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Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks' Keynote Remarks for the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) Sustainable Infrastructure, Resilience, and Climate Consortium (SIRCC) (As Delivered)

Good afternoon. And thank you Colonel Corey James for that introduction, and to Paul Farnan for the invitation to take part in today’s event.

I want to thank really most of all the faculty, staff, and all of those who are overseeing and managing this consortium for your vision and for your stewardship.  This serves as a great example of leadership service and innovation and action.  And I'm so proud to see the investments already that the academy is making to build a more sustainable, climate-resilient future for the force.  The structure in this room may not show that, but I'm confident that those investments are in play.

So I'd like to welcome the Class of 2027 to the academy.  To those returning, welcome back.  I'd like to congratulate the firstees on receiving their rings this past weekend and to the Cows, congratulations to you on affirming your commitment to serve in the finest fighting force in the world.

Before I get into my remarks, I'd like to express my condolences for the loss of First Lieutenant Hailey Hodsden.  Lieutenant Hodsden was a classmate, friend, and teammate to many of you and I know you feel her loss.  West Point transfers classed soldiers, and by all accounts, Hailey was a world class student and soldier.  And her family and her friends and all those who love her remain in my prayers.

So it's my honor to join you today as you embark on this school year and discuss this important topic that will shape your future service.  A question I hear often is, why does the Department of Defense care about climate change?  Well, the climate change is a national security issue.  And as a national security community, that declaration is not controversial, it's a fact.  All the way back in 2008, the Intelligence Community of the United States released its first national intelligence assessment stating this fact.

So we've known this to be true for more than a decade.  And over the years, the Department has been taking action on that knowledge by seeking to better understand the threat and adapting to it because we cannot and will not compromise on military capability or the readiness of our forces.  Climate change requires us to rethink how we best protect our warfighters and prevent conflict.  It affects how we support allies and partners and impacts our ability to deter, and if needed, to defeat our adversaries.

You can't train, for instance, for combined operations with allies and partners if the training facilities are flooded.  You can't run an installation without water because you're in a drought.  And you can't adequately prepare for the future threats if you're occupied with urgent crises.  Consider this, the number of personnel days the National Guards spent on firefighting increased from 14,000 in fiscal year 2016 to 176,000 in fiscal year 2021.  That's more than a twelve-fold increase in five years.  And it's a major redirection of time, attention and resources.

PDS has called this summer the summer of superlatives because of its record-breaking temperatures with scientists citing the first two weeks of July as in Earth's hottest ever reported in human history.  Those of you who are either from or who have visited states like Arizona, Texas and Florida, you might have experienced firsthand the record-breaking temperature streaks this summer in the air and surrounding water.  Ripe conditions for a climate catastrophe.

And right now we are all thinking about Florida where Hurricane Idalia is bearing down to, of course, the people of Hawaii.  The wildfires on the ground of Maui have been devastating.  I offer my deepest condolences to the families who've lost loved ones, as well as those who lost their homes, community and everything they've known to this tragedy.

Rest assured the Department is working closely with local officials in Hawaii to assist in the ongoing response, recovery and relief efforts.  Around the world we're also seeing how climate change is altering the global landscape, and with it, our mission.  In the United Kingdom, for example, the Royal Air Force has had to halt flights and shift to alternative airfields after the runway melted at Brize Norton Air Base during an intense heat wave last summer.

The storm floods in Pakistan, the devastating droughts in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, the worst in 40 years have left tens of millions of people displaced and food insecure.  I spoke with some of you last week and I've heard how you are concerned about dire environmental conditions that create humanitarian crises.  How these circumstances can make nations vulnerable to instability, competition and conflict.  And how advancing our innovation, ensuring that others can ensure our national security.  And we do have an opportunity to ease human suffering caused by climate change.

But extreme heat, floods, rising sea levels, droughts, wildfires, and more frequent and intense storms and other natural disasters which are a result of or are compounded by climate change are also reshaping our operating environment.  And these conditions are degrading our military readiness.

Climate hazards are affecting basing and access to locations vital for deterrence and destroying critical infrastructure and capabilities.  They're putting troops and families in harm's way.  And they're imposing significant cost on the Department of Defense.  So taking action to secure the nation and our warfighters in light of such threats is what should be expected of us.

