The Department of the Air Force released its Climate Action Plan on October 4, which defines how it will preserve operational capability, increase resiliency, and do its part to help mitigate future climate impacts through specific and measurable objectives and key results. It lays out its enterprise-wide approach to ensuring policies, technology innovation, and evolving operations remain relevant in a changing climate.
Announcing the plan, Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, said that extreme weather and environmental conditions are already imposing high costs on Air Force installations and operational missions, while simultaneously posing new risks to the service’s ability to train and operate effectively. Recent years have seen Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, and many of its fighter aircraft devastated by Hurricane Michael, a third of Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, flooded as the Missouri River overwhelmed levees, and multiple installations across the United States threatened by advancing wildfires. In 2016, the Canyon Wildfire prompted evacuations and a rocket launch delay at Vandenberg Air Force Base (now Space Force Base), California, diverting critical resources and personnel to execute firefighting activities. The Canyon Wildfire alone cost $17.5 million to extinguish and $45 million to accomplish a full recovery. Extreme heat and humidity can also challenge deployed forces’ operational readiness. Meanwhile, environmental changes in the Arctic have led to increased adversary access and activity in the region, driving the publication of the Department of the Air Force Arctic Strategy in 2020.
The Air Force’s new climate plan follows climate action plans from the U.S. Army in February and the U.S. Navy in May. The Department of Defense (DOD), which has its own department-wide Climate Adaptation Plan, did not require the services to create their own plans and time will tell how much involvement or oversight DOD will have with regards to these individual plans as the actions set out in them become reality.
The Air Force has outlined three major priorities in its plan that ensure it maintains the ability to operate under a changing climate, preserves operational capability, protects its systems, and contributes toward enhancing climate change mitigation.
- Maintain air and space dominance in the face of climate risks: Invest in climate-ready and resilient infrastructure and facilities so that installations are better able to project air and space combat power.
- Make climate informed decisions: Develop a climate-informed workforce, integrate security implications of climate change into Department strategy, planning, training, and operations, and incorporate climate considerations into Department requirements, acquisition, logistics, supply chain processes, and wargaming.
- Optimize energy use and pursue alternative energy sources: Expand operational capability and power projection to support operations globally while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adopting cost-competitive alternative energy sources.
The plan states that “climate policies and actions must be incorporated across the Air Force and Space Force, and continually progress as technology advances, as our understanding of climate change impacts deepens, and as our mission requirements evolve”. The Department of the Air Force will provide oversight, monitoring, and implementation direction for its climate efforts through the Senior Leader Climate Forum, comprising the Offices of the Secretariat, Deputy Chiefs of the Air Staff, and Deputy Chiefs of Space Operations, and chaired by the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations, and Environment.
To prevent its critical infrastructure from failing in increasingly extreme conditions, the Air Force will focus on retooling bases and making structures, power grids, fuel distribution systems, and water lines more resistant to these climate-driven impacts. It is using wargames to assess the resiliency of bases and identify vulnerable supply chains, and researching cutting-edge technologies that enable operations off the grid if power fails. The Air Force pledges to continue to develop secure, digitally integrated infrastructure to minimize vulnerabilities and interruptions to its facility control systems. The plan adds that the Air Force will also develop solutions and share technologies alongside local communities, industry partners, and allies and partner nations.
Initiatives are already underway to assess climate effects, modernize infrastructure, and adapt installations to minimize impacts from future climate threats. “Planning tools, such as the Severe Weather and Climate Hazard Screening and Risk Assessment Playbook and Installation Energy Plans, provide opportunities to baseline extreme weather and climatic conditions, assess energy and water requirements, and develop appropriate strategies to minimize future climate impacts on our infrastructure,” the plan states. “Energy Resilience Readiness Exercises further assess and verify an installation’s ability to operate despite power outages, thereby increasing installation resilience to man-made and climate-driven disruptions.”
To improve base resilience, the Air Force will invest $36 million in fiscal year (FY) 2023, increasing to $100 million per year by FY 2027.