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Army War College: The U.S. Military is “Precariously Underprepared” for Climate Change

US Army War College_Implications of Climate Change for the U.S. Army_2019_7By Mariah Furtek

The United States Army War College recently released a report exploring the significant impact climate change will have on national security and U.S. Army operations, and offering a set of urgent recommendations. The second sentence of the report sets the stage immediately, stating “the Department of Defense is precariously underprepared for the national security implications of climate change-induced global security challenges.” 

The report details the most eminent threats climate change poses to national security: severe weather events, mass migration, diminishing global freshwater supplies, changing disease vectors, Arctic competition, stress on the U.S. power grid and nuclear reactors, as well as sea-level rise. 

In addition to addressing these broader climate security risks, the authors focus on the U.S. Army and highlight how diminished freshwater supplies jeopardize existing hydration practices. Currently, the Army relies heavily on bottled water and local wells in the theater of operation to hydrate troops when they are deployed. The Army lacks in-house hydration capacity: the Brigade Combat Teams, for example, have not been able to support their own water needs since 2015. 

Reliance on external sources for water poses a serious threat to Army mobility and capacity. This threat expands as environments around the world grow even hotter, increasing troops’ demand for water. As stated by the authors, “The US Army is precipitously close to mission failure concerning hydration of the force in contested arid environments.” To mitigate this risk, the report recommends the Army explore advanced technologies that capture ambient humidity and recycle water for reuse.

At the pole, melting ice in the Arctic is opening a new zone of competition over Arctic transit routes and natural resources. The report argues that the Army must improve training and equipment to prepare for an expanded role in the Arctic. To highlight the importance of U.S. Army investment in Arctic operations, the authors draw attention to Russia’s ongoing renovation of its Soviet-era Arctic bases and expansion of its “Arctic Army.”

The report also highlights how the Army will be called on to respond to domestic and foreign infectious disease outbreaks due to its unique proficiency operating in challenging environments. The Army must prepare for an increase in frequency and intensity of these disease outbreaks as changing disease vectors and a warmer, more humid climate amplify tickborne diseases and malaria. 

The authors advise the Army to prepare for future restrictions on fuel use by running simulations using virtual and augmented reality.  

Finally, the report recommends that the Army engage proactively in climate change-oriented campaign planning to anticipate future climate conflicts and mass migration in countries like Bangladesh. Incorporating future challenges into today’s budgets will distribute the cost of adaptation. 

Climate change is radically altering the theater of operations and the homefront, increasing the challenges the U.S. military faces at each stage of its national security mission. This report echoes the need to more fully incorporate climate threats into our security awareness and military readiness.


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