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Melting ice in the Arctic, unanticipated flooding, skyrocketing heat in vital places around the globe, unpredictable weather patterns and large-scale societal disruption are all growing concerns associated with the often discussed and at times troubling phenomenon of climate change.
While most are aware of the scientific discussion surrounding climate changer, there are extremely consequential, if lesser recognized elements associated with it …. Such as major national security concerns.
How will forward-operating, dismounted mobile units stay sufficiently cool to perform operations while in 110 or higher degree heat? How will Arctic troops maneuver and navigate a fast-changing environment in which melting ice creates new waterways on a regular basis? How would combat units adapt should sudden, unexpected storms cause massive flooding in populated areas? What happens if all of these things transpire amid an ongoing combat operation?
These difficult to answer questions form the primary inspiration for the US Army’s recently released Climate Change Strategy, a document which sets ambitious goals and calls for sweeping changes across the service.
“Our mission is to fight and win our nation’s wars. Nothing in this strategy will detract from this mission. The strategy will increase the capacity of the operational force, improve places where soldiers are working and living with family and increase our ability to deploy,” Paul Farnan, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army, Installations, Energy & Environment, told reporters.
The strategy addresses the many national security implications of climate change in great detail, identifying things like changing rainfall patterns, water shortages and other impactful consequences.
“As GHG emissions increase global average temperatures, scientists have observed several primary impacts of this hazard—in particular, more and worsening droughts in some regions while other regions experience more frequent and severe flooding. As a result, some regions of the world will have less access to water supplies, while others will be subjected to widespread and prolonged inundation,” the text of the strategy states.
The strategy even takes this a step further, explaining that climate instability and extreme, fast-changing weather make the prospect of “increased armed conflict in places where established social orders and populations are disrupted.”
“Climate change is a threat to national security. We will have to operate where there is melting of polar ice caps. We will want to offer humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions to assist people dealing with devastating storms,” Farnan said.
For instance, should populations find themselves without crucial resources such as food and water, then there would certainly be a much higher probability of armed conflict or war. There are also other substantially destabilizing possibilities such as widespread humanitarian disasters, Farnan explained.
“The Army must prepare for potential consequences including energy and water scarcity; damage to installations and infrastructure; displacement of and disruptions to operations, supply chains, and logistics; and imperiled Soldier health through exposure to airborne irritants like smoke and dust, disease vectors, and temperature extremes,” the strategy states.
Climate Strategy Plan
Citing the national security perils associated with floods, storms, melting ice and destabilizing heat, the Army’s recently published Climate Change Strategy outlines an ambitious and vigorous series of adjustments to combat the problem.
The call for action includes movement toward tactical and non-tactical electric vehicles, new sources of renewable energy, energy storage initiatives, fuel-use reductions, extreme weather mitigation strategies and a specific push to safeguard and better enable US bases and installations.
For example, the Army’s strategy calls for the installation of a microgrid on every installation by 2035 and plans to achieve “on-site carbon pollution-free power generation for Army critical missions on all installations by 2040.” Other benchmarks cited in the strategy include the pursuit of achieving a 50-percent reduction in GHG (Greenhouse Gasses) from all Army buildings by 2032. Building upon this, the Army’s strategy seeks to help the service achieve “net zero GHG emissions from Army installations by 2045.
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“Resilience of our installations has always been an important priority to our Army … installations enable us to project power abroad,” Paul Farnan, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army, Installations, Energy & Environment, recently told reporters.
Should the service succeed in installing a “microgrid” into every installation, many of the strategies stated goals will seem much more achievable.
There are certainly many potential ways Army innovators could seek to increase energy efficiency on bases and streamline the storage and distribution of power throughout a large facility area. Perhaps generators and installation-based power storage systems can improve performance while drastically lowering the needed amount of electrical power storage and output to achieve optimal functionality.
One thing now being done on Navy ships, for example, is using software and consolidated energy storage and distribution systems to enable multiple nodes on a ship to be powered from a single power source of stored energy. The Northrop Grumman system, called Integrated Power and Energy System (IPES), is now being developed for Navy ships such as the now-in-development DDG X new destroyer. It would seem to make technological sense that this kind of hardware-footprint reducing centralized energy storage system might have relevant and impactful applications to land installations as well.
Environmental, climate change and land configuration variables will also be addressed more thoroughly as part of the strategy when it comes to constructing and deploying forward-positioned bases and installations.
The strategy intends for the Army to “Include climate change threat mitigation into Army land management decisions…and. Incorporate the latest climate and environmental science into stationing, construction, and fielding decisions.”
There is also the question of needing to account for and sustain the physical security and functionality of land bases potentially confronted with drastic weather conditions and the kinds of disastrous circumstances they can lead to.
“The Army will face simultaneous readiness challenges as units contend with limited access at flooded bases, alongside increased water scarcity and land degradation in other areas,” the strategy says.
What if unexpected rainfall or storming creates dangerous flooding on a high-value forward operating base or installation? Seems the strategy calls for base planners and builders to account for these nuances and variables to the maximum extent while deciding where and how to build new temporary or long-term facilities. Perhaps base construction will happen on higher ground or be built with additional reinforcements and structures to mitigate the risk of flood damage?
Electric Vehicle Fleet
The Army is accelerating an effort to massively “fast-track” a plan to operate an all-electric non-tactical vehicle fleet by 2035 according to its newly published Climate Strategy document.
The concept is naturally to be enviro-friendly while also improving mission performance for its vehicles. An all electric-fleet would certainly move toward the key goal of being less dependent upon fuel propulsion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a considerable way.
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The move to start with non-tactical vehicles, such as those on installations, is designed to combat the risks and perils of climate change by decreasing the service’s reliance on traditional fuel-generated vehicle propulsion. In tandem with this goal, the Army’s 2022 Climate Strategy document also emphasizes a need to “field purpose-built hybrid-drive tactical vehicles by 2035 and fully electric tactical vehicles by 2050.”
While now being accelerated, the Army’s transition to “zero-emissions” and a lower use of fossil-fuel has been progressing in recent years as well.
“Through the end of 2020, the Army had removed 18,000 NTVs from its fleet while increasing its inventory of hybrid vehicles by almost 3,000 in the last 3 years alone. These changes have already decreased NTV (Non-Tactical Vehicle) fleet costs by over $50 million, slashed Army fossil fuel consumption by more than 13 million gallons per year, and reduced the service’s GHG emissions per mile by over 12%,” the strategy states.
These efforts have been extended and fortified by a 2021 directive from Army Materiel Command to require that all new vehicle leases and purchases for its missions “must select all-electric NTVs first, hybrids when electric solutions are not commercially available, and conventional gas vehicles by exception only.”
In order to expand upon this progress, the Army strategy states, the service will need to invest heavily in building a charging infrastructure by investing in more than 470 charging stations in 2022.
Electric cars and hybrid-electric propulsion has been on the Army’s radar for many years now, in fact a diesel electric vehicle was submitted for the initial Joint Light Tactical Vehicle competition as far back as 2008 and 2009. The technology is here, yet there have in recent years been many efforts to fully “ruggedize” electric and hybrid-electric propulsion for combat missions. There are tactical advantages to electric and hybrid electric propulsion as well, as an electric drive can help generate large amounts of transportable on-board power and electricity, something of great value in a modern technological environment in which maneuvering vehicles operate with much higher levels of sensors, electronics, computing and command and control systems.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.