STUTTGART, Germany — France’s military is looking at hybrid armored vehicles, fuel cell technology and more efficient battery storage as areas of investment to better prepare its troops for the effects of climate change, according to an inaugural strategy released this spring.
Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly approved her department’s first defense strategy related to climate change on April 25, with its intent to help prepare the nation’s troops to face the global climate crisis.
“By amplifying risks and threats, climate change will exacerbate tensions that could lead to open crises or even conflicts,” the Armed Forces Ministry said in a statement. “This phenomenon is already affecting the international strategic context, and thus, the conditions through which the French armed forces carry out their missions, along with the capabilities they must have.”
The strategy lays out a holistic plan to coordinate all offices within the ministry to effectively mitigate the effects of climate change and address an energy transition away from fossil fuels. Among the key equipment investments are hybrid armored vehicles, with a Griffon-centric program serving as the prototype for future hybrid trucks.
The French Land Force is developing a “hybrid vehicle demonstrator” based on the armored personnel carrier, to be fielded by 2025 and to help inform the potential scaling up of next-generation carriers. The service is also considering the use of hydrogen-based energy sources for infantry personnel, with the goal of reducing the energy-weight ratio of current equipment, according to the strategy.
On the aerospace side, the French Air and Space Force has been studying the viability of a hydrogen-powered micro-UAV. In 2021, the service’s officer school, L’École de l’air, signed a research contract with the Innovation Laboratory for New Energy Technologies and Nanomaterials, a European research institute, to jointly study the concept under an effort dubbed RAPACE. The group selected French drone startup Atechsys to develop the airframe and the ground station, according to a 2021 release. The officer school expects a test flight of the aircraft in 2022.
In the maritime domain, the French and Italian navies have partnered on studies looking at the potential of fuel cells for surface ships under a program dubbed Poseidon. Italian firm Fincantieri and French company Naval Group are industry partners in the Poseidon program under an alliance cooperation agreement signed in 2018.
Across the land, aerospace and maritime domains, the French military is also pursuing new methods to monitor energy consumption across various scenarios under a program dubbed GENOPTAIRE. The findings from GENOPTAIRE would inform novel ways to reduce the military’s dependence on fossil fuels, particularly in the propulsion sector, per the strategy. “The integration of alternative sources with a lower carbon footprint are specifically being studied,” the document said.
According to the ministry’s 2020 defense and energy strategy, the goal is to implement the program findings in 2022. The 2020 strategy also called for France to look into “smart grid”-type platforms to optimize the use and storage of energy, as well as better manage the electrical networks of various military assets and reduce the country’s primary energy consumption.
The ministry also wants to establish a “map of climate risks” similar to previous efforts to clearly mark meteorological and oceanographic factors when conducting operations, per the new strategy. More tools will be needed for monitoring, anticipating and tracking regions that will be most affected by climate change, or for following key themes including energy security and transition.
The ministry plans to support strategic research into the monitoring and adaptation of climate change and the energy transition by awarding study contracts to research institutions as well as by sponsoring doctoral theses on the subject.
The climate change and defense strategy was developed in line with a joint declaration signed by the defense ministers of 26 different nations in November 2021, acknowledging the need for the world’s militaries to adapt in the face of a warming climate.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.