The superior capability of our customers and the security of the nations they serve have always been job No. 1 for all of us in the defense-industrial base. Traditionally, this has manifested itself in the fastest aircraft, the biggest payloads, the most powerful fleets, the most connected force and the broadest global reach.

Now, there is a new customer need that requires our attention and efforts: the decarbonization imperative. It is an imperative of increasing importance for all our customers. So it’s time for us in industry to innovate once again by focusing on sustainability and viewing the decarbonization agenda not as a threat, but as an opportunity.

These challenges will be noteworthy because the solutions we put forward must not only help our customers with their decarbonization aims but also enhance their mission capability. So what can we do to support our customers?

First, we need to accelerate our efforts to be net-zero operations ourselves. This means defense companies should commit to net-zero carbon emissions in their operations by 2030.

Rolls-Royce has made such a commitment, and we are on track to reach that goal. In fact, one of our primary defense sites, in Bristol, U.K., is set to achieve net zero in operations by the end of 2022. Additionally, our company has committed to reaching net zero across our whole value chain by 2050.

Second, we have a leading role to play in the investment in and development of critical technologies that accelerate progress toward a net zero future for our customers. For a power and propulsion company like ours, that means focusing research on electrification, on synthetic aviation fuels, on microgrid technology, on novel power sources and on the ongoing improvement in reducing fuel consumption in our current products.

In the U.S., we recently completed test flights using 100% synthetic aviation fuel on our Trent 1000 engine on our 747 flying test bed. We have completed test programs with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise program and participated in NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation program, as well as studies of electrified propulsion and other areas.

Our EJ200 combat engine powering the Eurofighter Typhoon and the MT30 gas turbine in service with the U.S., the U.K. and other militaries’ naval ships are already compatible with synthetic aviation fuels.

We have also invested significantly in our Spirit of Innovation aircraft. It took to the skies earlier this year, propelled by the most power-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft. Across all Rolls-Royce sectors, the breadth and depth of our innovation is taking us into new, sustainable areas with significant growth opportunities.

Third, it is incumbent on our industry to develop environmentally responsible power sources for our customers and help them become untethered from fossil fuel dependencies. There are many possibilities in the development of sustainable energy systems, and companies who operate in power systems must focus on this area.

We are stepping up to do so — developing and implementing independent and reliable microgrid systems that store electricity from renewable sources, as well as deployable hybrid microgrid systems to provide general-purpose power. Nuclear technologies will be vital in the drive toward sustainability and efficiency. We are exploring a range of solutions, from small, modular reactors to provide clean, affordable energy to deployable micro-reactors — all contributing to the global decarbonization effort and each allowing our military customers to be more agile and capable.

As an industry, we must continue to innovate in all these ways and more to help our customers meet their current and future needs in the face of the decarbonization imperative. I challenge my industry counterparts to invest and lead the way — our expertise, our creativity, our vision, our innovative spirit and our ability to deliver is required anew. Together, we can increase the capability of our militaries, enhance the protections of our freedoms and help our planet.

Tom Bell is president of Rolls-Royce’s Defence division.

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