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Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks Speaks With Press at the Pentagon Energy Expo

DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE KATHLEEN HICKS: [joined in progress] ...DOD and non-DOD throughout the country to look at similar displays, and I think just in general, I'm really blown away always by the incredible innovation that's happening in the United States. 

And we, in DOD, want to be a part of that, we need to be a part of that. And that has to do with national security and what it takes to have the capabilities we need for the warfighter today and going forward. That alignment with climate goals is excellent for us. 

So I would just point out that that mission alignment, the warfighter purpose, and the view of climate as a national security challenge are fully aligned in cases like this. 

The way we think about operational energy goes well beyond I think what you even saw today. I think we heard a little bit of it from some of the vendors but this idea that we are looking at an environment that's incredibly challenged, in terms of how we deliver capabilities. We know we want to distribute our military forces in many cases. 

And so how do we provide power and energy to them? How do we assure their grid security, if you will? How do we make sure that they're cyber secure? All of those aspects go into how we think about the force that we're building for the future. 

So everything from on-shoring microelectronics, as the CHIPS and Science Act is now bolstering for us, which is why the department was so forceful in its advocacy for on-shoring capabilities for microelectronics from lab-to-fab, from that to the platforms themselves, getting lighter, battery operated, more independent, longer loiter time, you name it -- greater range. All of that really helps us as we think about what we need to go the distance, literally, here in the future.

So I'll just, you know, maybe pick a few little examples of how to conceptualize that in a much more concrete way. So if we're able to save about five percent efficiency on aircraft, let's just say -- and that's something that we're working on now with drag reduction efforts on our KC-135, that's the equivalent of an entire aircraft's worth of fuel, just if you looked at a fleet of 20. So if that's one fewer tanker that we need to fly, if it's longer loiter, if it's delivering more fuel at range, those are all big payoffs. And on top of that, we can look at cost savings, which is another thing that the commercialization of, you know, green technology and associated technologies is really allowing us to achieve big savings.

So for that KC-135 example, we're looking at cost savings of $35 million a year and also, by the way, a 125 kiloton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. So that's an example of how these things sort of begin to add up.

Maybe I'll just also talk a little bit, and then turn it over to you guys, about the $3 billion -- $3.1 billion that's in the President's budget request for Fiscal Year '23. We would like to have on time appropriations here beginning on October 1 and that $3 billion would come into effect as soon as we have that on time appropriations. 

So that includes, in our request, $247 million in operational energy and buying power. So that's improving energy efficiency on our existing platforms and our propulsion systems. 

There is $807 million in science and technology. You saw some of that today. That includes the investments in research and technology prototyping to keep us at the cutting edge with new platforms. An example would be blended-wing-body aircraft, which can greatly extend range and reduce weight and, thus, fuel consumption. 

$28 million in contingency preparedness, which includes investments to incorporate climate risk in things like war games, exercises, other planning tools, to make sure we understand how climate changes impact our missions and we're prepared to respond.  
And then $2 billion in installation resiliency and adaptation. And in there, we do things like deploy energy technologies like microgrids to strengthen military installations so that they can stay online even when a public grid is disrupted from a cyber-attack or extreme weather, as we had happen, for instance, in Texas.

So that's kind of an overview of the investment dollars but I think it's perhaps obvious that we have a lot of cultural change in the approach that the department has taken overall, in terms of technology absorption and change transformation.

And so demand reduction on the climate side has to be part of that culture change. How do we take advantage of what's happening in the commercial sector, as it relates to the cutting edge technology, and how do we make sure that folks understand demand reduction is fully aligned with and supportive of warfighter needs?

So in May, I signed a memo directing the department to prioritize energy demand reduction in all new systems, acquisitions, and upgrades to existing systems. 

And as I said, good for the climate, but more important than anything here in the Department of Defense, it's essential for our warfighters.

So let me just stop there and turn it over to you.

(STAFF): Ma'am, right to your right here is Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post.


Q: ... thank you. I cover climate and security for the Post. So thanks for doing this.

DR. HICKS: Yeah.

Q: I have a -- well, I'd -- really interested if you can tell us about anything that the Pentagon is doing in terms of these kinds of efforts in Europe right now, sort of in your deployments, things related to the war in Ukraine or your deployments in NATO countries to bolster defenses against Russia? They have a big energy crisis right now. I mean -- so is there anything that you're doing right now to reduce your energy requirements or any of this kind of nifty technology that you're putting into the field?

