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Briefer: Climate Change Implications for Military Aircraft

By Mariah Furtek

Climate change is radically altering the physical environment in the theater of conflict, making future military successes dependent on adaptation today. New research shows that climate change is reducing performance of U.S. military aircraft. As the environment grows hotter and more humid, military aircraft will not be able to carry as much payload or travel long distances without refueling. More missions will be cancelled or modified due to decreased aircraft performance on hot and humid days, which diminishes the U.S. military’s ability to project power and respond effectively to conflicts.

Changes in the operational environment require corresponding changes in infrastructure, logistics, and acquisitions. To be effective long-term, these modifications must be informed by data-driven analysis of climate projections.

The adverse impacts of climate change on military-readiness are especially evident in aircraft and airbases. As heat and humidity rise, aircraft struggle to perform: meaning today’s inventory might not be fit to operate in tomorrow’s conflict. Anticipating the strain that climate change places on current inventory will help make current operations and infrastructure more resilient to climate threats. To this end, U.S. military and military stakeholders would benefit from a vulnerability assessment model that predicts the frequency and severity of climate-related performance impacts for both airbases and aircraft.

This Center for Climate and Security Briefer explores one such model developed by Air Force Colonel Mary McRae (ret.). McRae’s model translates future climate projections from Global Climate Models into Density Altitude (DA) measurements that communicate specific changes in aircraft performance influenced by heat and humidity. Using this DA approach, McRae maps the vulnerability of various airbases and aircraft to DA conditions that limit the viability of future operations.[1] This vulnerability assessment tool will help military, policy and industry constituents determine the most critical threats to aircraft and airbase operations; effectively mitigate climate threats through more informed military acquisitions, infrastructure and mission planning.

More accurate and detailed climate threat assessments like McRae’s make critical threats to military-readiness more visible. In doing so, updated vulnerability assessments enable current acquisitions processes to take climate change into account. These assessments also help the acquisitions community inform industry stakeholders about climate threats and ensure that infrastructure in development today is being designed in a climate-conscious manner. The information these assessments provide also encourages research into innovative design solutions that can adapt existing infrastructure to fit more challenging environments.

[1] “PhD Candidate Develops Novel Method for Assessing Impact of Climate Change on Aircraft Performance.” Villanova University.

To read the full Briefer, click here.

Mariah Furtek is Research Assistant with the Center for Climate and Security

New U.S. Army War College Report Urges Action on Climate Change

By Mariah Furtek

The United States Army War College recently released a report exploring the significant impact climate change will have on national security and U.S. Army operations, and offering a set of urgent recommendations. The second sentence of the report sets the stage immediately, stating “the Department of Defense is precariously underprepared for the national security implications of climate change-induced global security challenges.” 

The report details the most eminent threats climate change poses to national security: severe weather events, mass migration, diminishing global freshwater supplies, changing disease vectors, Arctic competition, stress on the U.S. power grid and nuclear reactors, as well as sea-level rise. 

In addition to addressing these broader climate security risks, the authors focus on the U.S. Army and highlight how diminished freshwater supplies jeopardize existing hydration practices. Currently, the Army relies heavily on bottled water and local wells in the theater of operation to hydrate troops when they are deployed. The Army lacks in-house hydration capacity: the Brigade Combat Teams, for example, have not been able to support their own water needs since 2015. 

Reliance on external sources for water poses a serious threat to Army mobility and capacity. This threat expands as environments around the world grow even hotter, increasing troops’ demand for water. As stated by the authors, “The US Army is precipitously close to mission failure concerning hydration of the force in contested arid environments.” To mitigate this risk, the report recommends the Army explore advanced technologies that capture ambient humidity and recycle water for reuse.

At the pole, melting ice in the Arctic is opening a new zone of competition over Arctic transit routes and natural resources. The report argues that the Army must improve training and equipment to prepare for an expanded role in the Arctic. To highlight the importance of U.S. Army investment in Arctic operations, the authors draw attention to Russia’s ongoing renovation of its Soviet-era Arctic bases and expansion of its “Arctic Army.”

