Transcript: Climate Strategy Media Roundtable with Mr. Paul Farnan

By U.S. Army Public AffairsFebruary 15, 2022

Media Roundtable with Paul Farnan, acting ASA, Installations, Energy and Environment

09 February 2022

Mr. Paul Farnan: This is a very important issue for us. And so we're grateful for you taking the time to talk to us today.

I think it's important to start with setting the baseline of the core mission of the U.S. Army and that is to fight and win the nation's wars. So I want to emphasize that nothing in this strategy will detract from or impede us from accomplishing that mission. In fact, just the opposite. We actually believe that this strategy will enhance our ability to accomplish that mission. The steps that we’re laying out are going to increase the capacity of the operational Force. It's going to increase the resiliency of our installations. It's going to improve the places where our Soldiers are working and where they're living with their families. The modernization steps this will put into our installations is going to increase our ability to deploy our forces where they're needed under any circumstances. With this strategy we are recognizing that climate change is a threat to U.S. National Security and to the well-being of the American people, but beyond that broader threat, it's also already affecting our Soldiers’ everyday lives. We're seeing it in where we have to operate, for instance with the melting of the polar ice caps, the trade routes that are developing through the Arctic Ocean, the increasing great power competition for natural resources up there. The Army is going to have to be able to operate regularly in the extreme environments of the Arctic. And closer to home we're being called more and more often to perform humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions to assist our fellow citizens, to assist our fellow citizens who are dealing with these devastating storms that are increasing in frequency.

What this strategy does, what Secretary Wormuth’s vision and leadership is doing is laying down concrete steps that the Army can take to better enable us to operate effectively in a changing environment and also to take real steps to reduce their own greenhouse gasses in hopes of mitigating the long-term effects of climate change.

So, with that we can take some questions.

Moderator: All right, sir. First, we'll go to Michael Birnbaum from Washington Post.

Michael Birnbaum: Hi. Thanks so much for doing this roundtable, appreciate it. I just wanted to ask what in this strategy, it’s a long list of things that you're going to be doing, what is the biggest change, the biggest departure from your current practice? What do you anticipate being the hardest thing to put into effect?

PF: Thanks, Michael. We're glad you're here.

I don't think anything in here is a drastic change or an altering course of where we have been. The resiliency of our installations from an energy and water point of view has always been, or at least has been for a very long time, important and a priority for the Army. And, you know, the first line of effort you see is installations and everything we're doing with that, although the focus is reducing the greenhouse gasses, but all of those steps are actually going to increase the resiliency of our installations. And as you know, it's the installations here, here domestically that enable us to project power abroad to where our forces are needed. So all of these steps are just really a continuation, and I would argue even an improvement about how we're addressing the resiliency of our installations.

From more on the operational side, again, I don't think we're altering much. What we're looking for is ways to more effectively enhance our capabilities of the force and how they fight, and how they're able to fight wars. And the steps we’re taking, the technology that we're going to work with industry to develop and implement, it's going to increase the efficiency of the force. If we can reduce the amount of fuel required for our vehicles and systems….again, that's less of a logistical tail-line that we have to, that we're going to have to supply our forces, which means greater on station time for the combat vehicles. It means less combat forces are being pulled off the front lines to protect these resupply lines. So, I don't see anything as a drastic change. I see this, again, continuing the course of increasing our capabilities and increasing the resiliency of our installations, but I see it as actually just really taking a bigger step forward in doing so.

Does that answer your question?

MB: Yeah, thanks. Thanks.

Moderator: Alright, next we'll go to Natalie Brand from CBS News.

Natalie Brand: Thanks for doing this call. In terms of electrifying the fleet, is there funding currently to do that? And what would that entail for combat vehicles specifically?

PF: So combat vehicles….so as you can see in the strategy that's a much longer timeline. There's obviously additional challenges given the complexity and the weight and the terrain that these vehicles operate under and also, you know, recharging fully electric vehicles in austere battlefields is a challenge that we're going to be working on, again with our partners in industry to figure out.

We'll be looking to take gradual steps, do this methodically. We're looking at electric kits that we can put in to hybridize these vehicles, which will be a huge benefit to us. It'll decrease the fuel requirements of these vehicles. We are already seeing as we're putting in some electric kits into some of these vehicles a 20 or 25 percent reduction in the amount of fuel. So again, you know, if we're using a quarter less fuel, you know, that's a quarter more time these vehicles get to spend on station. It's less, a quarter less fuel we have to move and protect with combat forces. What we're also finding is the electrification is giving us increased capabilities in that it lets us perform what we're calling, what's called silent overwatch. So, a lot of these vehicles have to be stationed at the front line and keep their engines running in order to ride the electric power for all the electrical systems that are contained in the vehicles. This hybridization allows us to shut off the engine. So, one it saves the fuel but two also it drops the acoustic signature and the heat signature, both of which would make our vehicles and our Soldiers targets. So here again, we're seeing how the steps we’re taking are actually providing more protection for our Soldiers.

NB: Thank you. Back to the funding, is the current plan as detailed in the strategy funded?

PF: We are working through the funding. We're going to be working with Congress to figure out how to do the Appropriations funding. We're working through with the implementation plan right now. We're looking at all different ways for funding, both the appropriated funds but also what partnerships can we create with industry to develop these technologies and get them implemented.

Moderator: All right. We'll go to Thomas Novelly from

Thomas Novelly: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us today. Also about the electric vehicle fleet, specifically non-tactical and tactical. You mentioned using tactical vehicle electrification kits on a lot of these tactical platforms. Is the kind of overall mission or goal to retrofit the existing vehicle fleet and make them electric or to have brand new vehicles that are electric?

PF: Are we talking tactical or not tactical?

TN: Both.

PF: Okay, on the non-tactical side what we're looking at is…. so as you know, the Army leases a lot of our vehicles through GSA. So as these leases come up we will be looking to replace the gas powered vehicles with electric vehicles. We're setting up policy now. Our Army Materiel Command, General Daly, has already issued directives that whenever possible as the leases turnover you get electric vehicles if they are available if they're not and we realize that the market is not quite where it needs to be yet then, you know, we look to plug-in hybrids and hybrids to kind of fill that gap until we can go fully electric on the non-tactical fleet.

On the tactical fleet, a lot of what we're doing is installing these electrical kits on the existing vehicles to hybridize them because as I've said on the tactical side it's a much longer timeline to actually be able to convert and have purpose-built fully electric vehicles.

TN: Excellent. Just one quick follow-up. You know, obviously civilians read a lot of headlines about headaches with electric cars - sometimes even things like them catching fire etc. Is there any concerns that the Army has when phasing in those electric vehicles, perhaps on the non-tactical side like getting a commercial sedan or a commercial truck, for example.

PF: Well, what I can tell you is the safety of our Soldiers and civilians and their families is absolutely our number one priority. And anything we do, that safety will be paramount. If there are concerns, whatever concerns there are out there with electric vehicles we will make sure that we're going, we're working with industry to make sure that we're not putting our Soldiers or civilians or their families into unnecessary harm's way.

TN: Thank you for your time.

Moderator: Alright. Next, we'll go to Ethan Sternfield from Inside Defense.

Ethan Sternfield: Good morning. Thanks for doing this. I wanted to ask first about the cost. There are 29 like pretty specific intermediate goals in the strategy, but not a single one has a cost estimate. When will that come out?

PF: So the funding….it's going to be a moving target. As you can see, this is not, this is a strategy that lays out steps really over the next, you know, a lot in the coming decade and even some beyond the next decade. A lot of the things we're looking for, or a bunch of the things were looking for the technology still maturing and developing. You know, we've seen over the last decade, we've seen how renewable energy sources, how the technology, how that curve has gone up while the cost curve has gone down. So it's kind of hard to say exactly what the exact cost will be because this is, like I said, it's going to be a step-by-step methodical process over the course of the next decade. We are, you know, as I've also said, we're looking for partnerships. This is not all going to be appropriated taxpayer-funded dollars here. We've got partnerships with private industry. For example, on our installations, as we're looking to increase the energy and resilience of installations we make it agreements with local utilities or energy service providers where we lease them attractive land. They come in, they'll build a large solar array. They'll operate it on day-to-day normal operations and that will just feed back into the grid to power the local community of which the base is part of. But during a contingency, if the local grid goes down then by agreement we’re able to use that power to power our mission essential, mission critical systems so that we can continue with our mission. So things like that, it's a win-win. The Army's not spending money. We're helping provide clean renewable power into the local power grid, but we're also increasing the resiliency of our own installations. So steps like that. We're going to be creative. We're going to look at every way to stretch the dollars as best as we can.

ES: Okay, and if I can follow up on that. The strategy said that you're going to have on all electric duty light, sorry all electric light duty not tactical vehicle fleet in the next five years. That is within the five-year FYDP. Why is there no cost estimate for that? Are they going to give you some of the vehicles for free?

PF: Sadly, no. (laughter) We're working with CEQ and with GSA on how the cost allowances go. Now, keep in mind, you know, we have to pay for the gas power vehicles as well. So what the cost differential is, we're working with GSA on the cost schedule to address any cost differential between electric vehicles and gas-powered vehicles. So it's, you know, it's not like we're getting the gas powered vehicles for free either. A minor adjustment. I know there's some funding available; if the FY22 appropriations does get passed that's going to provide some funding to allow for this, and we will be programming money for these programs into the POM. You know, we're working through the POM process right now for FY24 to 28. So this is all, you know, this is a new strategy. This is a new approach under Secretary Wormuth with her leadership. So this is just gearing up, and as you know, you know the FYDP and the POM, these are long-term issues and it takes a little bit time to wrap it all up and get them into it.

Moderator: Alright, next we'll go to Corey Dickstein with Stars and Stripes.

Corey Dickstein: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate you guys doing this today.

I'm curious….and I appreciate this is all emerging technology on the electric vehicles and that kind of stuff. But, you know, when you look at your heavy-duty, tactical vehicles, tanks, whatever replaces the Bradley, self-propelled artillery, that kind of stuff, is this, you know, is powering those kinds of vehicles far down the line electrically something that you guys are even looking at, considering is it even possible, considering how much power, you know, they would take up?

PF: Yes. And the strategy actually specifically calls out the timeline for the tactical vehicle electrification. As I've said, that is a much longer time line because you've rightly pointed out all the issues that that's going to involve. We are going to push hard to get there. But again, we're going to be methodical and deliberate as we do it to make sure that as we implement these changes rather than impeding the mission effectiveness of these systems we’re actually enhancing it, which we believe will in fact enhance it. And as you again pointed out the technology development, the maturation of this technology is still happening. If we look back 10 years ago and where EVs were and where we are today I don't think anyone sitting in 2010 would have imagined where we're going with EVs today. It’s the same deal, if we look ahead to where we're going to be in 2032 if we follow that same curve there's going to be a lot of improvements. You know, we're building an army for the future. We're operating that Army today. We understand that. So we're going to be methodical and careful on how we do that, but we're absolutely going to push because we believe this will increase our capabilities for all the reasons I've said.

CD: Understood. And just a quick follow-up. Are there protections or assurances built into this strategy where, you know, say a new administration comes in and they don't necessarily align their views on climate change and such with the current administration? Are there ways to assure that these plans continue moving forward, download on the line?

PF: So obviously any strategy or policy that an administration and the leadership puts in place is subject to the changes in whims of follow-on administration. I think when it comes to this climate strategy, I think what people are going to see 1) is the growing recognition that climate change is in fact a threat to our nation's security. And it is in fact, impacting how and where we operate and so it needs to be addressed, both from a mitigation and adaptation point of view. But also the steps that we're taking, you know, as I continue to say, these steps while they are focused on climate change and reducing greenhouse gasses and the impacts of climate change, every one of these steps is going to increase the effectiveness of our fighting force. It's going to increase the capabilities of our installations from which we project our fighting force. So I think rather than trying to lock something in and saying, oh, you know, we have to do something to make sure nothing, nobody changes it, I think the effects are going to make it clear to whoever, whatever administration follows on that hey, these are actually good positive steps for the Army. These are making us a better and more effective fighting force and that I think will speak for itself as far as longevity and the lasting power of these changes.

Moderator: Alright. Next, we'll go to Kris Osborne from Warrior Maven.

Kris Osborne: Oh, hi. Thanks. Appreciate you doing this. I'm interested in the synergies between the modernization and acquisition communities when it comes to potentially hardening vehicles or ruggedizing them for performance in the Arctic or cooling technologies for performing in places where there might be increased heat. What kinds of synergies are there in terms of looking at those questions?

PF: So we have been working closely, hand-in-hand with our acquisition counterparts, my counterparts in that Secretariat, along with the G4 team. We've also been working with Futures Command. They've had a very active role in developing the strategy with us. So we realize the importance of that community and the importance of their work to actually realizing this strategy. So I would say they have as much a role as anybody both in how we develop this strategy and how we're going to carry it out.

KO: Roger. Excellent. A quick follow-up. It’s very interesting about longer term plans given the amount of fuel something like an Abrams consumes, right? What are a couple of the steps you might be looking at to integrate certain kinds of electric propulsion for some of these heavier vehicles? I know you mentioned the longer timeframe, but is there one or two things that are kind of steps in that direction?

PF: I don't want to get too far into the technical details because I am by no means the expert on the technology, but again, it's, you know, as I've talked with these, with the folks at the acquisition and the Futures Command it really is the step-by-step hybridization. It's installing the battery and electrifying a little bit more. You know, start with electrification to enable the silent overwatch. If the tanks don't have, you know, a quarter or a third of the time of tanks operations could be, could end up being just sitting idle, in which time they would have to run their engines, even sitting idle to power all the systems on the tank. So if we can start putting these electric kits in now to allow that silent overwatch and prevent that idling, you know….if we can reduce five or six hours of idle that's fuel that's not being burned and also again, that's the heat signature going down, the acoustic signature going down, better protecting our forces.

Moderator: Alright. Next, we'll go to Elizabeth Howe from DefenseOne.

Elizabeth Howe: Hi, thanks for doing this. I had a question going back to the top where you mentioned that none of these are really drastic changes, whereas climate experts have said that we kind of need some drastic changes to turn around our climate trajectory. Is it that the Army has been kind of ahead of that curve ball or that the onus is on other entities other than the Army to make more drastic changes, or is it that they've already made the drastic changes that are needed to kind of change the tide of climate change? Thank you.

PF: I think it’s not drastic changes in what we're doing. As in, you know, our focus has been on the energy resilience of our installations. So rather than saying this is a drastic change in what we're doing, I would call this a significant step forward in how we're doing it. As we're looking at the energy resiliency of our installation we're looking more and more as the technology is now maturing to using renewable energy and battery storage and micro grids to provide us that resiliency because the technology is now getting to the point where we can do that. You know, and we're also seeing that the best resiliency for an installation is to have a self-contained energy generation system rather than depend on anything coming from outside the base which has vulnerabilities. It so happens that, you know, renewable energy, renewable generation is a really good fit for a self-contained generation system on the base. So it's not a drastic change in the course we’re taking, as in the resiliency of our installations and the capacity of our forces, but it is a significant step forward in the technologies we're going to start employing to do so, which will also, in fact, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It's just fortunate for us that it goes hand-in-hand and they're complimentary of each other.

EH: Thank you.

Moderator: All right, we have time for one last question. These are all the questions that were identified as we started out. I just want to open the floor up to whoever may have this one last question that we have time for.

Karli Goldenberg: I have a question.

Moderator: Yes, who is this?

KG: This is Karli Goldenberg with Army Magazine.

Moderator: Okay, go ahead Karli.

KG: All right. Thank you for doing this. I know that in the plan it outlines, and you mentioned pretty recently, about how the Army wants to install a micro grid at every installation by 2035. And in previous conversations I've had with people about this, they highlight different installations like Fort Hunter Liggett or Schofield Barracks, the generating station specifically. I'm just wondering what the plan is for microgrids on installations that may be in less resource rich areas. Obviously with Fort Hunter Liggett you have the opportunity to harness solar power and hydropower out in Hawaii, but for the installations throughout the country and throughout the world that don't have that, what is the plan to allow for this energy independence?

PF: So that is a really good question. It's one I don't have a complete answer for because we're going to, you know, we're going to work this through with the individual installations as we go. Like I said, this this is a new strategy. This is a new approach that Secretary Wormuth is implementing here. We recognize the issues that you've raised. We're going to work…..we're working with Army Materiel Command, with Installations Command, with the individual Garrisons to figure out what the best solution is. We're going to work with the local utilities at each installation. We will work with our partners in industry and figure it out. There are installations out there, based on their geography, that it's going to be more challenging. Obviously, a Southern California installation is going to have different issues than one in Alaska or North Dakota or the Northeast. So, you know, I'm not trying to dodge the question but it really is an installation by installation approach, and we've got to work with the local commanders, local utilities, the people on the ground to figure out what that approach is going to be. And then we use all the brain power that we have and, you know, along with academia and industry and figure out how we can effectively move forward with us.

KG: Thank you.

Moderator: All right, before we go to closing comments by Mr. Farnan, just want to say thank you everybody for joining us. Also, if there are any questions that we were not able to get to today please email me. This is a Lieutenant Colonel Brandon Kelley at the same email that you RSVP'd for earlier today, and we will work to get answers to those questions to you as soon as possible. Again, thank you for joining us today, and I will now pass back to Mr. Farnan for closing remarks.

PF: Thank you. I also want to add my thanks for taking the time. Like I said, this is really important to us. We think it's very important to the nation. So we appreciate the attention you're giving this.

Again, I want to emphasize the core mission of the United States Army is to fight and win our nation's wars. And the safety of our Soldiers, of our civilians, of our families is the number one priority for the Army and for Secretary Wormuth. Everything in this strategy is going to enable those priorities and those missions. It's going to increase our capabilities of the fighting force. It's going to increase the resiliency and the protection of our installations. And it also, it's going to address the very real threat that is climate change. The Army is taking very positive steps. We're going to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions because in addition to defending this nation on the battlefield we're also, we need to be good stewards of our environment of our resources here at home where our people live.

Moderator: Well again, thank you ladies and gentlemen. This concludes today's media roundtable. We really appreciate your coverage of this important step for the Army.