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The U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force have all established programs geared toward reducing dependence on the use of fossil fuels in tactical weapon systems such as aircraft, combat ships and vehicles, and supporting equipment. From a technical standpoint, a number of alternative fuels can meet military requirements, but it is uncertain how much these fuels will cost and what effect they may have on the environment, particularly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. This monograph examines alternative fuels that might be candidates for military applications within ten years, with emphasis on those that either have been or are currently the focus of research, testing, and certification within the Department of Defense (DoD). The authors discuss these fuels' economic viability, technical readiness for commercial production, lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, and approaches that could be used to reduce those emissions. They also examine the military utility of mobile, in-theater synthetic fuel processes. The authors conclude that DoD goals for alternative fuel use in tactical weapon systems should be based on potential national benefits because the use of alternative fuels offers no direct military benefit over the use of conventional petroleum-derived fuels. Consequently, DoD and Congress should decide whether defense appropriations should continue to support advanced technology for producing alternative liquid fuels. The authors also find that the prospects for commercial production of appreciable amounts of alternative fuels suitable for military applications within the next decade are highly uncertain, that current efforts by the services to test and certify alternative fuels are far outpacing commercial development, and that certain efforts are directed at fuels with a very limited potential for sustainable production.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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