April 1, 2009  

Greening up the Defense Department

Energy-efficient military systems make sense for multiple reasons

Aboard the ballistic-missile submarine Maryland, on the surface en route from Kings Bay, Ga., to deep water off the continental shelf for diving, a group of journalists was being briefed by the chief of the boat when the ship began vibrating and shaking. The source of the vibration was a mystery until later, when the skipper, Cmdr. Jeffrey Grimes, joined the group and explained that a pod of right whales crossed the course of the Maryland. Full reverse was applied to bring the nuclear-powered submarine to a halt, giving the whales the right of way.

Whales, Grimes said, get preference if there is time to stop — even in times of world crisis.

Whenever a ship comes to port, bobbing lines go around the ship to contain any leaking fuel or other contaminates. In Iraq, the Army engages in recycling, employing locals to dispose of the materials and creating jobs in the process. The Air Force has been using alternative and renewable energy sources at bases for years. The Marine Corps follows the policies of the Department of the Navy.

The four services have comprehensive environmental plans, including restoration, pollution prevention, cleanup and general environmental quality.

“Green” acquisition and environmental sensitivity may be in vogue in civilian life, but these don’t immediately come to mind when thinking of the military. High-profile disputes between the Navy and environmentalists over sonar training, in which pings might disturb whales, or between the Army and groups wanting to protect sensitive lands used for training, give the services an anti-environmental image.

To be sure, there have been some what-were-they-thinking moments, such as when the Navy proposed putting an airport for carrier fighter training next to a bird sanctuary in Virginia, a move that would have put the birds and the airplanes at risk.

But the Defense Department and its suppliers, from those for pencils all the way to major procurement programs, are doing more in the area of environmental improvements than is recognized.

In 2004, the Pentagon issued a policy paper, the “Department of Defense Green Procurement Strategy,” outlining its thinking and using words like “REQUIRE” and stating that green procurement “must be considered as the first choice in ALL procurements.” (Capitalization is the Pentagon’s.)

The policy paper focused principally on office products, printing, fleet vehicles and other non-weapons acquisitions. But it also identified bio-based products, alternative fuels and fuel efficiency and non-ozone depleting substances as part of its Green Procurement Program.

In the bitter competition for the Air Force’s KC-X aerial tanker contract, Boeing promoted its KC-767 as being more environmentally friendly than the Northrop Grumman/Airbus KC-30 because, being a smaller airplane, it burned less fuel and therefore produced fewer greenhouse gases. Boeing’s announcement was framed in the context of the then-high profile debate going on in Europe in the commercial aviation industry. The pitch didn’t do well as a public relations effort, largely because few understood or even knew of Pentagon policies toward procurement that promoted more environmentally friendly acquisitions, and Boeing didn’t tell anyone, either.

This is not to suggest that a “greener” product (which Northrop disputed in any case) would win the day over technical considerations. But it demonstrates that a major contractor tried to interject environmentalism into a major defense department procurement.

The services have embarked on a program to find alternatives to traditional carbon-based fuels. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is spending vast sums of money investigating bio-fuels and synthetic fuels for military aircraft. The main motivation seems to be that the Defense Department doesn’t want to be captive to foreign oil and the fluctuating costs experienced during 2008, when the price went as high as $150 per barrel; fuel is one of the largest items in the defense budget. Still, switching from carbon-based fuels to alternatives will help the environment.

Boeing has been working for years to develop more environmentally friendly commercial airliners, but acknowledges it’s been slow to apply these initiatives to the defense business. This is now changing. Through its own program inherited from the merger with McDonnell Douglas, it is developing the Blended Wing Body jointly with NASA. The technology promises to reduce fuel consumption by about 30 percent compared with current generation airplanes. The Air Force is interested in the Blended Wing Body as a cargo transport and potentially an aerial tanker.

The Pentagon’s Green Procurement Program is slowly expanding into tactical acquisition programs. Three years ago a department called Emerging Containments was formed, since renamed the Chemicals and Materials Risk Management Directorate, which is the part of the Office of Secretary of Defense charged with changing the way the services look at procuring systems. Reducing the use of hazardous materials, acquiring systems with total life-cycle programs (from delivery to dismantling in a recyclable way) and complying with environmental regulations worldwide are the key goals.

