From fighter jets to lumbering aircraft carriers, the armed forces produce substantial emissions: the estimated 59 million metric tonnes of CO2 the US Department of Defense emits each year is more than the annual emissions of many European countries. In the UK, the Ministry of Defence is responsible for around half of the country’s total public sector emissions. In written evidence to the UK Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Climate Change, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) stated that half of current government greenhouse gases were from defence, with aviation accounting for two thirds of such emissions.
Considering that the risks from the impact of climate change are increasing both in terms of the probability of occurrence of extreme climate events and in terms of the quantum of loss of human, natural and economic capital from climate related disasters, the consequences of climate change should be fully integrated into national security and national defense strategies.
Extreme weather events in a warmer world have the potential for greater impacts and can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages. As rising sea levels, coupled with extended droughts that lead to failed crops and food shortages, hit poorer nations, millions of people are expected to go on the move to regions faring better.
A new study from the US Defense Department finds drought, high winds, flooding and extreme temperatures have caused problems for bases in the past and could pose risks to those bases in the future if climate change continues its effects on the United States. Our warfighters require bases from which to deploy, on which to train, or to live when they are not deployed. If extreme weather makes our critical facilities unusable or necessitate costly or manpower-intensive work-arounds, that is an unacceptable impact.
“Dramatic changes to the climate increase the chance of hostilities over access to environmental resources, like water and crops, but as extreme weather events become more common, defence will also have a greater role to play in providing humanitarian assistance.” Steve Murray, vice-president of strategy and marketing at Thales, sees tackling climate change as inextricably linked to defence. “In order to be able to decarbonise, you first need a foundation of national stability and security.
Murray believes that products and services within the defence industry also have a role to play by incorporating eco-design principles into Thales products and seeking environmental applications for existing products, such as trialling military-grade surveillance cameras on unmanned surface vessels from an autonomous counter mine programme so they can inspect wind turbine blades as they rotate.
“For organisations working in the UK with the Ministry of Defence and for His Majesty’s Government, you are working within a framework that is driving towards net zero in less than 30 years. The recently released Defence Capability Framework for the first time, gave the defence industry a very clear indication on future capability acquisition plans from the MoD. “There is an opportunity to go further and link up the capabilities required to their Climate Change & Sustainability Strategy.”
In the domain of defense, energy has the potential to be both an enabler of hard power but also, via denial, arguably itself to be a weapon of war. Energy enables nearly everything the military does, and the primary objective is mission assurance and decisive advantage on the battlefield. Energy security ensures powering of capable major weapons systems and communications infrastructure at the desired levels of performance, range, and readiness.
Improved energy performance can reduce the risk and effects of attacks on supply lines and enable tactical and operational superiority. Security is also derived through minimizing the energy required for vehicles and forward locations. Reducing and diversifying fuel use are also drivers behind economic considerations of military energy use.
GlobalData forecasts that electric vehicles will account for 31.1% of total light vehicle production by 2035, a 27.9% increase over the figures for 2020. “Global concerns over the impacts of climate change are driving innovation throughout the defence industry as militaries continue to pursue the electrification of vehicle fleets, with numerous major aerospace and defence primes investing proactively in emerging technologies.”
Hybrid-electric propulsion vehicles have been the focus of programmes in the US and the UK, with the US Army developing such platforms as the new M1A2 Abrams X main battle tank and the JLTV light armoured vehicle. The British Army has companies including Supacat, General Dynamics and Magtec collaborating to produce hybrid-electric variants of the Jackal HMT and Foxhound armoured vehicles.
Boeing, in written evidence to the UK Parliamentary committee on Defence and Climate Change write in September 2022 that they had invested £370m in the Wisk joint venture focused on electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL) platforms.
Naval equipment designers Saildrone has developed uncrewed surface vehicles (USV) powered by renewable solar and wave energy. Saildrone’s wing technology enables the USV to complete missions with a duration up to 12 months without the need for refuelling or returning to land for maintenance, with an average speed between 2-6 knots, allowing it to reach most ocean locations within 30 days.
“Assuming that green hydrogen and a low carbon electricity grid is available, both technologies offer environmental benefits and potential operational gains in terms of signature reduction, “ wrote Boeing. However, the company was clear about limitations from the time frame for implementation: “The reality is that electric and hydrogen will not be suitable for all types of platforms within the near to medium term (next 30 years).”