The report also highlights how the Army will be called on to respond to domestic and foreign infectious disease outbreaks due to its unique proficiency operating in challenging environments. The Army must prepare for an increase in frequency and intensity of these disease outbreaks as changing disease vectors and a warmer, more humid climate amplify tickborne diseases and malaria. 

The authors advise the Army to prepare for future restrictions on fuel use by running simulations using virtual and augmented reality.  

Finally, the report recommends that the Army engage proactively in climate change-oriented campaign planning to anticipate future climate conflicts and mass migration in countries like Bangladesh. Incorporating future challenges into today’s budgets will distribute the cost of adaptation. 

Climate change is radically altering the theater of operations and the homefront, increasing the challenges the U.S. military faces at each stage of its national security mission. This report echoes the need to more fully incorporate climate threats into our security awareness and military readiness.

Mariah Furtek is Research Assistant at the Center for Climate and Security

The New U.S. Department of Defense Leadership Team on Climate Security

By John Conger

As the confirmation processes continue for both Mark Esper to become U.S. Secretary of Defense and General Mark A. Milley to become U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it is worth exploring what these officials have said and done about climate security in general, or particular aspects of it, while they’ve been in their current positions running the Army – including most recently during the confirmation process.

First, as Secretary of the Army, Dr. Esper submitted to Congress a top ten list of his most climate-vulnerable bases, focusing mostly on drought and desertification, and committed to “work closely with other leaders throughout the Department of Defense and with Congress to identify corrective actions and implement steps to enhance our readiness and capability in the face of climate related threats.”

In addition, as both Esper and Milley testified before the House Armed Services Committee on April 2, 2019, Congressman Langevin asked them to comment on the impact that climate change has on military readiness.

Secretary Esper responded: “I’m not sure that I could say that it poses a threat to our readiness, but climate change is something we have to take into account as we consider our installations, our training ranges and how and where we may fight in the future.”

General Milley replied: “I would say the effects of climate change are things we have to consider at the strategic, operational, and tactical level and all of our military operations in the future.”

Finally, both Secretary Esper and General Milley responded to Advance Policy Questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee in advance of their confirmation hearings.  Each of them was asked to comment on the readiness and resource impacts of extreme weather.

Secretary Esper’s responses (pasted in full below) generally accepted the premise that extreme weather had a readiness impact and agreed that it was prudent to pursue resiliency at U.S. military bases.

General Milley’s answers to the Advance Policy Questions (also pasted in full below) provided more detail, noting the challenge posed by the cost of recovery from extreme weather events and the readiness disruptions during the recovery period while infrastructure is being rebuilt and critical facilities are unavailable.

When asked about improving the resiliency of U.S. military bases, he stated: “DoD faces a long-term threat from extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and increased flooding at coastal locations. If confirmed, I will work with DoD’s many stake holders in support of ongoing DoD actions to implement appropriate planning and design standards that account for projected sea level rise and extreme weather events.”

Secretary Esper and General Milley joint a long list of at least 30 senior defense officials, during this Administration, that have highlighted the security risks of a changing climate, and the need to do something about it.

1. Advance Policy Questions and Answers: Secretary Esper

Readiness and Resource Impacts from Extreme Weather

In 2017, three hurricanes resulted in over $1.3 billion in damage to military installations across the U.S. In 2018, extreme weather events caused roughly $9 billion in damage at Tyndall Air Force Base, Camp Lejeune, and Offutt Air Force Base. Hurricane season for 2019 already has begun.

How would you assess the readiness and resource impacts on DOD from recent extreme weather events?

        Secretary Esper: From my previous experience as the Army Secretary, severe weather events have had an impact on DoD’s ability to conduct training and operations at certain installations. It has been my experience that DoD assesses resilience holistically throughout the installation planning and basing processes. If confirmed, I would work with DoD leadership to ensure our planning considers extreme weather events.

Based on these readiness and resource impacts, do you believe it necessary to use more resilient designs in DOD infrastructure?

       Secretary Esper:  I do believe having more resilient designs for our facilities and infrastructure is prudent.

2. Advance Policy Questions and Answers: General Milley

Readiness and Resource Impacts from Extreme Weather

In 2017, three hurricanes resulted in over $1.3 billion in damage to military installations across the U.S. In 2018, extreme weather events caused roughly $9 billion in damage at Tyndall Air Force Base, Camp Lejeune, and Offutt Air Force Base. Hurricane season for 2019 already has begun.