In May, I traveled to several of our northernmost military bases in Alaska including Fort Wainwright.  And while there, I visited our Permafrost Tunnel, (inaudible) in Fairbanks which the Army Corps of Engineer runs.  Permafrost is the soil underneath the Alaskan forest that remains frozen year-round.  It's an important part of the Arctic ecosystem.  And as Earth's getting warmer, it's gone.

As we plan for strategic competition especially with our foremost competitors, we must think about logistics and how we get from here to there.  And we can reach about any theater in the northern hemisphere via Alaska.  And building and maintaining equipment and infrastructure like runways, for example, on permafrost is critical to us strategically.  Conversely, melting Arctic ice caps are opening new shipping rings attracting the notice of China and Russia.  So it's easy to see how all of this will affect our military readiness and our strategic posture, mainly how quickly the military can respond to a threat and the overall demands it places on our force.

And then there's the financial loss.  In recent budgets we have been forced to absorb billions of dollars in recovery costs from extreme weather events.  Extreme weather caused $1 billion of damage in Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska and that was from post flood reconstruction.  Hurricane Florence cost more than $3 billion worth of damage at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.  And damage from Hurricane Michael cost a whopping $5 billion of damage at Tyndall Air Base in Florida.

In 2021 I saw firsthand the damage caused to Pensacola Naval Air Station in the wake of Hurricane Sally.  Historic levels of rainfall damaged more than 600 facilities on the air station which trains 59,000 students a year.  It suffered $450 million in damage.  In viewing the devastation, I was struck by how much our readiness depends on how well we adapt our plans, our missions and our budget to ensure resiliency of our facilities, installations and capabilities.  How we must make sure we have what we need to operate in a different climate.

It also shows that now more than ever, we must account for the impact and frequency of extreme weather.  We are concerned about paying the cost for lost training time and the damage to infrastructure and also concerned about the increasing maintenance and replacement costs on our warfighting equipment like the fighter jets, vehicles and ships and weapons platforms.

Here at West Point, of course, efforts continue to address the damage from last month's flooding and I am very relieved to say that staff, cadets, faculty and other members of the community remained safe, that's paramount.  Later today, I will see firsthand some of the flood damage here on campus.  Estimates are showing that the flooding caused more than $150 million of damage.  And so I'll be thinking intently about how we can better withstand such challenging conditions to further ensure your safety and safeguard our capabilities.

So climate change is not just a tomorrow problem, it is a today problem.  And it is a problem that you as future platoon leaders will have to manage.  It is reshaping the geostrategic, operational and tactical environments with profound implications for U.S. defense policy.  But with every challenge comes an opportunity.  And in the case of climate change, we have a two-fold opportunity:  to make our military more sustainable and create an operational advantage for our warfighters.  Because as it turns out, what's good for the environment also benefits our military.

Take the Multi-Domain Task Force, the organizational centerpiece of the Army's efforts to persistently compete to gain advantage that it can leverage in crisis and conflict.  They must be able to operate with a light logistics footprint, using less fuel and possibly dispersed across vast distances.

In the Indo-Pacific, it's no stretch to say that operational energy could dictate the margin of victory in near peer conflict.  The matters for the Multi-Domain Task Force and other formations in the joint force.

The Army's efforts to electrify and balance can directly contribute to our warfighting advantage.  Quieter, cooler, lower maintenance combat vehicles not only require less fueling but are also harder to detect.  The Army is already retrofitting vehicles with anti-idle technology and we expect the next generation of vehicles to come to us hybridized.  And the Army continues to look for the future.

Six fully electric infantry support vehicles, light tactical-wheeled vehicles are being ordered and are expected to be delivered in just over a year.  These battery-powered vehicles will be used at Fort Irwin, home of the National Training Center, by the opposition forces to test how they can perform on the battlefield.  The soldiers you will lead will experience the very real advantages of silent mobility.

Next spring, the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii will receive a half dozen electric trailers that will provide a fuel-free power source for base camp operations.  These trailers will decrease the need to run diesel-power generators which reduces our logistics demand and our heat signature.  And because they are remote controlled, they can be recharged in your areas and return with fresh power, all without putting any soldiers in harm's way.  This is just one of the technologies the 25th is supporting to reduce its fuel burden.  That is peak operational advantage.

So you can see how all of these investments can transform the battlefield as we know it.  Nations that are most resilient and best able to manage the effects of climate change will gain a strategic advantage.  So the Department must prepare for and adapt to climate change better and faster than its competitors.  In addition, how the Department of Defense does this will shape perceptions of America's leadership in confronting global challenges.  We cannot overstate how critical the climate threat is to strategic competition.  Many of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world reside in increasingly contested and strategically relevant geography, especially in the Indo-Pacific region and especially Pacific Island nations.

