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Innovation Lessons from Great White Fleet and Great Green Fleet ‘Energize’ RIMPAC 2016

By Rear Adm. John Fuller
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific
Commander, Task Force Energy and Environment

More than 100 years ago this month – July 16, 1908 – President Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet sailed into Hawaii as part of its cruise that circumnavigated the globe.

Then, the armada of 16 battleships, painted white, steamed into the harbor trailing thick black smoke from the coal-fired engines that drove them. One of the goals of the Great White Fleet was to demonstrate the capability of new technologies and platforms to enable the U.S. Navy to establish itself as a worldwide presence.

Atlantic Fleet battleships steaming out of Hampton Roads, Virginia, at the start of their World cruise, 16 December 1907. The nearest ship is USS Maine (Battleship # 10). Next astern is USS Missouri (Battleship # 11). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.
Atlantic Fleet battleships steaming out of Hampton Roads, Virginia, at the start of their World cruise, 16 December 1907. The nearest ship is USS Maine (Battleship # 10). Next astern is USS Missouri (Battleship # 11). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

 

One of Roosevelt’s challenges with operating the Great White Fleet was whether there would be enough sources of fuel to support the trip. So, even then, the availability of fuel determined our ability to operate forward.

In those days, as it does today, Pearl Harbor played a critical role as a strategic logistics hub for the Pacific. The Navy originally established Pearl Harbor as a coaling station for ships transiting the world’s largest ocean.

Firemen. Members of the "Black Gang", stoke the coal burning power plants of the battleships of the Great White Fleet. Circa 1907-1908.
Firemen. Members of the “Black Gang”, stoke the coal burning power plants of the battleships of the Great White Fleet. Circa 1907-1908.

It was not an easy transition from wooden ships and sail to steel hulls and coal-fired steam engines but, in the purest sense, the Great White Fleet was absolutely bold, innovative, audacious and daring.

Naysayers warned against abandoning the “tried and true” wooden sailing ships for a new technology– steam power– that they saw as too dangerous and unproven. Yet, in a relatively short time, the U.S. Navy and all the great navies embraced the new concept.

One hundred years ago, the world was changing and it was changing more quickly than ever before in history. Sound familiar?

During Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2016, we are linked to last century’s Great White Fleet by the innovation chain demonstrated by the Great Green Fleet.

I’d be willing to bet that a hundred years ago, Sailors would scratch their heads (and their beards) if they heard words like photovoltaic, biofuel blend, LED lights, nuclear fission, net zero, and Great Green Fleet.

What would the great leaders of the past think about today’s culture of change, about embracing new fuels and efficiencies, and about the construct of using energy as a key element in operations – including directed energy weapons systems?

SOUTH CHINA SEA (March 4, 2016) – Seaman Recruit Joshua Mwamba, from Dallas, signals the fast combat support ship USNS Rainier (T-AOE 7) during a replenishment at sea to receive a blend of advanced biofuel and stores aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53). Providing a ready force supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, Mobile Bay is operating as part of the John C. Stennis Strike Group and Great Green Fleet on a regularly scheduled 7th Fleet deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan J. Batchelder/Released)
SOUTH CHINA SEA (March 4, 2016) – Seaman Recruit Joshua Mwamba, from Dallas, signals the fast combat support ship USNS Rainier (T-AOE 7) during a replenishment at sea to receive a blend of advanced biofuel and stores aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53). Providing a ready force supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, Mobile Bay is operating as part of the John C. Stennis Strike Group and Great Green Fleet on a regularly scheduled 7th Fleet deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan J. Batchelder/Released)

 

Today, as part of the Great Green Fleet, we are achieving what Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet, calls a “new normal” in fleet operations, where energy is an operational and tactical resource. As a “fact of life,” we must continue developing the tools and tactics to use energy as part of that chain of events necessary to achieve mission success.

Just as we learned from history – that there is a greater good in productive, capable, and adaptive partnerships – we also can learn how to be better stewards of the environment and smarter users of energy:

  • We can conserve non-renewable resources.
  • We can develop renewable sources of energy.
  • We can achieve synergy and strength by working together.

Today, with the Great Green Fleet, we demonstrate our interdependence as team players with our friends and partners – moving away from a reliance on nonrenewable energy and moving toward protecting our shared global environment.

The Great Green Fleet’s Task Force Energy and Environment at RIMPAC 2016 demonstrates collaboration, cooperation, communication and innovation here in the beautiful Hawaiian Islands – where navies can train like nowhere else on Earth and achieve a mastery of the sea even Roosevelt could not predict.

Editor’s notes: For more information on RIMPAC 2016, visit the following links:

Be a part of the conversation on social media using #RIMPAC and #PacificPartners.

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