Magazine article National Defense

Climate Change

Magazine article National Defense

Climate Change

Article excerpt

The cause of climate change may remain a contentious topic on Capitol Hill, but the Department of Defense must prepare for the challenges that rising sea levels, melting permafrost and prolonged heat waves present to operational readiness now and in the future, former military officials and security experts say.

Updated forecasting equipment, cold-weather gear and improved base protection are among the technology investments needed to combat the effects of climate change in the Arctic region, in the Asia-Pacific and on domestic and international coastal bases, experts say.

In 2015, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in an oped in Time Magazine called climate change "a global threat multiplier" that could increase conflicts such as resource disputes, ethnic tensions and economic discontent.

"Preparing for climate change is about risk - even if we do not understand every aspect of the scientific predictions, we know that the consequences of not acting may be significant," he wrote.

The government this year released several reports that highlight the role its effects play on national and global security, and provide recommendations for new planning initiatives.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon published a directive on climate change adaptation and resilience that established policies and assigned responsibility across the department to assess and manage risks.

The department also recently released a report delivered to Congress in June called "Resourcing the Arctic Strategy," which noted where the Pentagon is making science and technology investments in the northern region. That same month, the National Intelligence Council published a white paper, "Implications for U.S. National Security of Anticipated Climate Change," that predicted where its effects are likely to pose wide-ranging security challenges over the next 20 years.

Monitoring equipment is "the biggest and most important" technology investment that the military could make to deal with the effects of climate change, said Andrew Holland, senior fellow for energy and climate at the American Security Project, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

"That goes to space capabilities, computer capabilities, weather satellites, predictive capabilities from weather forecasting and long-term climate forecasting," he said. "That's a significant investment that they should be making."

The Defense Department directive on climate change puts "a lot of onus" on each military base and station to conduct a risk assessment, he said. "The first step is they need to be able to predict [the risk]."

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets and cold-weather equipment will certainly be needed in the Arctic region, where melting ice caps and warmer oceans are opening up new opportunities for commerce and transport that countries like China and Russia are eager to seize upon. Defense officials including Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson have recently noted the growing need to focus on the region.

The Pentagon is looking to spend about $6 billion on new assets in the Arctic in fiscal year 2017, according to the department's Arctic strategy report to Congress.

That number includes developing anti-icing surfaces, testing Arctic propulsion systems and improving forecasting and prediction of sea ice, most of which would be overseen by the Navy, the report said.

After years of discussions, the Coast Guard has begun efforts to procure a new icebreaker, at an estimated cost of $1 billion. The service currently only has two such ships - the Polar Star and the Healy - in operation, while other countries have made significant investments in their icebreaker programs.

Other possible areas of investment include icehardening equipment for ships, weapons that can fire reliably in extreme weather conditions and new cold-weather gear for sailors, Holland said.

"You'll need things as simple as gloves that allow you to have full and complete range of motion," he said. …

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