To train, fight and win in this increasingly complex environment, the Department must consider the effects of climate change in every policy, strategy and level of the enterprise and invest accordingly.  So here's what we've done to meet that challenge. Two years ago the Department named its first ever chief sustainability officer.  And our current Chief Sustainability Officer, Brendan Owens is here with us today.

We also established the Department's climate working group, a three and four star level forum which is that architecting the Department's climate-related goals and timelines and holding the institution accountable for meeting them.  Both the Department and the Army also put forth their first ever climate adaptation plans.  We also set measurable goals to help transition DOD to carbon pollution free electricity, net zero installations and zero emissions vehicles.

To fully realize our climate policies and strategies, we must back them up with investments.  Again, these investments also could mitigate risk to the warfighter and increase resiliency and operational capability.  We have requested an unprecedented level of such investments to increase combat capability and mitigate risk, growing from more than $600 million in fiscal year 2022 to more than $5 billion in our current proposed budget request for fiscal year 2024.

Each service has its own set of sustainability and operational issues to adapt to.  These investments will go far in supporting our efforts to do so.  For the Air Force, it's refueling planes.  The Department consumes about three billion gallons of fuel and last year we did so to power our planes, ships and tactical vehicles.  That's two-thirds of the Department's total energy use.  And of that, the Air Force consumed roughly two billion gallons of aviation fuel.

So, the US Air Force has just announced the development of a new blended-wing body aircraft design that is up to 50 percent more energy efficient than its existing fleet.  In a theater as vast as the Pacific, this transformational technology would be vital to the fight.  Its increased efficiency would will extend aircraft range and cargo capacity.  And with less need to fuel and refuel our military will be more agile, more sustainable in conflict.  The greater aircraft range increases lethality, fuel efficiency, conserves our energy resources and allows us to generate more sorties, a smaller noise footprint means harder detection and seamless ground ops, reduces ground time and gets us airborne quicker.

Overall, this new, more energy-efficient flight capability aligns with our ability to maintain operation advantage.  Bases are another significant source of energy consumption.  Our military bases house critical missions that need to stay up and running no matter the conditions.  But even here we can improve energy resilience.  We can strengthen resilience by taking advantage of clean energy technologies like energy storage and distributed generation like solar panels.

A great example of this is in the Marine Corps, at Air Station Miramar outside of San Diego.  Over the past several years, Miramar has built a microgrid capable of powering critical missions even when the electric grid goes down.  To get there, the Marines leverage a range of access from landfill gas to solar energy.  Several times over the past year, Miramar took the base off the grid for hours to help the local utility prevent rolling blackouts, preserving the grid for everyone.  The value of technologies like microgrids and distributed generation isn't limited to military bases.  In fact, the lessons we are learning in places like Miramar are applicable to critical infrastructure well beyond defense, like hospitals and water treatment facilities.  These operational and installation energy solutions are just as important for the Army.

And lastly, I have the opportunity to speak with some of our SIRCC cadets and here why this set of issues matters so much to them.  Some enjoy the outdoors, and want to preserve it for future generations.  Some are motivated by the effects of climate change and what they see on the news.  Some love buildings and building things, which is perfectly fitting.  The Army has a lot of buildings, in fact, more than 136,000, more than all the other services combined.  But right now the Army is working to achieve 100 percent resilience on its installations using all carbon pollution free electricity.

The first project design is underway at Fort Bliss in Texas.  There, the garrison team is working closely with the local utility to install enough solar, wind and battery storage.  This will enable the base to fully function even during an extended power outage and next year as newly minted lieutenants, some of you will contribute to projects like this one.

I understand that some of the cadets here will be studying that process to replicate it here at West Point and make this a 100 percent resilient installation with carbon pollution free power.  And I look forward to hearing about the results next spring.

Climate change is undoubtedly one of the toughest national security challenges of our time.  It knows no territorial boundaries and it can't be easily whipped.  That's why the incredible work at West Point, done through this consortium and beyond to improve Army and joint resiliency is so important.  It may one day shape the bases and battlefields to which you'll deploy.  Your ingenuity in helping to solve these challenges from the classroom to leadership in the field, will strengthen Army operations, making the nation more secure.