© Airubon | Dreamstime.com

Clean Manufacturing Could Strengthen DoD's Industrial Strategy

April 16, 2024
A smarter sustainability policy would emphasize resilient supply chains, modular architecture and limiting dependence on foreign adversaries.

Climate hawks frequently invoke national security as a rationale for transforming American industry. Unless the United States makes clean steel, electric vehicles and so on, they say, climate refugees and water wars will dominate our future.

Tenuous at best and foolish at worst, this logic makes it more difficult to build appropriate and sustainable linkages between the national security establishment and clean manufacturing. A smarter approach would emphasize resilience, flexibility and deterrence – three priorities of the recently released National Defense Industrial Strategy (NDIS).

The greens are right that climate change is a national security threat amplifier. But some of these effects are already inevitable, and they will continue to grow until the whole world stops emitting greenhouse gases. The United States contributes only about 15% of global emissions, and that share is decreasing. Even the immediate and total elimination of U.S. emissions would do no more than delay the onset of these threats by a few years.

The United States must therefore be prepared for a more volatile future regardless of its climate policy. Defense planners are obligated to adopt the most effective strategies to address these looming threats. Those in harm’s way deserve no less. Whether these strategies reduce emissions or not is irrelevant.

The ill-fated Obama-era Great Green Fleet illustrates what can go wrong when actions to address climate and security risks are conflated. This $200 million initiative sought to replace petroleum-based fuels with drop-in biofuels. It failed because the technology was not mature enough to be scaled up. Ten years later, barely a drop of the cleaner substitute has reached U.S. ships and planes, emissions are unaffected and valuable defense dollars have gone down the drain.

Priority 1: Resilient Supply Chains

It’s not surprising, then, that the Department of Defense (DOD) resists serving as a guinea pig for clean manufacturing experiments. To avert this reaction, climate advocates should concentrate on opportunities that clearly advance the national security mission while coincidentally accelerating the low-carbon transition.

The new, first-of-its-kind National Defense Industrial Strategy points the way. Although climate change is hardly mentioned in it, the NDIS’s objectives will frequently be advanced if defense manufacturers run cleaner operations and make cleaner products.

Resilient supply chains are the DOD’s first priority. The pandemic revealed vulnerabilities that have been amplified by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. DOD plans to rebuild domestic and allied manufacturing capabilities to reduce these risks.

New production methods drawing on advanced technologies figure prominently in this strategy. Energy- and materials-efficient, digitally enabled factories – which also happen to have much smaller carbon footprints than those they will replace – offer the best chance to achieve resilience. This modernized industrial base must be supported by reliable, resilient power grids. Low-carbon energy resources can help diversify electricity generation, reducing vulnerability to disruption.

Priority 2: Flexible Acquisition

Flexible acquisition is a second pillar of the NDIS. DOD seeks to field systems that are sufficiently customized to meet its needs while still allowing it to utilize commercial capabilities for spare parts and maintenance and to surge production when needed.

Modular, open product architectures that allow “plug and play” upgrades to be introduced easily lie at the core of such systems. Electrification, the spine of the clean manufacturing economy, is highly congruent with flexible acquisition. Warfighters rely on an ever-growing array of digital systems that must draw power from mobile platforms.

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!