DR. HICKS: Sure. So we have some capabilities throughout our entire force that are certainly applicable. Anything that we're doing, for instance, to increase our capacity on the micro grid side and anything that we're doing to ensure demand reduction comes down -- so for instance, just simple things like making sure that we have controls on -- automated controls on our installations, things like that.

So that is happening throughout the force. I couldn't tell you today which installations versus which but we can certainly get you that to understand. So that's kind of on the demand reduction side.

The advantage of Europe, if you will, is that that's already very much in line with what is happening more broadly across their energy sector. So to the extent that we are leaning in where countries are already trying to make sure that they are climate-conscious and taking advantage of reduced dependency on Russia throughout their energy use, that helps us as well.

But the last thing I would say there is I think this, more than anything -- that the crisis we're having in Ukraine really demonstrates why we need to have many sources of independent energy. And renewables are a huge piece of that puzzle, and we know that. We're seeing that increase -- again, I'd point to the Europeans themselves in some of those areas -- and we know we can get after that ourselves.

The department has the opportunity -- -- we have a requirement to be grid-secure, and we certainly have examples of installations that are fully grid-secure. So as I said before, they can withstand issues like extreme weather or an adversary attempt to cut off energy supply. And we want to move more -- that into more and more of our force.

STAFF: Yes, next is Stephen Lee from Bloomberg. 

Q: Hello, ma'am. 


QUESTON: Thank you so much for doing this. So many of the technologies that we saw today rely on advanced batteries. And, you know, I'm thinking back to a few months ago, I'm pretty sure there was a statement that came out of DoD along the lines of DoD sort of wanting to use its massive buying power to kind of help shape that market. But I think on Monday what we heard in a separate briefing was that, you know, you're never going to buy enough tanks to really bend the curve there. You're never going to be the same kind of player that the public is, you know, when they're buying new Teslas, whatever. So I just wondered if you can talk a little bit about how you see the Pentagon's role in kind of shaping the battery market. 

DR. HICKS: Well, for the most part I think the second piece is a better way to describe the issue set, which is we are highly dependent on battery technology and capability that is largely going to be driven by the private sector, the commercial sector, and obviously on vehicles and airplanes. That's perhaps most self-evident. That said, we have a special interest in ensuring the security of that supply chain and both its -- the quantity and the security of it. So we have made some investments in making sure we can secure in particular lithium, but other capabilities. So there is about $43.8 million that we have put in our budget, that fiscal year '23 budget that I referenced before, for battery supply chain -- that includes standardization to make sure, as you heard a little bit today, that we can take what is commercially available and more easily use it and really take advantage of that. 

Make sure it's domestically produced as well. Some of the infrastructure pieces under battery supply chain which includes accelerating electrification of the vehicles and building facilities that can help us characterize large lithium battery failures, which allows us to put them safely on our platforms. And that's a technical, but very important limiting factor we're having right now and, again, that did come up already today. And then analytics, making sure we can have some funds to look at commonality opportunities, assess supply chain risks, things like that. 

So bottom line, we have to be fast followers to the commercial sector in many aspects of battery supply. We have made some specific investments ourselves to do that well. And the supply chain piece, in addition to the batteries, it's the supply chain for the critical minerals and other aspects that we care a lot about. 

Q: Thank you. 

STAFF: Ma'am, Mosheh Gains from NBC. 

Q: Thanks so much for doing this. When we heard about the -- as the Department of Defense is moving towards Indo-Pacific and looking at into the future of war, knowing that it may not be as kinetic as currently, as the past, and so cyber being a very big part of that, some of the things that we've looked at today of course have increased connectivity. I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit more about what -- what's in place to fight against adversaries like a China being able to kind of see what our products are doing. I've heard in the past where it’s been said that the landscape, if you will, of DoD's cyber map, if you will, has enough where adversaries kind of know what we're doing. So what's in place to fight against that, especially with the new technologies? 

DR. HICKS: So cyber security is major priority for us across the department. And we talk a lot about zero trust in terms of our networks. And I would say our approach in our whole acquisition supply chain which relates a little to the prior questions, also needs to have essentially that sensibility about it, which is to say that we should assume that there will be adversaries who want to get inside our acquisition supply chain, affect that, be able to affect our capabilities on the field, and then more generally our networks in terms of zero trust, make sure those networks are able to be hived off or quickly to stem challenges in specific parts of the network. 

