Army Sets Environmental Resilience Goals
With Hurricane Ian bearing down on Florida, residents faced a choice: evacuate or risk riding out what was one of the most powerful storms to hit the state. Among the residents deciding what to do were U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
On Sept. 26, the base ordered all non-mission essential personnel to evacuate.
While MacDill avoided significant damage according to initial reports, one only has to look at another Florida installation, Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, to see the threat catastrophic weather events pose to military installations and operations. Tyndall took a direct hit from Hurricane Michael in 2018, rendering 484 buildings destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
In January 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order stating that “climate considerations shall be an essential element of United States foreign policy and national security.”
Within the Defense Department, the Army has led efforts to address climate concerns. It became the first service to release a climate strategy this past February and then an implementation plan in October.
The Army’s climate strategy outlined long-term goals and the service’s three primary lines of effort — installations, training and acquisition and logistics — while the implementation plan laid out specific climate objectives through fiscal year 2027.
If the climate strategy is the “what” regarding the Army’s response to climate change, the implementation plan is the “how,” said Paul Farnan, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment.
“We’re setting the foundation for the long-term goals,” Farnan said during the plan’s launch event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“What do we need to do now to make sure that the Army and DoD [are] moving in the right direction to accomplish these long-term goals, but at the same time it’s also actually moving us toward those goals?” he said. “So, there’s some very real accomplishments that are going to be set forward over the next five years.”
As for installations, the Army is looking to make significant reductions in its carbon footprint and increase renewable energy generation. In the original climate strategy, the service set a goal to “attain net-zero [greenhouse gas] emissions from Army installations by 2045.”
“We’re focused on delivering energy assurance for critical missions using carbon-free energy generation, battery storage and microgrids, as well as protecting our installations against climate hazards using conservation practices and nature-based engineering,” said Rachel Jacobson, the Army’s assistant secretary for installations, energy and environment.
“[The] Army by far has more buildings than any other federal agency,” she said during a forum at the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. “That means that depending on the reliability of the grid, installation energy demand can be a significant vulnerability for our mission — not to mention a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Army has already begun placing microgrids and carbon-free energy sources on a number of its facilities, Jacobson said. The service’s climate strategy goals include installing a microgrid on every Army installation by 2035 and achieving on-site carbon pollution-free power generation for Army critical missions on all installations by 2040.
Pursuing these goals should ultimately lead to a reduction in the energy it takes to operate Army installations, Jacobson added.
“If we need less energy to power our facilities, that means we need less backup power in case of an emergency, and that puts our self-generation goals in reach,” she said.
To achieve these goals, the Army must rely on partnerships with industry and has “placed renewed emphasis on performance contracting with third parties to bring energy resilience investments to our installations without any upfront costs,” she said.
In June, Lockheed Martin won an Army contract to install its GridStar Flow redox battery system at Fort Carson, Colorado. It will be the first megawatt-scale, long-duration energy storage system built for the Defense Department, according to a company release.
GridStar Flow “stores power generated from renewable energy sources and dispatches it to electric grids during peak demand or unanticipated electricity loss,” with an expected discharge duration of 10 hours, the release said.
One of the advantages of GridStar Flow is how it separates its power and energy components, said Roger Jenkins, Lockheed Martin’s federal energy account manager.
By separating those components, GridStar Flow can offer superior storage and discharge duration compared to lithium-ion batteries, which force users to “buy more power-generating capacity than you need, and that’s a challenge at longer durations,” Jenkins said in an interview.
The power and energy components in GridStar Flow are “very flexible in terms of operational parameters,” he added.
“You can charge them fully and leave them charged for long periods, you can truly discharge them, you can go back and forth between charge and discharge very quickly,” Jenkins said.
Design and construction of the system at Fort Carson is expected to finish up in late 2023, Jenkins said.
Once built, it will run and be tested against protocols developed by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, he said. The tests will help industry and the Defense Department evaluate how well the storage technology performs against the Army’s goals and requirements, he added.
The Army has seen industry bring sustainable solutions to other programs beyond installation upgrades. For example, all five participants in the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, or OMFV program — the service’s replacement for the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle — have proposed a hybrid-electric design, the program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems Maj. Gen. Glenn Dean said during a media roundtable at the AUSA conference.
While the Army did not require the proposals to include hybrid capabilities, in the original climate strategy the Army set a goal of fielding “purpose-built hybrid-drive tactical vehicles by 2035 and fully electric tactical vehicles by 2050.” The Army will ensure climate considerations are included in future contracts, said Doug Bush, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.
“There are always trades within a development program as you’re trying to balance different factors that a vehicle, for example, has to meet,” Bush said during the Army conference. The department and services have the authorities and will ensure that energy-efficiency requirements make it into requests for proposals “where companies are rewarded for offering a better solution for this particular aspect of the vehicle,” he added.
“It has to be prioritized in the contracts, proposals and then following through, because ultimately … the money has to speak at some point to show that we’re serious about it,” he added.
Making its vehicles less dependent on fuel will not only reduce the service’s greenhouse gas emissions but also increase its resilience on the battlefield, Farnan said.
“If we can reduce the amount of fuel our vehicles use by 30, 40, 50 percent … that’s half of the fuel convoys we now have to protect,” he said. “That’s half the casualties we’re going to risk. That’s half the amount of combat forces we’re pulling away from the fight.”
Trucks traveling through austere terrain or ships trying to cross the Pacific, “those are long fuel lines that all have to be guarded,” Farnan said. “So, by doing what we’re doing — by decreasing the fuel, by hybridizing our tactical vehicles and cutting their fuel use — we’re actually increasing the capabilities of our soldiers and providing them better protection.”
Electrifying its vehicles will also give the Army the ability to introduce capabilities like directed energy weapons onto its ground platforms, Bush said.
“All across the battlefield ... is the need to protect vehicles from a wide range of threats. People are seeing this in Ukraine,” he said. “The only way to do that affordably is with directed energy systems, and you have to have electricity or power management on the vehicle that will enable those things to work.”
Additionally, in its climate strategy the Army laid out concrete plans to make climate a greater focus in training and strategic matters. These include publishing climate change lessons learned and best practices every two years beginning in fiscal year 2024, and by 2028 ensuring “all Army operational and strategic exercises and simulations consider climate change risks and threats.”
In October, the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, announced a partnership with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment to establish the Sustainable Infrastructure, Resilience and Climate Consortium.
“The initiative will provide cadets formal academic opportunities in the fields of sustainability and resilience,” a West Point release said. “Faculty and cadets will collaborate with ASA IE&E to explore opportunities to integrate the connection between national security, sustainable infrastructure, resilience, and climate change.”
Jacobson noted that the Army’s climate initiatives could be used as a way to recruit new soldiers.
“That’s the generation that’s going to figure this out,” she said regarding the partnership with West Point. “We’re setting the stage for them. They’re going to take it forward.”
While the Army has set lofty climate goals, continuing those collaborative efforts within the Defense Department and with industry will play a key role in making the strategy a reality, Jenkins said.
“That’s how you move forward: you set some challenging goals, and do your best to meet them,” he said. “I think if [the] Army and DoD do a good job of integrating the money they have available with some of those third-party options to pair their money with third-party funding, you can get a little bit of a force multiplier effect and … get a lot more value for the funds you have available.”
“I think they’ll have some challenges with third-party contracting and integration with DoD funding, but I think those goals are achievable, and they’ll certainly work very hard to meet them,” he added.