Climate change affecting military thinking: ADIT


Climate change is becoming a major pre-occupation for the world’s governments, the French ADIT research agency notes in its latest two newsletters.

“Interest for environmental matters has grown due to scary perspectives related to global warming and sea level change,” the ADIT says.

“Such worries have risen to a point that they are now treated as strategic and defence issue, and have been included in most of the governmental literature.

“…a silent and slow revolution is changing radically the way homeland security and military officials are are thinking.” It adds that the creation of a CIA centre dedicated on Climate Change and National Security shows the growing ties between environmental issues and defence policies.

“But this is just a visible sign of a trend that started already a few years ago.”

Expected climate change scenarios, considered as reasonable, deal with an average increase of 1.3°C by 2040. This evolution will have consequences on a scale never seen before. And albeit no country will be immune, consequences will not affect everyone the same way.

In China, the People’s Liberation Army, the People’s Armed Police Force and the Militia are the “shock force” in emergency rescue and disaster relief operations, supporting key construction project like energy transportation and communications. In recent years, the PLA has formed 19 units specialised in flood control and emergency rescue operations.

Coastal areas are directly concerned. In the US Hurricane Andrew ravaged Homestead Air Force Base in Florida so badly it never re-opened. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan knocked out Naval Air Station

Pensacola for almost a year.

Resources and extreme weather

Resources and energy supplies may also suffer from extreme weather. The North-east blackout in 2003 caused by trees falling onto power-lines in Ohio affected 50 million people, and caused a financial loss estimated between $4 billion and $10 billion. Water supplies, transportation infrastructure and communications systems were brutally interrupted. Factories shut down and

looting occurred.

American think-tanks often emphasise the need to secure critical infrastructure by “islanding” specific installations from the national grid, the ADIT adds. The use of renewable energy sources coupled with reduction of consumption is of extreme importance.

The French have developed the concept of “resilience of the nation”, covering twelve defined strategic sectors assessing and ranking risks, and taking measure to protect them.

Competition for energy is another major concern that is likely to increase. Most of the world’s hydrocarbon reserves are in vulnerable regions exposed to the impact of climate change. Many oil and gas producing states already face significant social economic and demographic challenges.

Canada, Russia, USA and Norway have already claimed sovereignty rights on large portion of previously largely ignored Arctic. Confrontation for such territories and associated resources is

therefore becoming more likely.

Climate change will have even greater impact on developing countries and weak states. Desertification and global warming will just increase competition for arable land and water. Population moves and demographic pressure will also increase likelihood of ethnic clashes or even wars. Governments unable to manage local tensions may simply become failed states, putting at risk world stability.

The military must be prepared for such case. Transport capacities will have to be increased to ensure sufficient forces are available not only to avoid local conflicts from getting out of control, but also for humanitarian operations and limiting biological pandemics.

Links between climate changes and instability are becoming clearly identified. The best response is often a mix of military and civil humanitarian aid, supported by political will and financial grants from rich countries, adds ADIT.

Impact of war on the environment

Modern wars are much more destructive than conflicts a few centuries ago, not only in human lives, but also in terms of environmental footprint. The Vietnam War has often been described as an “ecocide”.

More than 79 million litres of herbicides and defoliants, including the infamous Agent Orange was dropped over parts of South Vietnam, permanently affecting biodiversity.

In Rwanda, about 720 000 refugees displaced by the aftermath of the 1994 genocide there squatted on the borders of the Virunga National Park for several years, putting at risk a World Heritage site.

Burning oil fields as well as heavy vehicles drills during first Gulf War has badly damaged Iraqi desert, which faces now an increasing number of sand storms – “not mentioning the consequences of exposure to depleted uranium munitions,” the ADIT says.

“These are just a few samples on how military actions can destroy natural environment.

A Rand report entitled ‘Green Warriors: Environmental Considerations in Army Contingency Operations’ (2008) pointed out environmental consequences of military operations, both on troops and local population. Its conclusions recommended paying more attention to these issues.

“The strong fuel dependence of the US Army is now seen as one of its greatest vulnerabilities. As the biggest oil consumer of the country, and probably of the world, lowering its fossil energy consumption has become vital in terms of strategy and efficiency.

The Pentagon has indeed decided to reduce by 30% its gas emissions by 2015.

Troop refueling requires an important number of convoys, at the same time expensive and vulnerable to attacks. In June 2008, 44 trucks loaded with 830 000 litres of fuel were lost in Afghanistan. Today, troops in Iraq and Afghanistan spend some 257 million litres of fuel every month.

But vehicles consumption is not the only issue. A recent study has shown that 85% of the electricity demand at US bases in Djibouti, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq is for air conditioning. Isolating tents could save 378 500 litres of fuel a day.

Many armies are following a similar path. The French Air Force, for example, is also trying to get greener. One measure being contemplated is a solar power plant at Istres air base, in south-eastern

France. This could save up to €800 000 per year.

Navies are at the forefront of the green evolution, however, the ADIT reports. The Northrop Grumman-built USS Makin Island, commissioned October 24, is the first US Navy amphibious assault ship propelled by a combined gas turbine and diesel electric motor complex. The Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) estimates savings of around $250 million over the ship’s lifetime, not including reduced maintenance costs.

In France, a DCNS project called the “Ecoship” could be a turning point in ship building. “This innovative concept takes into account the ecological impact during the whole lifetime since the conception and manufacturing,” the ADIT says.

“Engines are not the only source of waste. The US Navy’s Office of Naval Research is developing hull cleaning robots. Indeed, fouling can generate up to 40% rise in fuel consumption and require

corrective dry dock operations.

Effort to deploy a “Great Green Fleet” carrier strike group should be fully operational by 2016, the ADIT adds. It will consist in ships powered by nuclear energy or biofuel and biofuel-powered fighter jets. Tests are currently conducted on a new F/A-18 “Green Hornet” biofuel powered with

onboard electronic systems working with hybrid electric power.

These improvements would not only save yearly some 127 000 barrels per plane, they would also increase aircraft fuel efficiency by 3%.

Innovations cover all military fields. Solusun, a design bureau specialised in solar support

development, is notably contemplating the possibility to integrate solar panels into tarpaulins used on some vehicles. Covering the roof, it would permit to loading batteries or recharge GSM/GPS.

Detergent bottles and car bumpers could be in a close future recycled as bridges, strong enough to hold up a 73-ton Abrams tanks and 25% cheaper than an equivalent wooden bridge.

“As we see, greener can be cheaper! These few examples show that environmental constraints may also be a source of efficiency and savings,” the ADIT says.