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Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks Delivers Keynote Remarks at the Department of Energy's ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit

Thank you Dr. Gerbi.  And thank you to ARPA-E for inviting me to speak with all of you this afternoon.  I wish that we could be together in-person, but I’m glad to be with you, even if virtually.  

The theme of this year’s summit, “Expanding American Energy Innovation,” is something that we are thinking about every day at the Department of Defense.  And it is especially pertinent to DOD in the context of climate change.  In his Message to the Force on March 4th, Secretary Austin laid out his priorities for DOD in three categories: defend the nation, take care of our people, and succeed through teamwork. 

What I would like to do this afternoon is speak to you about how the climate crisis impacts each of these priorities and explain what we are doing to meet those challenges.  Where appropriate, I’ll be highlighting how energy innovation is helping us in this effort.  

Defending the nation is priority number one for the Department of Defense.  The effects of climate change are a national security issue, impacting DOD’s missions and operational plans, readiness, our installations, and the Department’s budget.  It does this by simultaneously increasing demands on the force while impacting our capacity to respond to those demands.

As an example of how climate is driving demands here at home, the Department is increasingly called on to assist in managing wildfires in California, and helping communities along our coasts rebuild after being impacted by hurricanes.  Abroad, climate change puts our national security at risk by contributing to instability that drives requests for U.S. military-supported relief activities and actually increasing risks of conflict, such as from civil wars and terrorism.  

Climate change is also driving new areas of geopolitical competition, such as in the Arctic.  We are being asked to meet this expanded mission set even while climate impedes our training and readiness.

Climate-induced extreme weather is already a major drain on our budget.  And every dollar that we spend addressing the effects of climate change is a dollar that we are not putting toward other priorities, like meeting the challenge posed by China and modernizing our forces. 

To ensure that the Department remains in a position to defend the nation and combat the effects of climate change, we are undertaking a number of actions. 

Crucially, we are inculcating a culture of climate-informed decision making.  This means that climate considerations must become an integral element in resource allocation and our operational decision making process.  We will need to incorporate climate change into our threat assessments.  We must update our modeling and simulations to reflect climate change.  Warfighting concepts, regional and country engagement plans, and logistics planning also need to be updated. 

We will also continue to train, test, and equip a climate ready force.  This will mean ensuring that our forces are prepared to operate in extreme, and often variable, climate environments.  We must ensure that our services have the ability to train safely in extreme conditions.  Additionally, we have to make sure our weapons systems and other equipment can operate in extreme conditions.  The Department will also need to take into account logistical challenges in delivering energy required for operations.  We do not and will not have open access to unlimited energy from the homeland to any location around the globe. One way to strengthen supportability of the force is to reduce the energy needed to complete the mission.  Doing that will require some hard thinking about what the future force should look like.  We are preparing for autonomy, hybridization and electrification, and new materials to improve efficiencies and enhance capability.

Defending the nation also means having a supply chain that can support military requirements.  As Secretary Austin said when he stood up the Department of Defense’s Climate Working Group, we have to step up and compete with China for the energy technologies that will define the future. 

More and more of our platforms, vehicles, and future capabilities rely on lithium-ion batteries.  While the lithium-ion battery industry and its supply chain are experiencing tremendous growth, the United States is lagging competitors, including Beijing, in attracting investment.  This weak link creates a real risk for the Department.  DOD must begin looking at different levers it can pull to help drive investment in the lithium-ion supply chain in the United States.     

The second priority for the Department is taking care of our people. The women and men in uniform, and the civilians who serve with them, are DOD’s most critical asset.  

When one of our installations is hit with an extreme weather event, we must be sure that our people are safe and the buildings where they live and the missions housed there are resilient.  

We already know that the damage done by climate change to our installations impacts our readiness.  In early April, I visited Naval Air Station Pensacola.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Sally, I saw firsthand the devastating effects of climate change on our training facilities.  I also heard from commanders of neighboring bases about the challenges that climate change poses to their installations and their ability to carry out critical missions.  

And these increased incidents of extreme weather and natural disasters siphon resources from our budget.  In 2019, Hurricane Michael created billions of dollars worth of damage to Tyndall Air Force Base.  The damage at Pensacola last year was $450 million. 

In addition to impacting our built infrastructure, climate change impacts the natural infrastructure that provides realistic testing and training environments for our services.  

To meet these challenges, DOD must focus on improving installation resilience.  To do so, we are engaged in a comprehensive installation assessment and will create installation resilience plans.  Part of that assessment and improvement will focus on energy resiliency at our installations.  More resilient building infrastructure will ultimately lower building life-cycle costs.  To assist with these efforts, DOD has developed a Climate Assessment Tool, relying on historical data and future climate projections, which enables personnel at all levels of the Department - from installation planners to leadership - to understand installations' exposure to climate-related hazards.  

Climate change is already stressing the commercial power grid.  California wildfires and hurricanes up and down the East Coast have made that clear.  Most military installations rely on the commercial grid and are vulnerable to events like extreme weather and cyber-attacks that threaten to disrupt the grid.  We need to adapt to this new reality – deploying microgrids that can power our bases with energy storage and distributed generation, like solar.  We need to build differently and be more efficient and resilient to ensure our bases can support critical missions.

Modernizing our installations includes the infrastructure to support DOD’s non-tactical vehicles.  Aside from the US Postal Service, the Department of Defense has the largest vehicle fleet in the Federal government, with 170,000 non-tactical vehicles.  As global transportation continues to electrify, the Department must meet the moment or risk being left with an expensive and inefficient fleet.  Therefore, DOD must begin investing in both electric vehicles and smart charging infrastructure to support the fleet.  

Our third priority is succeeding through teamwork.  At April’s Climate Change Summit, Secretary Austin stated that the climate crisis is a destabilizing force for the entire globe.  And no nation, including the United States, can find lasting security without addressing it.  That is why it is critical that we work closely with our allies and partners to meet this challenge.  

I know that you all just heard from the Right Honorable Kwarteng – the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.  Many of the concerns – and solutions – voiced by the UK’s Ministry of Defence closely align with our own at the Department of Defense.  That includes improving the efficiency and resilience of military installations, and developing new capabilities that both reduce energy use and provide an operational advantage.     

With partner nations, we will engage in technical exchanges to, accelerate climate change-related knowledge, but also work to ensure overseas infrastructure remains resilient. 

Moreover, where needed, DOD will continue to work with our friends across the globe and build their capacity to respond to climate related hazards.

The Department must also continue to work with our colleagues in the interagency.  That means engaging in interagency forums, such as the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Environment, the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee, and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research.

But that also means working directly with other agencies in the Federal government – like DOE.  As an example, DOD and the Department of Energy have historically had a close working relationship.  This is evidenced by 2010’s MOU Concerning Cooperation in a Strategic Partnership to Enhance Energy Security.  And Secretary Austin and Secretary Granholm recently renewed the commitment to work together.  As we speak, DOE and our DOD team are working on an agreement to enable us to leverage DOE’s amazing technologies and expertise to ensure DOD is meeting its national security mission in a changing operational environment – both at home and abroad.  

We hope to continue doing great work together.  As an example, the innovative radiative cooling technology developed by SkyCool and graduates of ARPA-E’s NODES program is being tested for DOD at the National Renewable Energy Lab.  This technology has the potential to significantly reduce energy demand and improve energy resilience through lower-cost cyber-secure microgrids.

In closing, climate change is significantly impacting the Department of Defense.  However, we are rapidly positioning ourselves to meet the challenge.  Significantly, doing so will mean continuing to work with those of you at DOE and ARPA-E.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you this afternoon.  I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference.