web site. If I am wrong, the military has it wrong.

He claims that only one aircraft carrier is not nuclear powered and so my claim about "ship tracks" is wrong. First, does he not think that nuclear power pollutes, or that no danger exists from an accident? What does he think one should do about spent fuel rods? But, besides that, the Navy uses many ships--tankers, bulk carriers, and oilers that are diesel powered. I refer Mr. Goldfarb to the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences and the article titled, "Emissions from Ships With Respect to Their Effect on Clouds."

Mr. Goldfarb wants to know about the number of planes in Saudi Arabia. Here's my sentence: "To all that, we must add the 1,000 jets stationed on aircraft-carrier groups in the Gulf, along with 22 Stealth Bombers and another 700 planes in Saudi Arabia. First, the sentence, which perhaps could have been more clear, does not say that there are 22 Stealth Bombers in Saudi Arabia; the sentence says, we must account for them in terms of their pollution, wherever they are hidden.

Let me quote from Chalmers Johnson's Nemesis (p. 141): "Before our withdrawal from Saudi Arabia in 2003, we habitually denied that we maintained a fleet of enormous and easily observed B-52 bombers in Jeddah because that was what the Saudi government demanded." This is the heart of my argument: "So long as military bureaucrats can continue to enforce a culture of secrecy to protect themselves, no one will know the true size of our baseworld, least of all the elected representatives of the American people." The question is how many in a fleet?

As to the exact number of planes in the Gulf and in Saudi Arabia, again Chalmers Johnson, this time from The Sorrows of Empire, (page 239), says that by January 1991, the Prince Sultan Air Base "started to receive aircraft, and by the beginning of the Gulf War. . .it was capable of housing, servicing, and arming five fighter squadrons of aircraft and their supporting personnel (a typical American squadron consists of twenty-four aircraft.)" A few paragraphs later, he mentions F-15s and F-16s taking off there, after 1996. "In the years leading up to the second Iraq war, the air force flew a total of 286,000 missions from Prince Sultan and other Persian Gulf bases. . . ." I do not think it is possible now to know how many planes we had in Saudi Arabia prior to our leaving in 2003. The point I want readers to keep in mind is the amount of pollution generated by those hundreds of thousands of missions and how little we know about them--type, number, and so on.

Also, check out this link. It is an interview with an air force general on the base. He says there are 4,000 personnel and an "undisclosed number of aircraft." He then goes on to say we have "F-15s, F-15Es. . and we have F-16s there as well as a slew of support aircraft." He then goes on to say that there are other bases, as well, in Saudi Arabia. In one wing alone he says there are from 48 to 72 planes, along with 30 or 40 in support, totaling over 100. He does not say how many wings are involved, but hints at more than a couple.

Punch in Sultan Air Force Base on Google and you get the following: The Saudi base is very large and it has extensive landing and plane storage facilities. It has a 15,000 foot runway. Couple this with the numbers of flight missions from Chalmers Johnson. This was a large operation. I used the figure 700 planes. It sounds to me that it was larger, much larger, than that.

I got flat-out wrong that the Army owns the Apache helicopters. The USS Independence did move out to the Gulf in the first Gulf War, in 1991. I mixed up the dates for the two Gulf Wars and inserted the wrong one. See here.

Also, I inadvertently left out the word battalion in the sentence, "a pair of Apache helicopter battalions can devour more than 60,000 gallons of fuel in a single night's attack." See here.

On a web site titled Foreign Policy in Focus, for February 6, 2007, a piece by Colonel Daniel Smith, US Army (Ret), suggests that while "the F-22 isn't 'ready for Iraq,'" that we will go ahead anyway for "you go to war with the army you have." The essay goes on to cite all the flaws of the F-22 and to say that it will not perform well in Iraq, but that is one of the planes we have. His comments led me to believe that we did use the F-22 in Iraq. The article then goes on to talk about the F-22's role as a signal intelligence interceptor in Iraq. Am I wrong in thinking it was used in Iraq? I don't know. Why do I think the Standard has a lock on the truth of the military; do his military readers know all that is going on in Iraq? Why is your military expert necessarily correct? I will concede this one--though I do not think it is a big one--if I can have real proof. I do not know what that would be, since the military operates behind a scrim.

