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Make Haste Slowly – The Inherent Risks of an Electrification of the U.S. Military: Material Inputs, Geopolitics and Cyberattacks

As governments around the globe continue to push towards carbon neutrality, Alan Howard and Brenda Shaffer, faculty members at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, warn against the hidden dangers of the — rushed — electrification of the U.S. military in a new piece for Foreign Policy.

Against the backdrop of the Pentagon having commissioned studies to examine increased use of electricity for its vehicles, tanks, ships and planes, the authors caution:

“Washington has encouraged the electrification of wide swathes of the U.S. economy as a way to encourage greater use of renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions. The U.S. Defense Department, the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. federal government, is now considering pursuing its own wide-scale electrification. Such a step would have profound strategic effects that should cause policymakers to proceed far more cautiously.”

They argue that while, as the U.S. on the whole pivots towards “electricity and regulating electricity generation in ways that phase out fossil fuels,” a call for electrifying the military may be “intuitive,” but it would also open the military up to significant strategic vulnerabilities.

Of course, followers of ARPN know that one of the key vulnerabilities lies in our nation’s over-reliance on supplies of critical minerals from adversary nations. Demand for critical minerals will increase exponentially amidst a green energy shift, and the “renewable energy economy’s dependence on limited rare earths and other minerals is likely to unleash a great game for minerals that is already requiring the U.S. government’s attention,” according to the authors.

Meanwhile, Howard and Shaffer caution that with greater interconnectivity of an energy system comes another inherent danger: the increased risk of cyberattacks, both in terms of electricity generation as well as on an electrified military battlefield, where access to electricity can already be a challenge in its own right depending on the geographic location. Moreover, supply lines could become easy enemy targets, and charging times for battery-powered equipment could hamper military readiness.

While there is no denying that we find ourselves in the middle of a global energy transition, and the push towards a greener energy future is a given, stakeholders would be well advised to follow the classical adage of “festina lente”“make haste slowly,” particularly when it comes to our national security at a time when current events underscore how quickly geopolitical realities can change.

The good news is that, at least on the material inputs front, efforts to diversify U.S. supply chains away from adversary nations are gaining momentum, particularly in the wake of the White House’s 100-Day Supply Chain Report which we discussed in-depth in our recent study “Critical Mass,” as well as the U.S. Armed Services Committee’s Bipartisan Defense Critical Supply Chain Task Force findings.

Here’s hoping that this momentum for mineral resource policy reform, which will be a key foundation for successfully transforming the U.S. military in the long run, will not lose steam over the August recess.