The largest weapons manufacturer in the world is focusing more of its massive wealth and resources on addressing energy sustainability issues. As the top defence contractor in the United States, Lockheed Martin has pocketed billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars developing and manufacturing nuclear-capable Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, depleted uranium weapons systems, unmanned aerial drones, fighter jets, stealth bombers and literally hundreds of other forms of military weaponry and logistical support systems. In short, Lockheed Martin has achieved its place on Forbes’ Fortune 500 list by being in the business of war; or, more precisely, the business of death. So does the company’s growing interest in energy sustainability represent a desire to shift away from producing killing machines and towards protecting all life on the planet? Is it merely an attempt to create a positive environmental image? Or does it constitute a greening of warfare?
Lockheed Martin, which markets itself as a “global security company,” earned $46.5 billion in profits in 2011. A significant contributor to these profits in recent years has been its emerging sustainability program. As the company states in the sustainability section of its website, “Achieving and maintaining global, sustainable business growth requires a balance among economic, environmental and social considerations.” To this end, Lockheed Martin is increasingly focusing its research and development on solar thermal energy, synthetic fuel cells, ocean energy technology and smart grid systems.
Such technological developments hold untold promise for making daily life on earth more ecologically sustainable. But many of them can also be applied to Lockheed Martin’s principal business of manufacturing weapons and other military hardware. In fact, the company acknowledged that this is an important component of its sustainability project when it announced the launching of a comprehensive environmental program in 2007 to meet the environmental standards laid out in U.S. Executive Order 13423.
In January 2007, President George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13423, which required government agencies to operate in a more ecologically sustainable manner. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) subsequently issued a policy statement related to the implementation of Environment Management Systems (EMS) in accordance with Executive Order 13423. The statement declares that “EMS shall be used to manage the environmental aspects of DoD operations,” which “requires inclusion in the EMS of the activities and environmental impacts of tenants, vendors, and suppliers.”
The U.S. military is the world’s largest consumer of oil. And with global oil reserves dwindling, prices skyrocketing and the United States becoming increasingly dependent on imported oil, the Pentagon has made sustainability and the development of alternative sources of energy a priority, not only for environmental reasons but also to achieve energy security for its operations. Between 2006 and 2009, the U.S. Department of Defense increased its spending on alternative energy by 300 percent, from $400 million to $1.2 billion. Furthermore, Pentagon spending on alternative energy is expected to reach $10 billion annually by 2030.
The U.S. Navy hopes to get half of its energy from nuclear and renewable sources by 2020, while the Army aims to have alternative sources account for 25 percent of its energy consumption by 2025. The U.S. Air Force has already begun testing agro-fuels in test flights of its combat aircraft and one Marine Corps unit’s use of solar powered technology has made it mostly energy self-sufficient during its combat operations in Afghanistan.
Given that the livelihood of defense contractors is hugely dependent on meeting the Pentagon’s needs, it is no surprise that Lockheed Martin and other contractors began focusing their research and development on sustainable and renewable energy at the same time that the U.S. military sought to shift to alternative energy sources. Military sales account for more than 70 percent of Lockheed Martin’s total revenues and in order to ensure that it does not lose its position as the top U.S. defense contractor to competitors such as Raytheon, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman, the company must invest in alternative energy research and development.
Examples of how Lockheed Martin’s alternative energy applications are being applied to its military products abound. For instance, the company recently announced that it had successfully tested a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) generator that can reduce fuel consumption by more than 50 percent compared to internal combustion generators. SOFC technology is an alternative energy source that uses a chemical reaction to convert fuel into electricity.
According to Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Department of Defense has more than 100,000 energy generators deployed around the world that are currently dependent on oil. The replacement of these conventional generators with SOFC technology could have profound implications for the U.S. military’s combat operations. As Steve Sinsabaugh of Lockheed Martin explains, “By the time fuel reaches deployed troops, the cost can reach hundreds of dollars, and the troops who transport that fuel are some of the most exposed in the battlefield. This milestone brings us closer to fielding military fuel-cell generators, which could provide the military a safer, less expensive alternative to conventional power generators.”
The company also received a $3.5 million Pentagon contract to develop a portable microgrid to power military camps in the field and reduce dependence on oil. Troops in the field will be able to have a microgrid up and running within a few hours and be able to disassemble it just as quickly. Ultimately, it makes troops more mobile and eliminates the need for lengthy fuel supply lines. According to Gil Metzger, director of Lockheed Martin’s Intelligent Microgrid Solutions Group, “We like to say that microgrids are a great source of efficient, reliable and secure power. You put multiple types of resources—landfill gas, biomass, wind, solar—in the switch panel you can hook just about anything into these. You try to maximize the use of indigenous resources.”
In reference to its military benefits, Metzger pointed out, “The more self-sufficient you are, the less predictable you are for the bad guys. In some of these remote places, there may only be one or two ways to get in and out. And if you’re self-sufficient, you’re able to deal with adverse conditions easier if fuel should be hung up.” Ultimately, in reference to the new energy technology reducing the time that troops have to spend on securing their energy needs, Metzger stated, “We want to keep the soldiers in the business of soldiering.”
The civilian applications of Lockheed Martin’s sustainability program are evident in its facilities that manufacture military hardware, thereby ensuring that the company meets the standards established in Executive Order 13423. In 2009, Lockheed Martin’s operations at its Ft. Worth plant received the Working for Clean Air Award from the North Texas Clean Air Coalition. The company manufactures its F-35 and F-16 fighter jets at the facility. And Lockheed Martin’s manufacturing plant in Palmdale, California, where the C-5 military transport plane is built, received an award from the California Environmental Protection Agency for its reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and introduction of recycling programs. Meanwhile, The Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia recognized Lockheed Martin’s plant in Marietta, which manufactures the F-22 Raptor fighter jet and the C-130 Super Hercules military transport plane, for its contribution to achieving a more sustainable Georgia.
Lockheed Martin has operations in 35 countries, and many of them are involved in the company’s development of sustainable and renewable energy. In 2011, for example, Lockheed Martin’s Canadian subsidiary announced that it would fund the Lockheed Martin Chair in Renewable Energy at Cape Breton University’s new Center for Sustainability in Energy and Environment. And yet, Lockheed Martin Canada’s website does not contain a single section on sustainability; in fact, it is dominated by photographs and text describing its work as a military contractor.
According to the company’s website, “Lockheed Martin Canada serves the needs of the Canadian Military and Government,” and its mission statement declares that the “company’s mission is straightforward—to be an ethical, dynamic and technology-oriented electronics and systems integration company pursuing Canadian and global markets in military Systems Integration, Electronic Warfare and Information Systems.” Interestingly, it was not Canada’s minister of the environment, but rather Minister of Defence Peter McKay, who appeared alongside Lockheed Martin Canada’s president Tom Digan at the opening of the new sustainability center at Cape Breton University.
While Lockheed Martin’s sustainable and renewable energy research might well produce solutions to some of the energy and environmental challenges that confront society, it is clear that the company’s chief motivation for engaging in such work is to protect its primary source of revenue generation: military contracts. Consequently, Lockheed Martin’s recent emphasis on sustainable and renewable energy represents more than a desire to save the planet or the greening of the company’s image; it constitutes a greening of warfare. Tragically, military contractors such as Lockheed Martin are not only developing the technology that allows human beings to kill each other with increasing efficiency, but also the capacity to do it in a more environmentally sustainable manner.
This article previously appeared in Canadian Dimension