Let's now turn to the question of the number of carrier task forces in the Gulf. First, from Reuters: "On January 20, 2007, the USS Stennis set sail for the Persian Gulf as part of an increase in US military presence within the Middle East. The Stennis joined the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the United States Fifth Fleet of operations. On May 23, 2007, the Stennis, along with eight other warships including the carrier USS Nimitz and amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, passed through the Strait of Hormuz. US Navy officials said it was the largest such move since 2003." (Link)

How many ships does this total? Ten or Twelve? How many "carrier task forces" does that constitute? The web site Global Security (March 9, 2003) reports that "five carriers have been deployed to the region at the same time. . . an unprecedented floating air force. . ." The site says that the Kitty Hawk and the Constellation are already in the Persian Gulf. That's in addition to the Stennis, the Nimitz, and the Eisenhower. "The Lincoln left Everett, Washington. . . and was ordered back to the Gulf." We now have a total of six carriers, and who knows how many "carrier task forces," since each carrier usually travels, according to Global Security, with a "battle group of at least two cruisers, a destroyer and a submarine. Aboard each carrier is an air wing with about 70 aircraft, roughly 50 of which are strike planes." The DoD says that the Stennis actually holds ninety planes. Given the rest of the ships involved, the number is 1,000 or even more.

I stand by my claim here: the language the military uses shifts and changes; but Reuters does indicate the number of ships in the region is unprecedented. It is unusual; it is large. On top of this, as Chalmers Johnson points out in Sorrows of Empire: "The navy also can deploy up to five carrier battle groups, each with approximately seventy-five aircraft, cruise missiles, and atomic weapons, in the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf. A carrier battle group is composed of the aircraft carrier itself, two cruisers, two to three destroyers, a frigate, an attack submarine, and a combat support ship and is, in essence, a floating base." I think I underestimated the numbers.

***

In a series of posts this week on HuffPost, author Barry Sanders discusses one of the least-explored but significant consequences of the Iraq war: the amount of pollution - including radioactive pollution -- produced by the U.S. military and its effect on global warming. You can find the first installment here. Today, Sanders delves into the military's addiction to oil:

Military vehicles have no respect for CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, or fuel standards of any kind. After all, we are at war; fuel economy is a luxury. Indeed, the military refers to fuel consumption in terms of "gallons per mile," "gallons per minute," and "barrels per hour." One quickly realizes that military "assets," as the Pentagon likes to call its rolling arsenal, operate in a world all their own, free of restraints of any kind -- both in the fuel they consume and the pollutants they exhaust. For example, the stalwart of all the fighting vehicles, the M-1 Abrams tank, according to the military's own spec sheets, gets .2 miles per gallon or, to state the case another way, requires five gallons of fuel to cover a single mile. Just firing up the tank's turbine requires 10 gallons of fuel. During battle, over ideal terrain, the Abrams can go through 300 gallons--usually JP-8 jet fuel--each and every hour. The Army tries to keep its entire inventory of Abrams tanks up and running in Iraq--all 1,838 of them.

Feeding the appetites of these voracious machines, with gasoline or diesel or kerosene, requires intricate logistical planning and support from some 2,000 trucks, a battery of computers, another 20,000 GIs, and, according to an Associated News report for September 2007, as many as 180,000 workers under federal contracts--more contract workers, in fact, than soldiers. Of the twenty-eight private security companies operating in Iraq, the major ones are Blackwater USA, Triple Canopy, Kellogg, Brown and Root, DynCorp International, and the Vinnell Corporation. The largest of them is not even American, but British, named the Aegis Corporation.

