WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s climate strategy, slated for release later this fall, will push the service to adapt so it can both operate in and protect itself against increasingly harsh environments, while also becoming more energy efficient.
Across stateside military installations, the service has seen increasingly challenging conditions. Hurricanes have ravaged infrastructure, costing taxpayers billions of dollars to repair, while wildfires have threatened bases out west. Coastal erosion is becoming more common at some installations, and the rapid thawing of Arctic permafrost is expected to affect operations.
The service is preparing to release a new climate strategy with four key lines of effort, according to a memo obtained by Defense News outlining the plan.
The Biden administration, which has identified climate change as a top priority, asked for $617 million in fiscal 2022 for governmentwide preparation, adaptation and mitigation efforts related to this issue.
On Oct. 7, the White House released climate adaptation plans for each government agency, including the Pentagon. The Defense Department’s strategy lays out four lines of effort: integrating climate-informed decision-making into all processes; training and equipping a climate-ready force; ensuring infrastructure contributes to successful readiness in changing conditions; and considering climate change as part of supply chain management.
Now, the Army is readying to release its own plan, led by Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville.
The strategy’s lines of effort roughly mirror the Pentagon-wide version: improving energy-related capabilities and efficiencies of the force; preparing a climate-ready force; optimizing resilient and sustainable infrastructure; and ensuring climate-secure operations and sustainment.
“We’re going to be really, really focused on how we can reduce greenhouse gases,” Wormuth told Defense News in a Sept. 30 interview at the Pentagon, previewing the strategy. “That’s really where the rubber hits the road in terms of climate change.”
Wormuth is no stranger to climate change policy and strategy; she previously led the Adrienne Arsht Center for Resilience at the Atlantic Council.
The strategy will lay out “very real operational impacts that climate change has for us here at home on our installations, but also creating pressures around the world that the U.S. Army may be called up to respond to,” she said.
Former Pentagon official John Conger told Defense News the Army’s focus must be “less about protecting the environment” and more “about protecting yourself from the environment.”
“It’s more important to recognize that we have bigger storms; we have more wildfires; we deal with drought; we deal with the lack of water availability when [we] deploy; we deal with the Arctic ice melting and creating a whole new ocean — some areas of the world become more accessible and other areas of the world become less accessible,” he said, “All of those pieces are about: How do I do my job in a new environment as climate change reshapes what I’m used to?”
To improve energy efficiency, the Army will invest in alternative energy sources and ways to store excess electricity to power automated ranges, targets and other infrastructure, thus breaking the reliance on diesel generators, the memo notes.
This has already been an area of focus for the service, which improved soldier power by developing the Silicon Anode Conformal Wearable Battery — a lighter, less bulky, wearable high-energy density rechargeable battery. The battery’s capacity comes in at 300 watt hours (a measurement of power over a period of time). It also developed a 400-watt hour, high-capacity lithium CFx primary battery to reduce the number of energy-storage devices necessary for operations.
Army Futures Command’s Combat Capabilities Development Command integrated a tactical microgrid with Italy and Canada during a 2019 event. That effort demonstrated several “smart energy” technologies that cut fuel waste while improving operational effectiveness and interoperability with NATO countries.
The Army also took initial steps toward the electrification of its vehicle fleet. Fully electric vehicles are more likely to be used in nontactical environments at installations, but the Army is beginning to look at hybrid or fully electric technology for its tactical vehicles. It’s also exploring hybrid capability for combat vehicles, though that’s likely a longer-term effort.
For the last several years, the Army ramped up efforts to transition away from classic fuels like JP-8 to power its vehicles, allowing industry to introduce vehicles to demonstrate what’s possible now and in the future. But there is limited funding for efforts to find alternative fuel to power the Army’s current and future combat and tactical vehicle fleets.
When it comes to combat vehicles like Abrams tanks, Stryker combat vehicles and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, “I’m not sure we’re going fully electric any time soon,” Brig. Gen. Glenn Dean, the program executive officer for ground combat systems, told Defense News earlier this year.
“Maybe for robotic platforms. That might be the first case,” he said, “because it’s about size and weight. If you took the amount of batteries with current technology that you would need to move an Abrams tank purely electrically, it’s bigger than the tank, so we have a packaging and storage problem when it comes to pure electric.”
Dean said the Army might initially prefer a hybrid option. “We’ve looked at that every couple of years. The question is: Are we there yet? I suspect we may be at the point where hybrid electric is probably there. You’re certainly seeing it broadly enough in the commercial space that there’s probably enough power density [that] can probably be packaged. Whether it’s durable enough? That’s still a question.”
The Army is upgrading and replacing combat vehicle fleets to cope with growing weight and power requirements, the memo notes. Restoring mobility and providing electrical power for current and future systems should provide a way to export power to other systems or equipment.