So major priority for us. And that's like a whole other -- probably a whole other briefing to be had. What I want to say on the connectivity piece though is back to my point on the micro-grids as a good example. We are very aware of this challenge and we know we have to be able to operate when we can become -- you know when somebody tries to cut us off. And how we do that well? Same thing applies down at the more -- even more tactical level. We want to train as we will have to fight. And because we know we will be under attack in all kinds of ways, we want to train that way as well. 

So if we believe we can be denied, you name it, either fuel supply, obviously our fuel supply is -- traditional fossil fuel supply is a major area that we have to protect. You look at how the Russians have had challenges with that just on their own border. So energy supply is always something you have to protect. We have to train that way now, what if you can't get the fuel supply you need? Similarly as we move to a more connected approaches, we have to be thinking through what if we have challenges with that. 

But I think we have much better opportunity here in a more electrified environment because, again, with the CHIPS and Science Act, if we can make sure that those microelectronics that are going into our systems -- back to the supply chain piece I mentioned before -- we can really ensure that we have secure microelectronics and other components in our systems, reducing the attack surface against us. And we can come up with ways to mitigate challenges by having more -- you can think about standalone power sources as we do now, major battery sources, you saw that from Danner out there. If you have that in an austere environment, that's kind of hard to be disrupted. It's a pretty standalone, robust approach. So we're thinking through all those aspects. 

STAFF: Ma'am, we only have four minutes left so we can have one more question. We’ll hit Quil Lawrence from NPR. 

Q: Yes, could I ask a question about resilience and infrastructure? In recent , there were reports from both your own inspector general talking about Arctic bases not meeting the requirements for resilience to extreme climate, you know, sea level rise, and then the GAO recently put a similar critique saying these are rules that are put out and then they're not followed in contracting, et cetera. Could you just tell me what your response was to those two reports? 

DR. HICKS: The rules in contracting I don't think I've seen, so...

Q: OK. 

DR. HICKS: ... let me come back to you on that. It's not ringing any bell. And I do look at all I.G. reports. 

Q: OK. That was a GAO report. 

DR. HICKS: Oh, I'm sorry. Maybe I just haven't seen it. 

The general approach on resilience to climate is a major priority for us. I mention on the installation side, we put a lot of investment into increasing our energy resiliency in our installations. We also have deployed a tool that is -- all installations are required to fill out where they can evaluate what their resilience is. That is new with this administration to have that deployed across all installations. So that really helps us target those investments. 

I think it is absolutely fair to say that we are not today resilient to the effects of climate change. Society at large is not resilient to the effects of climate change. And it is a major cost driver for the department. What has had happened in places like Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, what's happened out in Omaha, literally billions of dollars of lost investment by the taxpayers in U.S. military installations.

And when we look overseas, to your point on the Arctic, or if you look at the Pacific Islands, we have some key facilities for ourselves there that are going to be very challenged by climate change. That is why climate change itself is a national security issue and why we focus on our ability to operate and be resilient in the face of climate change but also to make smart investments now that can help us.

So that's our bottom line. We're putting a lot of investment and time and effort into making sure we get more resilient. I think we, like the rest of society, are, you know, fighting against broader challenges, and anything that we can do to be part of the solution set on climate change, I think is for the good of the military.

Q: Let me just sneak in a follow up. I mean, what is the horizon in weather-proofing Norfolk, for example? It took 10 years from when it was first sort of put in motion to the day that it's supposed to be completed. How are we doing, in terms of how soon we're going to have these bases resilient?

DR. HICKS: It depends on the base, is the answer, and what the resiliency factor is. Wildfires I'll just point out -- when you think a lot about sea level, wildfires is actually -- or drought -- well, I should say drought -- which can then lead to wildfires, is one of our biggest challenges really. 

If you look at the footprint of U.S. military facilities in the U.S., if you think about west and south, those are extremely challenging conditions for us to become resilient in. So again, I think we have the investments there. I think it depends -- the time it takes to get after them will vary, depending on what we're trying to do.

The electric pieces, I think, are going very, very well. We have several bases already that are fully independent on microgrids and we're still continuing to work on those.

Things like sea walls and things that take major engineering are going to take a little longer than some of the approaches we can do in terms of water, ensuring we have water supply and things like that.

Q: Thanks.

DR. HICKS: Yeah.

STAFF: Unfortunately, we're out of time. Oren and Jim I will make sure we get you guys the next time we do something.