The U.S. Military Goes Green

By Jonathan Marshall

When the U.S. military wages war, it aims for victory, not environmental sustainability. But the leaders of America’s fighting men and women have increasingly come to realize that winning is a lot easier when you have the environment on your side.

For one thing, more than a few top officers have started warning that climate disruption represents a serious threat to U.S. national security by creating social and political unrest around the world. Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, recently said global warming could “cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.”

The U.S. Army recently completed its largest solar installation at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of www.army.mil.)

The military also has taken aggressive steps to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels — a smart move given that it is the world’s biggest consumer of energy and oil. The U.S. Army in January completed installation of its largest solar power facility, at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, which will help it save nearly a million dollars a year. Vandenberg Air Force Base plans to fund an environmental impact assessment of a new 10- to 15 MW solar installation with a check for $167,888 that it just received from PG&E for its energy efficiency savings. Over the next 12 years, the military is expected to increase its annual spending on renewable energy to $1.8 billion and multiply its total renewable capacity to 3,200 megawatts.

It is also deploying more fuel efficient vehicles and mobile solar power units for units in the field — steps that will not only save money but reduce the vulnerability of its logistics units that deliver fuel in dangerous lands like Afghanistan.

“Basically we don’t like having vulnerable supply lines . . . that are not difficult to disrupt,” explained Captain Kerry Gilpin, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations, and Government. “Anything that could threaten our ability to do our critical missions presents a problem for us.”

The U.S. military also launched a “net zero energy” initiative in 2010, starting with a pilot program to turn 17 sites into producers of as much energy as they consume. The concept appeals to the military’s sense of independence and self-reliance as core virtues that advance its security mission.

One small but fascinating project that caught my eye recently came out of PM FSS — Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems, for those of you who haven’t memorized the Oxford Encyclopedia of Military Acronyms. It’s a new kind of fast-deployment camp shelter with rigid walls, providing far more comfort and requiring much less energy than traditional canvas tents.

Each 10-person shelter can be set up in 15 minutes by four individuals. Tents take far longer to deploy because they require wooden platforms.

But that’s only the beginning. From the military’s description, these low-maintenance units could make the most dedicated environmentalist green with envy:

The new shelters have an insulation R-Value of approximately 12, compared to 4 for tents. They feature LED lighting, motion-detecting switches, low-water efficient laundry systems, low-water latrines and shower heads, waterless urinals, rain water collection systems, shower water reuse systems, highly efficient generator micro grids, and solar shading with photovoltaics and battery power storage.

I’m practically ready to move in based on that description alone. And adding to the appeal, “You’ve got a legitimate mattress that’s washable, resistant to mold, that’s so much more comfortable,” said Mike Hope, the combat field service equipment team leader for PM FSS.

Hope added, “The bottom line is, what do we put in the soldier’s hands to make him more effective, making his or her life easier? I think we’ve taken that to another level. Soldiers are walking into a place that’s more like home.”

Email Jonathan Marshall at jonathan.marshall@pge.com.

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