The new Improved Turbine Engine Program, or ITEP, is nearing a first full-up test and will replace older engines in AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters. The service will also integrate the engine into the yet-to-be-developed future attack reconnaissance aircraft, or FARA.
The Army expects at least a 25 percent reduction in fuel use compared to the existing Black Hawk and Apache engines.
“Having this engine on three Army aircraft — FARA, Black Hawk and Apache — will go a long way towards probably the biggest green energy initiative in the Army,” Maj. Gen. Wally Rugen told Defense News in a recent interview. “This is a strategic win.”
A climate-ready force
The Army needs to use natural landscapes for training and must also know how to operate effectively in tough environmental conditions during combat, according to the memo.
Land erosion or weather damage in areas where the Army trains could affect that capability.
The memo says the Army should update its training ranges with alternative power technology, such as battery management systems for target systems and towers.
The Army must also think about how it can cope with harsher climates without derailing training and exercises, Conger said. For example, installations like Fort Benning, Georgia, experience many days where the temperature exceeds 90 degrees, meaning soldiers can’t train.
“In an environment where over the next 10 or 20 years you’re going to have 30 or more 90-degree days a year, that’s going to start to impact [soldiers’] ability to perform their training mission, so what do you do about that?” Conger said.
The new climate strategy should take into account the potential health risks for soldiers operating in extreme cold or heat, or near fires, Sherri Goodman, the secretary general of the International Military Council on Climate and Security and a senior fellow at the Wilson Center, told Defense News. Goodman is a former deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security.
She anticipates the strategy will also promote the protection of natural resources and land the Army needs.
“The Army has done quite a good job in recognizing the ecological value of its vast training and maneuver lands, and has quite good depth in natural resources specialists and ecologists,” Goodman said. “I hope that we’ll continue it.”
The service should also ensure it can create a more climate-literate workforce, she noted.
Infrastructure has to become more resilient and sustainable as climates change, the memo says.
Wormuth noted the Army has already worked to make its installations both resistant to extreme weather and more energy efficient. “We’ll continue to try to build on that,” she said.
While it remains the largest consumer of energy in the federal government, the Army in FY20 decreased its energy consumption by 0.4 trillion British thermal units — the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of a pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit.
That consumption decrease translates to about 200 100-ton railroad cars of coal.
The Army in FY20 funded a variety of energy-efficiency projects at its installations, including LED lighting, high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment, weatherization, automation controls that use occupancy sensing thermostats, and recommissioning, according to the strategy.
To be both resilient to attack and capable of supporting Army operations, installations should rely more on renewable energy, the memo says. Sun, wind and geothermal resources would offer on-site power generation during grid outages, the memo notes.
The strategy is also expected to promote Army installation Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans as a critical tool to mitigate the damage caused by harsher climates. These plans outline how each military installation with significant natural resources will manage them for resiliency.
Army installations at risk of wildfires have Integrated Wildland Fire Management Plans. A total of 129 Army sites have approved plans, and they are incorporating specific climate change effects, the memo notes.
The Army has interagency agreements to improve wildfire response capabilities at high-risk sites such as the Yakima Training Center in Washington state, Fort Hunter Liggett in California and U.S Army Garrison Alaska.
This year, both Schofield Barracks in Hawaii and Fort Drum in New York demonstrated their ability to operate independently from local electric grids by using on-base microgrid systems. At Schofield Barracks, an electricity generation station made its own electrical power within two hours of the base being taken off the local grid, according to the memo.
The Army has worked to make 10 installations at risk of desertification more resilient, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Martin told Defense News in a Sept. 30 interview. “Think about recycling gray water to use it to create more vegetation, which helps,” he said. “We’ve done a significant amount of investment in infrastructure, and we are continuing to make those investments, and we’re not waiting on the orders and directions to do things.”
The Army believes soldiers will need to operate for longer periods of time at the tactical edge in future conflicts. That would require the service to figure out how to sustain itself in harsh climates.
As part of the strategy, the force is expected to continue reforming processes that improve supply and distribution networks.
The Army Research Laboratory is working on a project that would predict climate conditions to help commanders map out operations. Commanders could, for example, use the information to select weapons, outfit personnel and choose supplies.
The lab and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are each exploring how to decontaminate polluted water using an aluminum panel that concentrates solar energy.
And when planning to adopt new weapons, the Army must consider how it will sustain the systems. That includes how it’s “going to both clean the supply chain and also reduce risk in the supply chain,” Goodman noted.
When the Army devises a new weapon system, she said, the service typically doesn’t look at how it will reduce the climate-related impact and energy use.
“The Army will need standards for that,” Goodman said, similar to the uniform facility code that sets engineering standards for new facilities.
“The Army has a great opportunity to [move] into the next generation of climate literacy and climate action in a way that helps the Army be a more resilient and operationally effective force,” she added. “We have to figure out how to operate better in a world that’s already changed.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.