The global focus on addressing climate change has never been stronger and there is mounting pressure on states, organisations and individuals to limit their carbon footprint. The defence industry has a significant role to place, in part through its test and evaluation procedures, says QinetiQ test and evaluation global campaign director Cathy O’Carroll

In the UK, defence accounts for 50% of central government carbon emissions and, as outlined in Boston Consulting Group’s recent report The Growing Climate Stakes for the Defence Industry, defence’s contribution to global CO2 emissions could hit as much as 25% by 2050 if changes are not made.  

Climate change has the potential to unearth new threats to military forces and the societies they protect. Whether it’s undermining the usefulness of current military assets or creating conflict between states over scarce resources, a deteriorating environment could add a new layer of complexity to existing risks while also giving rise to new threats yet to be considered by the defence industry. It’s therefore critical that defence develops capabilities that reduce carbon emissions whilst also equipping soldiers with the tools to handle these emerging threats. 

The use of sustainable test and evaluation (T&E) practices will be indispensable in the industry’s collective fight against climate change. By using the latest advancements in digital technology, T&E can continue to safely deliver effective capabilities to the front line while also limiting the environmental cost these processes have on our world. Moreover, T&E can also provide the opportunity to evaluate sustainable technologies, proving how they can be used most effectively in a climate-changed world.  

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The sustainable design and T&E process  

Sustainability gains have been found through the increased use of digital technologies in the design and T&E process. Instead of creating multiple iterations of a platform in physical form, manufacturers are able to design and augment platforms virtually using high fidelity simulations.  

By creating a model of a given asset in a shared virtual environment, also known as a ‘digital sandpit’, manufacturers are given full flexibility to tweak and adapt its components, while also being afforded the ability to test the viability of an asset against the whole system or subsystems. 

While this enables a deeper understanding of an asset’s physical properties and the prediction of the effects of different conditions on structural integrity, the digitisation of this process means the live testing of new prototypes is required at later stages in the development process rather than throughout. Instead, digital experimentation enables a reduction in the number of flying hours required to certify an aircraft or the number of live artillery rounds that must be fired to assure their safety, as examples.  

Live, virtual and constructive training 

The potential that synthetic environments hold for the future sustainability of developing assets is clear. However, their impact on training soldiers could be just as powerful.  

In order to be ready for any eventuality on the battlefield, soldiers need to have comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the assets they operate, achieved through training. Traditionally, this can require different forces across domains to come together to carry out live, joint exercises. While effective, the quantities of resources, such as fuel, ammunition and artillery, needed to support these operations are high, not to mention the miles that units must travel to meet at a training site. 

With advancements in training technology, soldiers are able to collaborate on joint operations remotely through live, virtual and constructive (LVC) training techniques. These training methods combine live assets with simulated and emulated ones to imitate scenarios that soldiers might encounter on the battlefield.  

This removes the need for soldiers and their platforms to travel or use resources in live exercises, with exercises instead being replicated using simulation technologies. Particularly in the case of virtual training, soldiers can be put at the controls of simulated systems which mimic the conditions and scenarios that they would likely encounter in the field.  

Deployable evaluations  

Ensuring that platforms and their capabilities perform at their optimum level at all times is a core priority for every military force. However, to ensure platforms operate at peak performance, military forces have to carry out regular T&E exercises to assess a platform’s performance. While necessary, the process of carrying out T&E on platforms, particularly while they’re on deployment, has traditionally been a carbon-intensive task.  

However, advances in technology could enable operators to assess an asset’s capabilities anywhere in the world through the use of a deployable testing range. Once calibrated in a fixed facility, a deployable range can be sent to any given location to run T&E assessments on an asset while it’s on exercise, saving the need for an asset to travel back and forth between bases. Additionally, the data can be fed back to a remote headquarters for analysis and data mining, made possible by developments in sensors, computing power, connectivity, and secure satellite communications.  

Defence industry’s role 

The call to address climate change cannot be ignored. And acting with urgency is a necessity. An unpredictable climate is dangerous for the defence landscape as it creates opportunities for new and emerging threats to take hold, presenting new challenges for Western forces to address to stay ahead of adversaries. 

The defence industry has an important role to play in mitigating climate change. Reducing its impact on the environment will be supported by investing in more sustainable T&E practices and using T&E to explore and validate the use of novel approaches and technologies that are more suited to a climate-changed world.  

Not only will this limit the quantities of resources that are invested in the development and testing of assets and training, but it will also lead to enhanced sustainability, reduced emissions and greater resilience against the impact of climate change in operations across defence.  

Harnessing the opportunities improved T&E provides will be essential to defence organisations maintaining their capabilities in an increasingly complex landscape, whilst also making the necessary reductions to their environmental impact.