How would you assess the readiness and resource impacts on DoD from recent extreme weather events?

General Milley: The impacts are significant. Over $10 billion in two years creates a strain on our finite resources and forces us to make tough decisions if not supplemented with additional funding. Beyond the nominal cost, damages to infrastructure and delayed repairs also disrupted flight and ground training. It will take time to correct these training backlogs.

Based on these readiness and resource impacts, do you believe it necessary to use more resilient designs in DoD infrastructure?

General Milley: DoD faces a long-term threat from extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and increased flooding at coastal locations. If confirmed, I will work with DoD’s many stake holders in support of ongoing DoD actions to implement appropriate planning and design standards that account for projected sea level rise and extreme weather events.

Femia on TRT World: The Strategic Benefit of Acting on Climate Security

In an interview segment released yesterday by TRT World, Turkey’s international news channel, Francesco Femia, Manager and Senior Advisor of the IMCCS and Co-Founder of the Center for Climate and Security, spoke with host Ghida Fakhry and WRI’s Rebecca Carter about the increasing evidence of a connection between climate change and conflict, the  growing bipartisan consensus in the United States about the security risks of climate change, and the idea of action on climate and security as a strategic benefit for countries that wish to expand their leadership and influence.  The interview begins at 17:45, below.

South Pacific Defence Ministers: Defence Organizations Must Be Ready for Climate Change

In case you missed it: The South Pacific Defense Ministers’ Meeting (SPDMM) issued two important products in May demonstrating heightened concern about the defense implications of climate change among regional militaries. This includes:

  1. A Joint Communiqué from the SPDMM, as represented by Australia, Chile, Fiji, France, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga
  2. A report commissioned by the 2017 SPDMM, titled “Implications of Climate Change on Defence and Security in the South Pacific by 2030,” coordinated by the Observatory on Defence and Climate at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) – a core member of the IMCCS Leadership Consortium.

The communiqué is an admirably robust one, with point number 9, for example, stating:

We acknowledge the 2018 Boe Declaration’s affirmation that “climate change presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of Pacific peoples” and recognised climate change as a challenge for which regional defence organisations must be ready.

The Executive Summary of the commissioned report notes, among other key findings:

There is no doubt that climate change will remain a significant security challenge to the Pacific region in the coming decades. While some see climate change as a security concern in its own right, it can be viewed as a risk multiplier in the Pacific— climate change exacerbates and complicates state fragility, conflict dynamics, economic vulnerability and threatens many aspects of human security (McPherson, 2017).

Both are worth a full read.

Briefer: Latin America, Climate Change, Security and the Role of Regional Militaries

By Lieutenant Commander Oliver-Leighton Barrett, U.S. Navy (Retired), IMCCS Americas Liaison

The Center for Climate and Security published several analyses this year explaining how climate dynamics have contributed to migration crises emanating from the Northern Triangle (i.e. Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala) and Venezuela. See here and here. These crises continue to affect neighboring states, especially states that vulnerable populations perceive as offering greener pastures. Though the ways in which environmental trends affect at-risk populations is well known, how these trends affect national stability and security is largely underappreciated and under-discussed. More specifically, how climate-related trends might disrupt military capabilities and facilities, including military training ranges and bases, within contexts increasingly defined by the fallout of climate related/driven crises, has yet to fully permeate military thought and strategic planning. This article briefly explores the climate – security linkages within the Latin American context, and discusses what regional militaries need to do to stay ahead of strategic risks that put their effectiveness at risk.

To read the full briefer, click here.

New Zealand Defence Plan Includes Entire Chapter on the Climate Crisis

In what is one of the most robust treatments of climate change in any current defense plan, the New Zealand Ministry of Defence’s Defense Capability Plan 2019, released on June 11, includes an entire chapter devoted to addressing climate change. The Plan, according to the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) website, “sets out the Government’s indicative planned investments in the New Zealand Defence Force” and “covers all capability investments out to 2030, and signals investments following 2030 that will be assessed through the next Defence White Paper in 2022.”