Many of the contract workers are former military Special Forces troops, such as Navy Seals and the Army's Delta Force. The Seals conduct their operations with the philosophy of "spray and pray," a credo which seems to determine a good deal of the behavior of the mercenaries working for Blackwater USA, whose CEO, Erik Prince, left a career appointment in the Seals to start what is now a billion-dollar federal contracting firm, Blackwater USA. After the uproar over some of his men who "sprayed" to death 17 innocent Iraqis on September 16, 2007, in Baghdad, Erik Prince told The Wall Street Journal that he no longer cared about the security business. He intends to expand into a "full spectrum" defense contractor, offering "one-stop shopping" for anything and everything the military might need, from unmanned planes to tanks and ammunition.

Military fuel does not come cheap. In 2002, at the Tactical Wheeled-Vehicle Conference, General Paul Kern, head of the Army Materiel Command, revealed that the actual cost of fuel, depending on how it gets delivered, can range anywhere from a low of $1 to a high of $400 per gallon. The average, he allowed, hovered around $300 a gallon.

The Navy uses an enormous amount of fuel for its nuclear and non-nuclear aircraft carriers. The recently decommissioned USS Independence, at its top speed of 25 knots per hour, consumed 134 barrels of fuel an hour, or close to 5,600 gallons an hour. (The ship boasts 4.1 acres of flight deck and a crew of 2,300.) On its way to the Persian Gulf in 1991 2002, a trip that took fourteen days, the Independence went through two million gallons of fuel. Every four days, the ship took on an additional one million gallons of fuel, half of which went to supply the carrier's jets. [see editor's note, above]

According to the 2006 Navy Almanac, at the beginning of 2006, the Navy held an inventory of 285 combat and support ships, along with 4,000 planes and helicopters. The DoD keeps classified the number and kinds of vessels stationed in the Gulf. But, we do know that President Bush ordered the USS Stennis and the USS Ronald Reagan to the Gulf in January 2007 as part of the surge. He also sent a "strike group," led by the nuclear aircraft carrier the USS Eisenhower, along with a cruiser, a destroyer, a frigate, a submarine escort, and a supply ship. Already sitting in the Gulf were ten other "Carrier Task Forces" built around the aircraft carriers Kitty Hawk, Constellation, Enterprise, John F. Kennedy, Chester W. Nimitz, Carl Vinson, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, Harry S. Truman, and the Abraham Lincoln. Ninety attack planes sit on each carrier's deck, ready at any moment to fly into combat.

The USS Abraham Lincoln, familiar to us as the ship on whose deck President Bush declared to the nation, on May 2, 2003,"Mission Accomplished," remains in service, but the military keeps classified all the numbers about its fuel consumption. The USS Lincoln helped deliver the opening salvos and air strikes in Operation Iraqi Freedom. From March 2003 until mid-April of that same year, during its deployment in the Gulf, the Navy launched 16,500 sorties from its deck, and fired 1.6 million pounds of ordnance from its guns.

Of all the branches, the Air Force uses the most fuel. In 2006, for instance, the Air Force consumed nearly half of the DoD supply, 2.6 billion gallons of jet fuel, the same amount of fuel consumed from December 1941 to August 1945, during World War II. Flying machines, like the Apache helicopter, blow through fuel at an astonishing rate. Powered by two General Electric gas-turbine engines, each rated at 1,890-horse power, the Apache gets about one-half mile to the gallon. Just one pair of Apache helicopter batallions [see editor's note, above] in a single night's raid will consume about 60,000 gallons of jet fuel. Any of the large helicopters--the Sea Stallion, Super Stallion, Sea Dragon, or Pave Low III--sucks up five gallons every mile. But that's nothing compared with the fighter planes. With its afterburners fired up, the F-16 Fighter Jet uses 800 gallons per hour, the F-15 about 1,580 gallons per hour. More dramatically, the F-4 Phantom Fighter uses 40 barrels of fuel, or more than 1,600 gallons an hour, each and every hour. But the gas hog award goes to the B-52 Stratocruiser, which has eight jet engines, and zips through an astonishing 86 barrels of fuel, or roughly 3,334 gallons per hour. In one hour of flight--600 miles--the B-52 uses as much fuel as the average driver uses in seven years.

