Climate change affecting Army training

By C. Todd LopezMay 18, 2016

Climate change affecting Army training
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 27, 2016) -- For the Big Green Machine -- America's Army -- climate change, efforts to prevent it, or to at least adapt to it are about more than saving Mother Earth or even the whales. It's about training, training space, how the Army fights, how often the Army will be called upon to fight in the future, and where.

Last Friday, April 22, was Earth Day. The day has been observed annually since 1970. In conjunction with that observance, Richard G. Kidd IV, who serves as the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for energy and sustainability, along with his counterparts from the Navy, the Air Force and the Department of Defense discussed service-related perspectives on climate change during a panel discussion, April 26, in the Pentagon.


A very visible effect of climate change on Soldiering, Kidd said, involves how weather affects a unit's ability to prepare for its combat mission.

Kidd said the Army needs to train. Following 14 years of counter-insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is looking to build readiness across the "full spectrum of operations," also referred to as "decisive action in support of unified land operations." That readiness has been tagged as the No. 1 priority for the Army by its chief of staff, and large-scale training at the Army's combat training centers are a key part of that effort.

"Without access to ranges and land, the Army's readiness suffers," Kidd said. "One of our key areas of training is Fort Irwin, California, where we do bridge-level maneuvers."

Kidd said Fort Irwin suffered three years of drought, and so the ground there was unprepared for substantial rainfall. "Then suddenly we got all that water -- in one day. It washed out brigade-sized live-fire training complexes across Fort Irwin."

The rain at Irwin, Kidd said, "exceeded the ability of the land to absorb that water, it created flash floods and erosion which destroyed the ranges: control towers, firing platforms, and target berms that come up. Much of that was destroyed. We couldn't use those ranges for training. And that's a unique asset in the Army. It affected the training cycle. And there was a significant cost to fix that."

Kidd also pointed to flooding at Fort Eustis, Virginia; to melting permafrost up in Alaska which affected the ability of Soldiers there to use firing platforms; and to erosion of tank trails at Fort Benning, Georgia.

At Fort Benning, "a lot of the tank trails on the installation have eroded significantly," Kidd said. "We've always had an erosion problem. But it's accelerated in the past year due to the shift in rain patterns and the amount and intensity of the rain fall."


Soldiers, Kidd said, are subject to heat stress, and their performance decreases with increased heat.

Army Technical Bulletin MED 507 spells out various temperature categories and the level of intensity of activity that can safely be performed during those temperature conditions. A "Category IV" temperature condition, for instance, is defined as being between 88-89.9 degrees. A "Category V" temperature condition is above 90 degrees.

The bulletin offers specific types of activity that can be performed during different temperature conditions, as well as recommendations for durations for those activities. Such activities include patrolling, calisthenics, low crawling, field assaults, walking on loose sand with a load, and construction of defensive positions.

Climate change affects the number of days in certain regions of the country that are classified as either Category IV or Category V days. And that affects the Army's ability to train in those areas.

Citing a temperature chart for Fort Stewart, Georgia, Kidd said "if you take a middle-road estimate of future climate change, we're going to go from around 80 days a year of Category IV or Category V weather to 130 days a year of Category IV and Category V."

Fort Stewart is just 150 miles south-east of Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where the Army trains as many as 35,000 basic trainees each year.

"Can we really train Soldiers if roughly half of our training days are going to be Category IV or Category V, where we have to curtail or eliminate their outdoor activity?" he asked.


The phrase "win in a complex world," is all over the Army. Factors that make the world "complex" include population growth, increasing consumption, urbanization, transitions in energy, and the spread of technology, for instance.

"But the one item that cuts across all of those trends is climate change," Kidd said. "For the Army what does that mean for plans and operations?"

Kidd pointed out that in any particular state, "governance capacity" describes the ability of a government to provide public goods and services to their citizens and constituents.

The effects of climate change, he said, such as rising sea levels, or scarcity of fresh water, for instance, can overwhelm the capacity of a government to provide the services it is supposed to, and that makes for failed states.

"If a state can't meet those requirements, it tips over," Kidd said.

Areas with failed states, or other "ungoverned" areas, Kidd said, leave a vacuum that is ripe for takeover by terrorists. "These are the spaces that are the petri dishes that nurture these threats."

Kidd referred to the area from sub-Saharan Africa up into central Asia as an "arc of instability."

"These are the same countries that are going to be the most adversely affected by climate change," he said. "The effects of climate change, along with other global trends, have the potential to overwhelm the governance capacity of states in this region. And when that governance capacity gets overwhelmed, you have the opportunity for insecurity -- an unstable, uncontrolled space. And from that could come terrorism, crime, civil war and all of these other security threats."

When that happens, he said, "The decision will have to be made by the civil command authority: is that worth the intervention for the U.S. military?"

Climate change, he said, can mean increased engagement by American Soldiers.

With that in mind, Kidd said, such problems can be inoculated against with the Army's regionally aligned forces concept, with development of host-nation capacity, strategic engaging by combatant commands, as well as with involvement by other government agencies such as the U.S. Agency for International Development. All are examples of how America can contribute to bolstering governance capacity to avoid future failed states.


In 2011, a tsunami, triggered by an earthquake, caused the failure of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Eastern Japan.

Japanese manufacturers who relied on power produced at Fukushima were themselves responsible for producing a small plastic part that is used to attach automobile dashboards to the chassis.

"Every car has these grommets in them," Kidd said, adding that Japanese manufacturers of those parts produced the preponderance of them, globally. "So When Fukushima went out, BMW lines in Europe shut down."

Kidd said that today, major consulting firms in the private sector now consider supply chain resiliency for the companies they consult for.

"Private industry is thinking about the potential disruptions to supply chain," Kidd said. But for the Army, he said, "we don't think enough about our supply chain and our suppliers and their vulnerability to disruptive events. Where are the vulnerabilities in the Army supply chain, to extreme weather, or in particular, to water-driven events?"

"We need to get a better understanding of the vulnerabilities in our supply chain," Kidd concluded.

Kidd said the Army does spend a great deal of time and effort on ensuring the adequacy and security of its supply chain.

"But we need to integrate climate change considerations into our ongoing processes," he said. "We have initiated this effort within the last two years. Specifically, we have developed and are constructing a range of water savings features across our industrial facilities focused on the very large amount of water used in manufacturing."


"For the military, it's about national security," Kidd said of Earth Day. "The effects of climate change and environmental degradation are going to increase our requirements while also imposing more constraints on our training and readiness and use of scarce dollars. The sooner we get started, the more prepared we will be, and the less costly it's going to be to adapt."

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