Chapter Five, titled “Responding to the Climate Crisis,” can be found on page 17, and refers back to last year’s “Climate Crisis: Defense Readiness and Responsibilities”  assessment from the New Zealand Ministry of Defence, which indicated a major increase in attention to the security risks of climate change from the Kiwi military.

Among other items, the chapter highlights some key defense-related implications of climate change, including:

100.1 An increase in the number of humanitarian
assistance and disaster relief operations;

100.2 An increased likelihood of stability
operations; and

100.3 A larger number of search and rescue missions
occurring across a broader geographical area.

Click here for the full plan.

Top 10 Most Climate-Vulnerable Military Bases According to U.S. Armed Forces

By John Conger

In 2017, the U.S. Congress directed the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a list of the installations in each military service that were most vulnerable to climate change.  They gave DoD a year to do this work, as it wasn’t simple.  The DoD would need to look across its enterprise, and determine how it would measure vulnerability and assess which risks were specifically from climate change.  At the Center for Climate and Security, we published a briefer on the factors they might consider.

In early 2019, the DoD report was submitted to Congress, but it omitted the requested prioritization and had other puzzling gaps as well.  It omitted the Marine Corps.  It left out all non-US bases.  It didn’t respond to Congressional questions about mitigation and cost.  Instead, it included a list of 79 bases that the Department determined were its most critical, and then did a rudimentary assessment of the threat from climate change without prioritization.  Congress then directed them to go back and redo the work.

In April, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) submitted an addendum that prioritized the 79 installations previously submitted by ascribing values to various climate impacts, but including no scale or measure within each.  In other words, you were either vulnerable to flooding or not. That was the extent of the analysis.  Nonetheless, the DoD developed three prioritized lists (again omitting the Marine Corps) based on that exercise.  Congress again expressed dissatisfaction with the approach and went straight to the individual Services, asking each of them for their own lists.

The Air Force list was revealed by the media earlier, and we did a side-by-side evaluation of the OSD list for the AF and their own list.

Now, each of the services has submitted a list to Congress, and we’ll do similar side-by-sides in the coming days.  Until then, here are the climate-vulnerable base lists from each of the services which were sent to Congress yesterday, and published for the first time on our site:

A few early observations:

The Marine Corps list is entirely new.  Previously, OSD didn’t submit a Marine Corps list, which was a major gap in the initial report.  Also of note, the Marine Corps list is the only one that didn’t confine itself to domestic bases.

The Army list is focused not on flooding and sea-level rise, but on desertification, drought and risk of wildfire.

The Navy list looks much the same as the OSD version, but it’s notable that the Navy submitted more than ten bases.  In general, it’s good to remember that each of these lists is intended to be the bases most at risk, but it doesn’t mean that other bases aren’t at risk as well.

More to come.

Jamie Shea on the Climate and Security Podcast

In the latest episode of The Climate and Security Podcast, host Dr. Sweta Chakraborty talks to Jamie Shea, Secretary General of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges at NATO. Shea discusses how climate change is happening faster than initially predicted and what this acceleration means for global security. He describes the tensions between climate change mitigation and adaptation in terms of resource allocation and prioritization and how both must occur simultaneously. Jamie provides global security policy insight that only someone who has had a 39-year long career at NATO can provide. Enjoy this informative and unique global perspective from Jamie Shea!

The Center for Climate and Security’s video podcast takes climate change out of its environmental box, and brings it to the big kid’s table of national and international security. Featuring a series of exclusive dialogues with leading security, military and international affairs experts, the podcast explores our responsibility to prepare for a rapidly-changing world.

Subscribe to the Center for Climate and Security’s YouTube channel to never miss an episode! Or listen to the audio version on iTunes or Stitcher, and subscribe now to get real-time updates. If you’re one of those already subscribed on iTunes, we always welcome your ratings and reviews, as this helps us get the podcast out there to more listeners!

IMCCS Engages EU Security Community on Climate Security

This article is a cross-post from the Planetary Security Initiative on May 16, 2019.