To keep the B-52 or F-111 in the air for extended periods of time requires in-flight re-fueling. Even though the B-52H holds an enormous 47,975 gallons of fuel, it requires mid-air refueling. That's the job of the aerial refueling tankers, the KC-10, which burns 2,050 gallons per hour, and the larger KC-135 Stratotanker, which itself carries 31,275 US gallons of fuel, and sucks up an impressive 2,650 gallons per hour; and the KC-10. The Air Force owns both of these flying gas stations. Using EPA standards for yearly automobile fuel consumption, the amount of fuel that the KC-135 carries would keep the average family car running for 62.5 years--a lifetime, that is, of driving.

To all that, we must add the 1,000 jets stationed on aircraft-carrier groups in the Gulf, along with 22 stealth bombers and another 700 planes in Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon makes public very few statistics indeed about the B-52 and F-117 Stealth fighter planes, except that the B-52 can carry 16 2000-pound laser-guided bombs or 80 500-pound laser-guided bombs. It is remarkable that we even know that the stealth fighters exist. The number and kinds of vehicles and planes housed at those 860 American bases in foreign countries also remain a mystery. We can assume, with confidence, however, that those bases run through a considerable number of barrels of fuel.

The only way I know how to make military pollution in any way tangible here is through numbers, but the DoD provides little or no data for its many thousands of vehicles. On top of that, the great majority of vehicles burn gasoline, while others use diesel, and still others jet fuel. In addition, the Abrams Tank can burn whatever is available, making it even more difficult to determine exact CO2 numbers. I base my calculations of CO2 on the Environmental Protection Agency's fact sheet EPA420-F-05-004 on greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles. According to the EPA, each gallon of gasoline produces 19.4 pounds of CO2; each gallon of diesel produces 22.2 pounds of CO2. The average passenger vehicle, the EPA estimates, travels a total of 12,000 miles per year, and, at speeds not exceeding sixty miles per hour, gets 23.9 miles per gallon. In the process, that vehicle consumes approximately 500 gallons of gasoline, and emits 5.5 metric tons of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

Thus, if we simply use the DESC's own figures for 2004, those 4,620 trips around the world would consume approximately 2,200,000,000 gallons of fuel. By the DESC's own admission, then, burning that much fuel sends a shocking 24 billion tons of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. For 2005 figures, the greenhouse gases increases to 28 billion tons. In a year, the average driver, as I have said, produces a mere 5.5 tons, or less than .0000000001% of the military's output. And, the military has been pumping at least this much additional CO2 into the atmosphere in Iraq for the past four years. Remember, I have not factored into these numbers the war in Afghanistan, which has been going for more than six years now, and, because of DoD accounting protocols the Navy presents a special problem. No one outside the Pentagon can say with any certainty just how much fuel the Navy actually uses. It may even be higher than the Air Force.

The Pentagon places the fuel it reserves for supposed international purposes--primarily for the Navy--in a category called International Bunker Fuel. Bunker Fuel--or more accurately called Bunker Oil--remains off the record, ghost stuff, as non-existent as the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, making the CO2 emissions for the military even grosser than anyone's assumptions and calculations. The problem is further compounded by the fact that Bunker Oil contains a higher concentration of sulfur than other diesel fuels, and so pollutes not just with CO2, but with SO2 (sulfur dioxide), as well. The two gases in combination do more damage to the environment, for they form a thicker layer in the atmosphere and hold the heat in more tenaciously. In actuality, then, the military may be consuming twice as much fuel as the DoD suggests, or even higher--perhaps three times as much--and polluting much more--again, perhaps, by a factor of three. Surprisingly, the United States does not figure into its own annual CO2 numbers any of the greenhouse gases that the military generates.

Which means, of course, that no one can reach anything near precise figures. While I have been discussing greenhouse gases from land vehicles, the military pollutes much more with its ships and planes. Some environmentalists insist that aircraft carriers pollute more than any other piece of armament in the military arsenal. Besides spreading the ocean surface with its own CO2 and residual oil, sea-going vessels create something called "Ship Tracks" that tail off, like vapor trails, in the atmosphere and have the potential for changing the microstructure of marine stratiform clouds. Made up of sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and water molecules from both diesel-powered and steam-turbine powered ships, these long-lived clouds, according to some studies, help to intensify the greenhouse effect, like International Bunker Fuels, by locking in place the CO2 in the earth's atmosphere.