Carole LeBlanc, special expert at the directorate,said: “This is a totally different approach to be proactive, not just with existing regulations but also with proposed regulations.”

By selecting environmentally friendly chemicals at the design and acquisition stages, it becomes safer to dispose of the materials when the time comes and service personnel are safer when using the things the chemicals are in, LeBlanc said.

The Green Procurement Program includes supplies used every day: paint, solvents, cleaning materials and recycled paper, to name a few. There have also been policies adopted to implement green processes and avoiding hazardous chemicals entirely.


The Virginia-class attack submarine is an example in which the Navy asked contractors to take environmental considerations into account.

Michael V. Parulis, principal engineer at General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division, described the thinking that went into the new attack submarine.

“We set out to build a green submarine, through the life cycle — in the yard, operating it and cutting up the boat on decommissioning it,” he said. “We set out on ambitious programs. We set out a list of consumable products in manufacturing and ultimately we have a savings in hazardous waste disposals.”

The contractors, including Northrop Grumman, which shares construction and assembly of the Virginias with Electric Boat, achieved a 60 percent reduction in adhesives, 80 percent in solvents and cleaning products and 30 percent in painting and coating. There is no asbestos and no ozone-depleting substances in Virginia class.

Electric Boat’s new hull-painting procedure uses a powder paint instead of epoxy and a process that saves about 8,000 pounds of volatile organic compounds (ozone and smog-producing substances) and 500 pounds of hazardous waste (cleaners, leftover paint). The Virginias even have a space designed for on-board storage of used plastics and other trash, compared with the Los Angeles- and Ohio-class subs that don’t have them and require crews to store the trash wherever they can.

The Navy gave the direction to build a green submarine but left it up to the contractors to figure out how. Electric Boat analyzed 170 systems, getting rid of, among other things, cadmium and chromium, with plans to map all parts in the sub so repair crews know if there are any hazardous materials to be concerned about. About 35,000 parts have been mapped so far.

Northrop Grumman uses paints on its ships that are more environmentally friendly and employs the latest technologies and techniques for controlling the paints that are applied.

The company closely monitors the chemicals and gases used in its manufacturing processes and employs continuous process improvements programs to find ways to reduce emissions and use more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Boeing is working with the Defense Department to reduce hazardous and ozone-producing chemicals. For example, Boeing’s AH-64 Apache helicopters now use chrome-free primer and the F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter uses non-ozone depleting fire suppressant.

Boeing also has an aggressive internal goal to reduce hazardous waste and greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent.

Lockheed Martin’s F-22 fighter aircraft program achieved green sustainability accomplishments through several initiatives. The F-22 Hazardous Materials Program reduces hazardous materials, and environmental and health impacts from design through the life cycle. For example, Lockheed eliminated cadmium on landing gear and on aircraft exterior surface fasteners, reduced volatile organics in coatings and eliminated chrome in sealants. Environmental, safety and health/hazmat support is provided by Lockheed Martin to sustain F-22 Air Force bases through the company’s F-22 Environmental and Health Working Group.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has a 75 percent reduction in hazardous materials used to support the aircraft system. The F-35 will use chrome-free primer and sealants, water-based cleaners, and will extensively use adhesive coating applications instead of paint.

Lockheed’s F-35 program also includes energy conservation and emissions control in the facility’s operation. Chilled-water use is reduced by 40 percent and steam use is cut by 60 percent over previous systems. Air-handling equipment, which controls temperature and humidity conditions, extracts up to 10,000 gallons of water per day from the outside air and recycles it in a cooling tower. Similar to processes used by Northrop and Electric Boat, aircraft paint and coatings are free of volatile organic compounds and a high-efficiency air-filtration system will remove more than 99 percent of particulate emissions from the facility.


A major source of landfill debris and power requirements historically has been electronic materials from computers and other electronic sources. In the increasingly digitized world, contractors and the services want to reduce the number of servers, increasing the power and making the internal components recyclable.

