Biden’s Plan for “Climate Friendly” Military Vehicles: Another Bad Idea for Defense

COMMENTARY Defense

Biden’s Plan for “Climate Friendly” Military Vehicles: Another Bad Idea for Defense

May 4th, 2022 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Maiya Clark

Senior Research Associate, Center for National Defense

Maiya is a senior research associate in Heritage’s Center for National Defense, focusing on defense industrial base issues.
Soldiers participate in a live-fire exercise at the Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, on March 23, 2021. Markus Rauchenberger / U.S. Army

Key Takeaways

To make every one of those vehicles climate-friendly would place service members at increased risk, as well as bankrupt the Department of Defense.

Biden promised to spend “billions.” It seems that’s the only defense funding he actually supports.

There are not “billions” of dollars lying around to spend on “environmentally friendly” military vehicles, and there never have been.

Earth Day often has provided presidents with a platform to propose drastic interventionist policies in the name of combating climate change.  

From spending billions of federal dollars on wildlife protection in swing states to pushing for adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate change, these policies are usually mere political grandstanding.

Americans can only hope that President Joe Biden was not serious when he pledged to “spend billions of dollars” to make every vehicle in the U.S. military “climate friendly.”  

During Earth Day remarks delivered in Washington state on April 22, Biden said, “We’re going to start the process for every vehicle in the United States military, every vehicle is going to be climate-friendly.”

“Every vehicle. I mean it. We’re spending billions of dollars to do it,” he said.

Even for a public that should, by now, be accustomed to an endless flow of Biden administration statements dragging the military into areas unrelated to national defense (from climate change to tracking down extremists to transgender surgery; indeed, everything except actual warfighting), Biden’s remarks were extraordinary.

The U.S. military owns hundreds of thousands of vehicles, the biggest organizational fleet in the United States—even bigger than that of the U.S. Postal Service.  

The Pentagon’s vehicle fleet can be divided into two categories: tactical and nontactical. 

To make every one of those vehicles climate-friendly would place service members at increased risk, as well as bankrupt the Department of Defense, all in the pursuit of Biden’s misguided goal.

Warfighters rely on our government to provide them the best tactical equipment available. By declaring that “every vehicle” in the military will be “climate friendly,” Biden risks sacrificing warfighting capability in the pursuit of his radical climate agenda. 

With unlimited money (more about that later), it might be possible to convert the nontactical fleet (vehicles that never deploy in warfighting situations) to an electric or hybrid configuration.

But converting vehicles such as tanks and howitzers is another matter altogether. Tactical vehicles must be able to operate independently of any power grids, travel long distances without refueling, and be able to travel cross-country through adverse terrain. 

There is no means today to reliably recharge electric vehicles on the battlefield, and there likely never will be.  

Furthermore, adding heavy batteries to ground vehicles would make them less able to traverse conditions such as mud and sand. A single-minded pursuit of climate-friendly tactical vehicles would  therefore likely put U.S. service members at a disadvantage compared with our adversaries who are not beholden to following a climate agenda.

Now let’s talk about the money that would be required to make the transition. Biden promised to spend “billions.”

It seems that’s the only defense funding he actually supports. After all, his administration’s new defense budget request is effectively smaller than last year’s (owing to skyrocketing inflation), meaning the Pentagon would struggle to pay for already planned acquisitions, much less the hundreds of thousands of new climate-friendly vehicles Biden demands.  

Biden’s proposed fiscal year 2023 defense budget skimps on F-35s and shipbuilding. This is absurd in light of both near-term security threats—the U.S. needs to maintain a posture of strength to deter aggression by Russian President Vladimir Putin beyond Ukraine into NATO territory—and longer-term great power competition with China.  

Moreover, corners cut in past defense budgets are making themselves known. Take, for example, America’s coming shortage of Javelin and Stinger missiles. Instead of spending the money to maintain munitions stocks, the Pentagon for years used those dollars to buy new capabilities. Now, U.S. stocks of Javelin and Stinger missiles have been rapidly depleted as they’ve been sent as aid to Ukraine.

The U.S. military has reportedly sent between one-fourth and one-third of its total stocks of these munitions to Ukraine in just the past two months.

It should be hard for the administration to justify spending money on electric vehicles while failing to buy the planes, ships, and munitions our military needs in order to defend the country.

So, where is the public outcry?

There are not “billions” of dollars lying around to spend on “environmentally friendly” military vehicles, and there never have been. These dollars will have to be redirected from programs that provide actual capabilities to the warfighter.

Pledging an entire new fleet of military vehicles only demonstrates the administration’s lack of seriousness in national defense matters—at a time when the U.S. cannot afford to be anything but serious.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal