The U.S. is spending billions to make military vehicles more eco-friendly. One of the ways the Department of Defense (DoD) can do this is to use corrosion-prevention solutions to increase readiness, decrease maintenance costs and extend the life of military equipment. Recently, Homeland Security Today spoke with Leo ‘Chip’ Crotty, for his insight on how DoD is tackling the climate change challenge.
Chip Crotty is President of Cocoon, a company he founded over 40 years ago with his father Leo Crotty Sr., Captain, USN (Retired). The company’s primary customer is the United States Department of Defense which uses Cocoon products and services in all branches of the military.
How is DoD addressing climate change?
The DoD developed a formal Climate Adaptation Plan in September 2021 that included five areas of focus. Those focus areas range from reducing climate impact to building resilience.
A crucial DoD need is to maintain operational readiness in the face of increasingly severe and damaging environmental conditions. Extreme temperatures, increasing humidity, storm frequency and severity, UV rays, airborne pollution, windblown sand, all degrade and corrode military assets – from helicopters and weapon systems to ground support equipment and spare parts.
To address those challenges, the DoD established corrosion prevention offices in each military branch and charged them with working proactively to improve equipment readiness, reduce maintenance costs, extend asset lifecycles, and increase safety.
What are some of the drivers, caused by climate change, that DoD is focused on?
In its Climate Risk Analysis published in October 2021, the DoD cited “increasing temperatures; changing precipitation patterns; and more frequent, intense, and unpredictable extreme weather conditions” as key challenges, and said that the associated risks to capabilities, missions, and equipment were growing.
Given that corrosion has historically cost the DoD $20 billion-plus annually, and results in more than one million Non-Available Days every year, the DoD rightly sees the growing risks associated with climate change as significant to both operational readiness and financial management.
What are some of the ways DoD is addressing their impact?
Fortunately, the DoD can leverage infrastructure it’s had in place for a number of years. Along with the Corrosion Policy and Oversight Office at the DoD, there are corrosion prevention offices across the different branches and throughout the military. These offices are dedicated to protecting military assets and equipment from the elements, which means much work has already been done in this area, and staffing and systems are in place to increase innovation and implementation.
Some examples of existing approaches that can be further leveraged:
- The DoD spent six years and several million dollars to create a specification for innovative covers that protect military assets from corrosion, UV rays, airborne pollutants, sand, and more. The DoD is currently employing those protective covers globally on weapon systems, helicopters, vehicles, generators, and many other assets which increases readiness while reducing maintenance costs and extending asset lifecycles. By leveraging that existing technology, the DoD can utilize those protective covers more broadly.
- The DoD is already utilizing Controlled Humidity Preservation facilities which control humidity levels and eliminate corrosion. Cocoon facilities include real-time remote encrypted monitoring, which falls in line with one of the “Enablers” outlined in the Climate Adaptation Plan, which is “continuous monitoring and data analytics.” These facilities are used to store everything from weapon systems and rotary wing aircraft to tactical vehicles and spare parts. The DoD can quickly and cost-effectively install more of these facilities, which are particularly useful in highly humid climates like Pacific regions.
- The DoD has also installed steel-framed fabric structures in place of traditional buildings. These structures are more cost-effective than traditional construction, have less environmental impact, cost less to maintain, and can be relocated as needs change. Engineered to international building codes, steel-framed fabric structures have been used successfully in hurricane and typhoon zones, arctic regions, and earthquake zones. These structures allow the DoD to be more nimble and reduce its environmental footprint without reducing its necessary infrastructure.
What do you believe are some of the greatest short and long-term fixes that the DoD can undertake to minimize their footprint?
- Employ more protective covers in both storage and operational settings.
- Add more Controlled Humidity Preservation sites.
- Develop new applications for humidity-controlled spaces (e.g. containers, earth-covered magazines, etc.).
- Make broader use of code-compliant alternative structures which can reduce financial and environmental costs.
These steps serve both short-term and long-term goals because they pay off immediately and over time. In addition, they reduce waste, extend lifecycles (which reduces the need for replacement equipment), and make supply chains more efficient.
What are the greatest contributors to DoD’s footprint?
Maintaining the world’s most powerful military means operating on a very large scale, especially during times when there are multiple areas of concern. There’s really no way of avoiding operating at scale, but we believe the steps the DoD is taking to understand, manage, and minimize its environmental impact will pay dividends.
What are you doing to help?
All the different things we do are designed to maximize readiness while minimizing waste. Protecting assets from the elements and preventing corrosion has a highly positive ripple effect. By keeping an asset ready, we can prevent the need to replace it, eliminate the need to dispose of it, and free-up resources that can focus on preventative maintenance. It’s a virtuous cycle that can make more efficient use of the assets already in place. And it’s cost-effectively scalable in a relatively short timeframe.
When do you estimate we’ll see impacts from your work?
We’re seeing them already. One humidity controlled preservation facility we provided reduced the loss of spare parts from 20 percent annually to zero. The facility paid for itself in a matter of months, but more importantly those parts were ready when needed, didn’t need to be replaced, and didn’t need to be disposed of.
Another example is the new thermal acoustic blanket we developed for the CH-47. It not only reduces corrosion to the airframe, it saves 60 pounds out of the box and 140 pounds over time – which decreases fuel consumption or may even reduce the number of aircraft needed for a mission.
One of the gratifying aspects of our work is that the payoff, across all our product lines, can be seen very quickly if not immediately.
Are there other things DoD could implement that would speed the reduction of their footprint?
We think the DoD is on the right track, and we anticipate that things like technically advanced protective covers, controlled humidity facilities, and fabric structures will be adopted more broadly in the interest of reducing the DoD’s environmental footprint without reducing its readiness or capabilities.