“There are clear areas where we can establish some quick wins and pick up the pace,” says Murray, pointing to Thale’s use of advanced flight simulators to reduce the need for live flying by 90%. Quantum computing, “frugal A.I.” and edge processing are among emerging technologies he identifies that will reduce the environmental impact computing in defence, lowering electricity use and reducing inefficiencies. Thales is establishing carbon action plans that will see a 35% reduction in our indirect carbon footprint by 2030.
Indian Military Clean Initiatives
India is at the top of the list of nations expected to be worst hit by the adverse effects of climate change. In the last four years, India has seen as many as over 4,620 deaths caused by heat waves, according to data published by the Ministry of Earth Sciences. Scientists and environmentalists say global warming is also endangering India’s rivers like the Ganges, and note that rising temperatures are causing Himalayan glaciers, which provide water to some of these rivers, to recede.
Indian Military has also been also vulnerable to climate change impacts. The devastation wrought by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami on the Car Nicobar Air Force Base, and by more recent events, including 2014’s Cyclone Hudhud, which wrecked the air base at India’s Eastern Naval Command. Damage from the cyclone, which cost the Indian Navy more than US$300 million, demonstrates the threat posed by increasingly intense and frequent storms and sea-level rise to India’s naval assets on its eastern coast.
Climate change may also spur people in vulnerable countries to cross borders in search of safer ground. India has fenced part of its border with Bangladesh to prevent illegal immigration, and while most of these migrants are not yet pushed by climatic changes, some experts imagine an alarming scenario where climate change-induced migration lead the two countries to wage war with each other.
The Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces lists many Non-Traditional security threats that range from proxy war to ethnic conflicts, illegal financial flows, small arms transfers, drugs/human trafficking, climate change, environmental disasters, security of energy/resources etc. These challenges are exacerbated by several countries vying to acquire Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and by the competition for natural resources. Their effects on regional stability and the geo-strategic environment are areas of immediate concern.
It further warns that Environment has emerged as a critical area of the security paradigm. Changes in environment can result in extinction of certain States. On the other hand, soil erosion, forest cover depletion and loss of agricultural land are dominant factors for human migrations across national and international borders. Such events heighten security risks and lead to responses from States in the military dimension.
The Army has launched a project for developing durable power supply in high altitudes to enhance the living conditions of its personnel. The plan is to have renewable energy in place of fossil fuels that are unreliable and face transportation and maintenance hassles.
According to a study report, Ladakh is a region where such renewable energy can be easily harnessed. The project is being executed under the Technology Development Fund scheme and the Army is discussing the project with the industry and subject experts. The scheme envisages funding the industry that can develop technologies or prototypes for potential use with the help of scientists.
Indian Navy green initiative
Indian Navy has been embarking on an ambitious path of wholeheartedly embracing `Green Initiatives’ since 2014. Naval chief stressed on the need to implement measures which would cover all aspects operations, administration, maintenance, infrastructure and community living,” a Navy release said. Navy has initiated a framework to measure the energy consumption level. “Based upon its findings, future energy reduction goals would be identified. The Navy chief has also directed that all future plans for augmentation and acquisition of assets and infrastructure projects would incorporate concepts of energy efficiency from the ab initio stages,” it said.
The Navy has decided to install 19 MW solar PV installations by 2018. The Solar power panels are installed on board survey ship INS Sarvekshak, based in Kochi. 18 Lightweight, flexible panels of 300 W each have been installed on the ship. And the major advantage of these panels is the 100% Marine Compatibility also the power can be utilized anywhere in the sea or at the harbor. This green initiative by the Indian Navy saves approximately about 89.1 Kg of Carbon emission per day as compared to the Diesel engine and would also save 22,995 Liters of diesel in a year.
With the Navy already switching to LED automatic street lights instead of conventional lighting, installation of solar power panels on ships would be one step further for fuel optimization without compromising with the working efficiency of the ship.
The Indian Navy has prepared a green roadmap that includes powering its bases across the coastline with renewable energy, reducing its carbon footprint and recycling waste among other initiatives. On the infrastructure and community living projects, the key result areas (KRAs) of the force include “green buildings, waste recycling and management, water conservation and harvesting, renewable energy and power, environmental remediation with an aim to achieve a zero carbon foot print”.
The Navy has taken an initiative in the Karwar Naval Base (Project Seabird) to “embrace resource (water, energy and material) conservation to ensure environment friendly and green facility”. The Navy said it is confident that these steps would go a long way to add the much needed `Green Footprint` to its blue water capabilities.
During International Fleet Review 2016 , navy is showcased a warship that runs completely on biofuels. The pilot project could in the not so distant future lead to larger combatants operating in ecologically sensitive zones switching to the green fuel.