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The Air Force’s Most Vulnerable Bases

200th RED HORSE and 179th Airlift Wing Airmen aid in Hurricane Michael Recovery Efforts

Ohio Air National Guardmen traveled to Tyndall Air Force Base following Hurricane Michael, to provide damage assessment and recovery efforts, October 17-22, 2018 (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Capt. Ashley Klase)

By John Conger

In 2017, the U.S. Congress directed the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a list of the installations in each military service that were most vulnerable to climate change.  They gave DoD a year to do this work, as it wasn’t simple.  The DoD would need to look across its enterprise, and determine how it would measure vulnerability and assess which risks were specifically from climate change.  At the Center for Climate and Security, we published a briefer on the factors they might consider.

In early 2019, the DoD report was submitted to Congress, but it omitted the requested prioritization and had other puzzling gaps as well.  It omitted the Marine Corps.  It left out all non-US bases.  It didn’t respond to Congressional questions about mitigation and cost.  Instead, it included a list of 79 bases that the Department determined were its most critical, and then did a rudimentary assessment of the threat from climate change without prioritization.  Congress directed them to go back and redo the work.

In April, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) submitted an addendum that prioritized the 79 installations previously submitted by ascribing values to various climate impacts, but including no scale or measure within each.  In other words, you were either vulnerable to flooding or not. That was the extent of the analysis.  Nonetheless, the DoD developed three prioritized lists (again omitting the Marine Corps) based on that exercise.  Congress again expressed dissatisfaction with the approach and went straight to the individual Services, asking them for their own lists.

The Air Force’s purported second list has now been published in the media, and only three bases overlap between the two lists.

OSD List

1.       Hill Air Force Base (AFB), UT

2.       Beale AFB, CA

3.       Vandenberg AFB, CA

4.       Greeley ANG Station, CO

5.       Eglin AFB, FL

6.       Patrick AFB, FL

7.       Joint Base Andrews, MD

8.       Malmstrom AFB, MT

9.       Tinker AFB, OK

10.   Shaw AFB, SC

Air Force List

1.       Vandenberg AFB, CA

2.       Eglin AFB, FL

3.       Hurlburt Field, FL

4.       Patrick AFB, FL

5.       Joint Base Charleston, SC

6.       Dover AFB, DE

7.       Homestead ARB, FL

8.       MacDill AFB, FL

9.       Tyndall AFB, FL

10.   Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA

The original, OSD-submitted list is purportedly limited to “mission critical” bases, but did not measure the degree of the risk from climate change factors.  The second list, reportedly generated by the Air Force, did not include a description of factors considered, so it isn’t straightforward to determine why it is so different.  However, there are three key takeaways from the second list.

  1. Three Air Force Bases are on both lists. Vandenberg AFB, Eglin AFB, and Patrick AFB, and they are three of the top four in the second list.  This signals that these locations are worth prioritizing for planning and climate change resilience investments in the future.
  2. Tyndall AFB was absent from the first list, but is in the second top ten. The absence of Tyndall AFB and Camp Lejeune (as all Marine Corps bases were omitted) drew significant criticism when the first list was released.  It came across as tone deaf in the wake of the nearly $5 billion price-tag for recovery from Hurricane Michael.  That was rectified in the second list. [NOTE: The President is visiting Tyndall AFB today].
  3. Focus on Florida and the East Coast. With the exception of Vandenberg, the second list is focused on the East, with more than half of the bases in Florida.  The second list focuses on the threats from extreme weather and, particularly, hurricanes.  These are among the most severe near-term climate change-related impacts, so this makes some sense.

Ultimately, to assess the merits, it would help to understand the metrics and analysis used to develop the second list.  In any case, these lists each point to the need for detailed, location-specific planning to assess specific vulnerabilities and to develop priorities for resilience improvements.



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