“What we’re seeing in the information systems areas is a lot more attention to weight, power and cooling requirements, all known as green IT,” said Robert Brammer, vice president and chief technology officer at Northrop Grumman.

“A lot of technical developments are being done with major IT firms like IBM, Cisco and Intel that are less power-hungry and use less toxic materials,” he said. “We design architectures that implement these new technologies and environmental footprint but meet the requirements of the customers. We’re seeing more of these energy standards, such as Energy Star, in RFPs than we even saw just a few years ago in procurements and ground-based buildings. In Navy ships, space and building and power requirements need less space, less power and improved security requirements.”

Brammer said the Air Force recently had procurement requirements for consolidation of IT operations for a number of military bases, seeking more efficiency to run more software applications in a given server rather than a number of servers. “This is going on all over the Defense Department these days.”

Steve Fugarazzo, manager of facility engineering at Raytheon, said there was a push to green up IT. Information systems requirements and contractors, including Raytheon, are developing virtual servers that get nearly double the output and throughput with same energy as original servers, he said. Circuit card assemblies have been greened up substantially in a number of ways, cutting the carbon footprint by reducing electricity and waste. Creating recyclable circuit cards is part of this effort, although not all fit this goal.

Boeing has been developing technology for unmanned surveillance vehicles that reduces the need for carbon-based fuels. Its High Altitude Long Endurance and Solar Eagle(formerly Vulture) aircraft are intended to loiter for extended periods on limited fuel. The Solar Eagle, as the name implies, uses solar power. These two programs are DARPA initiatives.

Spectra Lab is a Boeing subsidiary that produces a photo cell used in satellite and space equipment. The unit holds a world record for the ability to translate sunlight into energy.

Contractors have been greening up their operations, reducing carbon footprints and energy costs with efficiencies benefiting the Defense Department. Several companies pursue Energy Star and ISO 14001 ratings.

Raytheon has a huge energy program that reduces the cost of doing business and is good for the Earth, Fugarazzo said, adding that this reduces costs for the customer. Energy usage was reduced 12 percent last year on a 45 percent increase in business. Raytheon reduced greenhouse gases by 38 percent between 2002 and 2008, a year earlier than planned and better than the 33 percent goal.

Jeffrey P. Cohen, process improvement engineering specialist at Electric Boat, said that going green has another benefit, also cited by other contractors: It can save money.

Cohen is a black belt (think of judo and karate rankings) for Lean Six Sigma, a widely used industrial process designed to reduce waste and increase efficiency. He was charged with reducing energy usage at Electric Boat. He cited two examples of savings from reduced energy usage: Replacing old, leaking piping for the compressed air system resulted in taking one of two air compressors off line, saving about $500,000 a year. And by retrofitting 1,000-watt light bulbs — the kind used in giant production spaces — with 750 watt bulbs, Electric Boat saved between $300,000 and $500,000 annually.

Northrop Grumman’s Brammer said his company was under contract with the Air Force for a facility energy reduction program. In 2007, energy was reduced by more than 12 percent, exceeding mandated goals.

The big contractors have been moving toward better environmental stewardship, not only in their own production systems but also in what they offer to the Pentagon. Many have obtained the ISO 14001 rating, which validates their efforts to reduce their environmental footprint. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and other contracts have achieved this rating on many production facilities.

Have the armed services and the contractors done enough for environmental protection? The answer, in a historical context, is no. The Defense Department and contractors have generally been late to the party — after all, the environmental movement has been around for more than 30 years. But the Pentagon has made significant strides.

The debate continues over whether global warming is caused by humans or is a natural cycle, and the commercial aviation industry continues to resist mandated regulations by insisting it’s only responsible for between 2 percent and 3 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. But this is hardly the point. That humans harm the environment is indisputable, and while those who point to natural pollutants also are correct, it’s impossible to regulate or prevent goose poop, so man, including military man, has to do his part. AFJ

SCOTT HAMILTON is an analyst with the Leeham Co. (www.leeham.net).