Sustainability in Defence: Innovations countering climate change challenges
As climate change action is urged at COP28, Defence Engage reviews initiatives in defence and spotlights the SMEs innovating to support the UK Strategic Command’s Sustainable Support Strategy (SSS) to aid decarbonisation, operational sustainment and adaption to environmental changes.
At COP27, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General spoke of the need for defence to be resilient in the face of the climate threat: “Climate change impacts security. Climate change is a crisis multiplier. It increases competition over scarce resources, water, food, land. It exacerbates conflicts. And since climate change matters for security, climate change matters for NATO.” Sustainable initiatives for defence not only help tackle climate change but can also create resilience to maintain allied operational advantage.
A number of new policies and strategy documents have been published since, guiding defence’s sustainability efforts and highlighting opportunities for industry:
- ‘The Defence Aviation Net Zero Strategy’, Ministry of Defence (12.7.23). This paper sets out how the MOD plans to reduce its emissions, mitigate emerging climate risks and continue to provide the UK with a technological advantage.
- As a NATO member, the UK joined allies in welcoming the establishment of a NATO Centre of Excellence for Climate Change and Security in Montreal, Canada (24.7.23).
- ‘First Special Report: Defence and Climate Change’, Defence Committee, UK Ministry of Defence (08.11.23). This report considers how the UK will balance its defensive priorities alongside its carbon reduction initiatives.
- ‘Dstl Corporate Plan 2023 to 2028’, Dstl, UK Ministry of Defence (10.11.23). The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s Corporate plan details their initiatives for 5 years, including efforts to decarbonise their estates.
- ‘UK Innovation Strategy: leading the future by creating it’, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (14.11.23). This strategy espouses a myriad of decarbonisation, low-carbon and green technology case studies informing approaches towards resilience and R&D.
The Sustainable Support Strategy (SSS) lays out six strategic areas to help reduce defence’s carbon footprint including: maintaining operational energy through the energy transition; building resilience across the global strategic base; Increasing self-sustainment of operations; and decarbonising the impact of defence materiel. With these in mind, Defence Engage highlights its SME members supporting sustainability with transformative initiatives and innovations.
Maintaining operational energy through the energy transition
As part of the SSS, the Defence Operational Energy Strategy (DOES) is a comprehensive plan to improve the energy efficiency of the UK military. It includes improving building and vehicle efficiency, switching to cleaner energy sources, bolstering supply chain resilience, and enhancing energy availability.
Delivering sustainable power solutions, Prolectric provides powerful, compact solar battery generators, and Powerstar produces smart energy solutions to better control energy usage and reduce carbon emissions.
Powering vehicles in a more sustainable way, Eco Charger’s range includes Lithium powered quads providing a viable ‘green’ alternative, and Intelligent Energy produces lightweight hydrogen fuel cells for UAV applications which can also reduce the amount of energy required since flight durations of over three times can be achieved.
Operating in harsh environments with durable innovations
Climate change is playing a part in creating ever-challenging environments, increasing the need for manufacturers to create rugged, durable and versatile products for front line users. Failing to seize this opportunity will “shorten life cycles and may result in frequent maintenance regimes and equipment replacements, leading to increased through-life costs”, according to NATO assessments.
Klas’ deployable communications system cuts down on the usual rackmount solutions needed for computing, communications, and data storage, reducing time and energy on equipment transport yet able to reach the remotest of locations. Another SME supplying for harsh environments, Intelliconnect manufactures interconnect supplies that include waterproof connectors and adapters, plus cable assemblies and accessories.
End users will always need tough equipment to withstand a variety of surroundings. CP Cases manufactures cases and equipment racks in light, tough and flexible materials, while MilDef offers a range of rugged electronics, software solutions and services, including modular computer systems.
Increased circularity though self-sustainment and decarbonised materiel
Self-sustainment, when combined with efforts to decarbonise defence’s materials and commodities, can help maintain a strategic advantage in future conflicts. Self-sustainment innovations like mobile 3D printers can create replacement parts efficiently on-the front line, resolve platform obsolescence and reduce the impact of a full replacement or parts transport. Innovation in alternative fuels could slash 55% of emissions and fully eliminate net CO2 emissions, with real-life case in point seen in last year’s RAF Voyager flight, powered by cooking oils. Both lines of effort are the result of drives for more circularity in the defence supply chain, with various strategic opportunities for industry.
Defence Engage members are driving forward their innovations to help decarbonise defence materiel, reduce waste, reuse and redeploy parts and components. Advanced Navigation for example maintains carbon-neutral operations whilst growing significantly and exporting globally. Flare Bright have developed the UK’s first low-carbon test centre using their novel aviation technologies. Reviving new lift in older equipment, Force Technologies offer solutions for obsolete semiconductors, and Penta Patterns produce 3D print parts to bring obsolete vehicles back into service. These are brilliant examples of how innovative SMEs are supporting self-sustainment but also embracing decarbonisation.
The UK's 2022 Sustainable Support Strategy sets out a bold and ambitious vision for a future where defence is sustainable and resilient. By embracing new technologies, adopting innovative practices, and working closely with industry partners, SMEs in defence are playing a leading role in tackling the climate crisis and ensuring that front line forces are fit for the future. Defence Engage members are at the forefront of innovation in these areas, and their work is helping to shape the future of sustainable defence. To tap into the international Defence Engage SME network, or become a member, enquire here.