British Army Goes Green As Pentagon Stalls Amid Fear Of China’s Rise

June 1, 2021 at 11:35 am

British military planners have set themselves the goal of making the Royal Air Force carbon neutral by 2050. They want to make half of their fuels sustainable and see a future where troops go to the battlefield in armored vehicles battery powered and where aircraft carriers capture carbon. cockpit, in line with the UK government’s ambitious goal of reducing emissions by almost 80% over the next decade and a half.

And as the Biden administration releases its first budget, U.S. Department of Defense officials look to the UK as a model, where the Department of Defense is already considering deploying fueled military planes, ships and vehicles. by sunlight and sustainable fuels in the surroundings. future. It’s a vision that British officials insist on building a stronger army, while many in the United States are nervous that a Green Army is less ready to take on China.

“It should be about building military capacity or, at the very least, not reducing it,” said Lieutenant-General Richard Nugee, head of climate change and sustainability at the UK Ministry of Defense. Foreign police. “Anything that diminishes military capability is not good. If you come second in a war and you are the greenest army on the planet, you always come second in a war. And we don’t get paid for it. We get paid to go first. “

And interest is growing with defense planners finding that storms, wildfires and other climate change impacts such as drought and mass migration are now part of their portfolio. The UK side is getting more ambitious with its climate targets as it deepens its experiments with emerging technologies such as biofuels, Nugee said. British Air Marshal Sir Michael Wigston has suggested that converting its fleet of fighters, bombers, tankers and transport planes to biofuels could cause the service to become net carbon neutral 10 years ahead of schedule, by 2040.

But some believe UK planners are also taking a leap of faith in experimental technologies such as biofuels, which are currently not competitively priced and do not provide as much energy in their current form. The US Department of Energy suggests that high-grade biofuel blends may have less energy content and present storage issues, perhaps problematic for heavy consumers such as the Department of Defense, who would need use fuel – and store it – in bulk.

“I think sustainable aviation fuel will be part of our mix,” said Sharon Burke, senior adviser to New America and former assistant secretary of defense under the Obama administration. “The challenge will be how to get there. At present, these fuels are not competitive. “

Like the British, President Joe Biden is also relying on the Pentagon to help cut emissions as part of a US effort to cut pollution by 50-52% over the next decade. But Pentagon officials have yet to take a picture of the climate. Politico first reported in March that the Pentagon hoped to force all non-combat vehicles to switch to electricity by 2030. As the world’s largest consumer of oil, the Defense Department could send a signal powerful demand from companies around the world on the viability of green technology over the next few years.

Released on Friday, Biden’s budget request calls for a new investment of $ 617 million to mitigate the Pentagon’s climate impacts, with more than 40% of the money going to make U.S. bases more resilient to severe weather disturbances. As part of the newly created pot of money, the agency is also forecasting nearly $ 200 million in new spending to prototype weapon technologies that rely less on fossil fuels and an additional $ 153 million to improve fuel efficiency. planes, ships and vehicles already in service, according to budget documents.

Yet in the past, the Department of Defense has struggled to match dollars with climate priorities. Former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’s Great Green Fleet initiative to run the navy on a half-and-half mix of diesel and biofuels was stalled after a maiden voyage to Europe in 2016. And while that the US Air Force has worked to produce biofuels in limited quantities, it still relies heavily on traditional fuels.

And not everyone is convinced that there is a lot of green in defense “DNA”. Capitol Hill Republicans fear that moving too fast in the direction of a greener army, navy and air force will slow the release of weapons from the production line and take the Pentagon deeper tangled up in domestic political issues. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement he planned to grill Pentagon leaders in hearings on how the shift in focus on the climate or ” other national priorities ”could have an impact on the concentration of the Ministry of Defense on its first job: fighting wars.

“The Ministry of Defense already has too many non-essential missions. We need to ensure that the military remains focused on readiness and operational capabilities, not on things more appropriate for [the Environmental Protection Agency] or John Kerry’s office, ”Inhofe said.

Some see the problem in even more precise terms, the Chinese navy, now the largest in the world, extending its reach throughout the Indo-Pacific. “[If you’re] by making the US Navy carbon neutral in a short period of time, you are not going to have a US Navy, ”said a former senior defense official in the Trump administration.

But committing dollars – or pounds – to greening the military is a problem on both sides of the Atlantic. Even Britain, where military installations are now studying natural carbon capture mechanisms to help them achieve their goals, such as peatlands, has yet to put its money where it is, experts say.

“It’s great that they are saying that,” said Burke of New America. “It will be even better when they do that.” A spokesperson for the UK Department of Defense said the agency’s defense innovation arm recently provided £ 6million ($ 8.5million) to explore sustainable options for the production of electricity and disposal of fuels and oils.

But no matter what officials in the Biden administration put in the Pentagon’s budget, the threat of climate change is slowly starting to reshape military operations, both in how US troops get to the battlefield. and in the situation they will face upon arrival.

Planners began to focus on confronting the complex Pentagon supply chain with global warming in war game scenarios, focusing on fueling combat. In September, the Pentagon also released a Climate Assessment Tool designed to assess how bases are prepared for the threat and examine how to maintain weapon systems that might not perform as well in warmer temperatures. Nugee, the UK defense official, said US and UK forces will need to find a way to tune technologies such as ship engines, which could be affected by rising temperatures.

Officials are trying to squeeze the climate into the 2022 national defense strategy, but it’s unclear what role this will play. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has worked to get officials to include climate risk in simulations such as war games, Burke said, as the United States re-examines how U.S. fighting in the Arctic, Asia and counterterrorism missions in Africa could be jeopardized by rising temperatures, just as Asia-Pacific faces rising sea levels, typhoons and monsoons .

In a war game run last month by the Pentagon’s Office for Stability and Humanitarian Affairs and the J5 Joint Chiefs of Staff, dubbed “Elliptic Thunder,” participants mapped a future battlefield in South Africa. Is where climate change had weakened states in the region causing droughts and shortages. , giving extremist groups a greater chance to gain a foothold in the region. Several experts and former officials who spoke with Foreign police expected U.S. troops to spend more time on humanitarian and disaster relief efforts associated with climate change, such as hurricane and wildfire relief.

There has been a broad bipartisan consensus on green investment in US military facilities under the climate threat, money that has burst into Pentagon coffers. But some believe the changes already seen in the global climate, from melting ice caps to escalating wildfires, indicate that the Pentagon must be prepared to go much further. What it takes, some former officials say, is akin to a military-industrial revolution to prepare for the climate of the future. The Biden administration may have a head start: The Pentagon has long considered expanding the drone revolution to driverless ships and aerial refueling, measures that would reduce fuel consumption and the climate impacts of the platforms. – American military forms.

“If we knew we were going to be in this crisis in the 1940s, would we have built our vehicles and public transportation like we did?” said Rod Schoonover, the former director of environment and natural resources at the National Intelligence Council, who now heads the Group on Ecological Futures. “I don’t think we would.”


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