This week climate-related security issues were prominently discussed in Brussels. Luxembourg Minister of Defense François Bausch addressed the topic in a meeting with his counterparts in the Foreign Affairs Council. This Council, which is composed of Ministers from EU Member States, brought together Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense in a so-called joined session format. They were joined by their counterparts from the G5 Sahel and its Secretary General. The EU reiterated its commitment to the region and its willingness to increase its engagement in the future. Defense Minister Bausch stressed that the deployment of soldiers alone could not provide a durable solution and that other means of crisis management are necessary and have come rather short in the past. Later in the afternoon the minister briefed the Council about the catastrophic consequences of climate change and its implications for security and defense policy. The Sahel is a region which is highly vulnerable and security impacts related to climate change are already visible, as is also outlined in various PSI activities on Mali, Lake Chad and other parts of the Sahel. The Minister from Luxembourg proposed placing climate-security on the official agenda of the Defence Ministers meeting in the EU Council to consolidate the European commitment to this topic.

On the sidelines of the Council meeting François Bausch had a working meeting with the Netherlands Minister of Defense Ank Bijleveld and the Director of the European Defense Agency Jorge Domecq. They discussed to join forces in analysing what a Europese defence policy strategy on the security dimension of climate change should entail. Climate security is not a new topic for the European Union. Earlier this year, EU Foreign and Defense Ministers underscored that climate change acts as a global threat multiplier and increasingly as a threat in its own right, reacting to the stark findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report. The challenge now is to translate this to action in the field of early warning and geopolitical analysis, capabilities to respond to weather-related disasters, situational risks assessments during the implementation of missions, and the resource and carbon footprint of military activities.

The next day General Tom Middendorp (Ret.), Chair of the newly established International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), gave presentations on the security dimension of climate change in the EU Military Committee and the EU Political & Security Committee, in addition to meetings with some of the most senior military representatives based in Brussels. He outlined how climate change, compared with resource stress and population growth leads inter alia to humanitarian disasters, (local) resource disputes and additional migration. This calls for more and other intelligence on conflict risks and its root causes, an increased need to protect key infrastructures, additional calls for border protection and disaster relief. At the same time military organisations can make a huge contribution to addressing climate change and natural resource stress by innovation of technology and materials used at home and at mission, which is attractive to them since it often reduces the high costs and risks of logistics connected to military activities. He invited experts and officials from the EU institutions and EU member states to join the new international network that aims to anticipate, analyze and address the security dimension of climate change, and how military organisations can prepare for and respond to it. He was accompanied by Louise van Schaik, Head of Unit at the Clingendael Institute, who published earlier on how the EU could prepare for climate-related security risks and which instruments the EU could consider for the cases of Iraq and Mali.  

On the sidelines of the council meeting François Bausch had working interviews with the Netherlands Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld-Schouten and the Director of the European Defense Agency Jorge Domecq. The Minister again tackled the issue of climate change and the implications for security and defense policy. Climate security is not a new topic for the European Union. In light of the stark findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report EU Foreign and Defense Ministers underscored earlier this year, that climate change acts as a global threat multiplier and increasingly as a threat in its own right.

Middendorp Committee
Chairman of the IMCCS, General Tom Middendorp, Chief of Defence of the Netherlands (Ret), informs the EU Military Committee, and its Chairman, General Claudio Graziano, about climate change-related security issues, and invites experts and officials to join the IMCCS.

The afternoon before, during a meeting of the Brussels Dialogue on Climate Diplomacy at the Permanent Representation of the Netherlands to the European Union, General Middendorp was joined by Shiloh Fetzek and Tobias von Lossow in a panel moderated by Alexander Verbeek, Policy Director at EDRC. Ms. Fetzek spoke about her experiences with elevating Climate and Security in the work of policy makers in the U.S. Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Next week she will travel to Wellington, New Zealand to join the 2019 Pacific Environmental Security Forum co-hosted by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade under the theme: “Building Resilience in the Pacific”. Tobias von Lossow, Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute, addressed recent Climate and Security Developments in the PSI spotlight regions Iraq and Mali. He specifically focused on the relationship and inter-linkages of climate change adaptation measures, central to the defense sector, and the conflict and security situation in these cases. He gave an update of recent events in Iraq and Mali (see also our coverage here and here) which underlined how precarious the security situation is on the ground and illustrated their connection to natural resource stress in these countries.