The military is now using more and more of the high-powered and highly toxic JP-8 jet fuel for many of its vehicles. Along with emitting CO2, jet planes pump out a trail of nitrous oxide and sulfur and water particles, which, according to some toxicologists, may be three times more harmful to the atmosphere than CO2 alone. Several studies have pointed out the serious health risks to GIs from contamination by JP-8. One of those studies, completed in March 2000 and funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency, says absolutely nothing about the contamination caused by that same jet exhaust when a squadron of F-22s, say, fly sortie after sortie, at fairly low elevations, over a crowded neighborhood in Baghdad [see editor's note, above]. Another study, undertaken by the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in 1997 at the University of Arizona, takes an entirely different position. It points out that chronic exposure to jet fuel can adversely affect liver function, result in emotional dysfunction, abnormal electroencephalograms, shortened attention span, and decreased sensorimotor speed. Exposure to JP-8 can compromise the immune system, causing alterations so profound, the study goes on to say, that they can result in various forms of cancer. The DoD has paid no attention to the report, advising only that GIs handling the fuel over long periods of time wear gloves.

And what about carbon from those planes? Kerosene--jet fuel--puts considerably more carbon per gallon into the atmosphere than gasoline or diesel. The environmental action group World Changing calculates that "a 5,000 mile flight produces a ton and half of CO2 for every person on the plane." If a Boeing 747-100, say, holds roughly 450 passengers, the carbon output for a flight from New York to Los Angeles totals almost 1,350,000 pounds, or 675 tons. At altitude, airplanes spew not only carbon dioxide, but also nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, soot, and water vapor, a combination that may triple their total warming effect on the climate. For that reason, some environmentalists refer to flying as "carbon overload." (Supersonic aircraft, like the Super Hornet, the F-111 and the F-22 Raptor, create pollution 5.4 times more corrosive to the environment than conventional aircraft.)

Trying to calculate CO2 pollution for military flying is near impossible. For one thing, if we consider the Stealth F-117, we know nothing of its fuel consumption. We do know, however, that sorties for that plane at the beginning of the Iraq War lasted 1. 6 hours. Flying out of some distant bases raised the average sortie time to 5.4 hours, with some sorties lasting up to seven hours--refueling accomplished in the air. Forty-two F-117s each flew over 1,300 combat sorties. Using an average of five hours per sortie, at 619 miles per hour, time in the air for just this one type of plane comes to 190,827,000 miles, resulting in an astonishing 26 million tons of carbon. To get some idea of the magnitude of that number, it would take a fully loaded Boeing 747-100, flying from Los Angeles to New York, 328,165 trips to produce that same amount of pollution. On average, 40 flights leave from LAX for JFK daily, so those 328,165 trips, in commercial terms, would take 8,204 days, or almost 23 years. Sixty other kinds of planes flew sorties over Iraq. The total amount of carbon dioxide that went into the atmosphere is not just high--but goes totally unreported.

A draft report prepared by the Bush administration for the United Nations, released in March 2007 (but due one year earlier, in January 2006) estimates that for the US the emissions of greenhouse gases will rise from 7.7 billion tons in 2000 to 9.2 billion tons in 2020--an increase of 19.5 percent. The report also says that the biggest source of the gases, about 84 percent, results from the burning of fossil fuels, chiefly oil, coal, and natural gas. Since the report includes no category for the military, it remains entirely silent on the amount of greenhouse gases that the military has pumped into the atmosphere, twenty-four hours a day, every day, for the past four years in Iraq, and for the past six years in Afghanistan. But, if the military, by its own admission, produced 28 billion tons of carbon in 2006, that is already higher than what the government projects for the entire nation in 2020. With Afghanistan and Bunker Fuel included, those 28 billion tons might in actually be 40 or 50 billion tons.