Army Study Says Climate Change Threatens Mission Failure Due to Expanded Need for Water

Photo: Army via Army Times

A new study from the Army War College found that the “Army is precipitously close to mission failure concerning hydration of the force in a contested arid environment” and needs to “reinvest aggressively in technologies both in-house and commercial off the shelf in the next 5-10 years to keep pace with rising global temperatures, especially those arid areas in or poised for conflict.”  The study posits that climate change increases hydration requirements and thus the Army will need to supply itself with more water, a problem the authors expect “will be exacerbated on a future battlefield that requires constant movement due to the ubiquity of adversarial sensors and their deep strike capabilities.”

Why This Matters:  This is not just a problem for years in the future — the military is already experiencing it today.  As we reported earlier this month, at a U.S. Air Force Base in Qatar, on hot days, servicemembers can only work for 10 minutes of each hour and they must drink 2 bottles of water during the same hour.   And NBC News and Inside Climate News reported last summer that an increasing number of service members are suffering from heat-related illnesses.  This study puts the problem in terms that even senior commanders cannot ignore because mission failure is not an alternative and adds to the list of reasons why the Defense Department must reckon with climate change.

The Army Runs On Bottled Water

Because very few units in the field have the ability to generate their own water, they have to truck it in, and that creates a costly logistics problem. For example, the Army Times explains that at one forward operating base in Iraq, more than 864,000 bottles of water were needed each month, and during hotter months that number doubled, according to the study.  This increasing need for bottled water is consistent with the NBC/Inside Climate News report which found that heat-related injuries increased by 60% over 10 years.  In 2008, 1,766 cases of heatstroke or heat exhaustion were diagnosed among active-duty service members, according to military data but by 2018, that number was 2,792.

Study Also Highlights Other Climate Challenges for the Military

The study states “the Department of Defense is precariously underprepared for the national security implications of climate change-induced global security challenges.”  It notes that as droughts increase in parts of the Middle East and North Africa during the winter months, some areas could become completely uninhabitable, making those areas vulnerable to exploitation by other military powers.  Indeed, one defense strategy expert told Army Times, “[t]he risks related to climate change are often thought of as sort of a separate risk matrix from the great power competition, but climate change is certainly playing a role in that.”

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