Western governments may be dithering over taking action over climate change, but their defence chiefs think differently – at least regarding changing weapons systems to suit rising world temperatures.
Major defense companies are studying the retro-fitting and upgrade of armanents, power plants and platforms to cope with rising temperatures amid predictions the world’s hot spots are getting hotter on land and on sea.
The world’s defence chiefs are particularly concerned with two zones in particular, the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. Both seas are shallow and therefore absorb more heat than the great oceans and certainly the world’s seas.
And rising temperatures are already making themselves felt. Some of a group of six British Royal Navy Type 45 destroyers, costing $1 billion each, have stopped operating in the Persian Gulf because the sea was too hot, with water temperatures rising above 90 degrees fahrenheit (32.2C).
The issue saw Royal Navy staff questioned on 2nd June by the UK’s Commons Defence Committee as to why their Type 45 destroyers keep losing power. The response was that the ships’ turbines overheated resulting in massive technical failures that can slow the ships to a crawl.
Don’t blame us – it’s the laws of physics!
Such ships were not designed to be operated in what amounts to cruising around in a sea hotter than a bath. The turbines are designed to be cooled by air pumped in from outside, but in Gulf the ship’s power plants cannot bring down the temperature of this air fast enough, causing the engines to cut out before they overheat.
Rolls-Royce’s Tomas Leahy told the Commitee that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had failed to specify that the Type 45s would have to operate in warm environments, insisting that the destroyers’ WR-21 gas turbine engines met the MoD’s specification:
“Are the conditions in the Gulf in line with that specification? No they are not, so the equipment is having to operate in far more arduous conditions than initially required by that specification.”
BAE Systems Maritime Managing Director John Hudson added: “What we have found in the Gulf is that it takes the gas turbine generator bit into an area which is sub-optimal for the generator, and also we found that with the drive units that the cooling system created condensation within the drive units which caused faults and that caused electrical failures as well.”
He then insisted that it was not just a problem of the Rolls-Royce engines: “It’s not a fault of the WR-21. Even if it was a simple-cycle gas turbine it will still suffer the same fate in those circumstances, it’s a law of physics.” Committee member Douglas Chapman MP, of the Scottish National Party, responded: “I am absolutely stunned!”
“It’s a billion-pound asset that you’re putting into perhaps a war zone and we don’t know if these people who are making up the complement on that ship will go in there and come back out alive, because there might be a problem with the power system on the ship”, committee member Douglas Chapman MP further told the parliamentary session.
Like other modern navies, the British had designed the ship, each with a 190-strong crew, for a wide range of contingencies, but engineers admit that rapid climate change is another matter.
The Royal Navy is building a new base in Bahrain to service both the Type 45 destroyers, and the future Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, with maintainance facilities to deal with temperature blow outs.
Until then experts say that all of the Type 45 Destroyers should be equipped with back-up diesel generators to deal with main engine failure in such warm water. But the solutions are not so simple. Power plants, weapons and generators can all suffer from the heat, and extra power is needed just to keep everything cool.
Will politicians finally take climate change seriously?
Scientists for years have been warning of the tropicalization of the Mediterranean Sea – another area where American, Russian, French, British and Italian ships manouvre, with operations concentrating on the turbulance in Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Tunisia.
In October of last year The Guardian reported that soaring Gulf temperatures may make tourism in the area a thing of the past, with destinations like Dubai and Doha not being fit for human habitation by the end of this century.
Meanwhile last summer a ‘heat dome’ stretching across the Middle East from Dubai to Beirut resulted in the second-highest heat index ever recorded on Earth, with air temperatures rising above 120F (48.9C) in Iran and Iraq for days on end last August. Iran was forced to declare a mandatory four-day national holiday as nearby Basrah (Iraq), experienced over a week above 120F.
Just bear in mind that US troops operations in the Iraq war in 2003 were curtailed by temperatures of just 90-100F (32-38C), with troops needing increased water allocations and working short hours, while demands on fuel stores increased due to increased power demand and lower helicopter flight efficiency in the hot air.
Coping with temperature extremes is not new for the world’s navies. In WW11, the US navy pioneered air conditioning methods as its crews, men raised in a generallly temperatate climate, sweltered inside their steel boxes deployed against Japan in the Pacific.
From fine sand getting into the engines of tanks, helicopters even guns in the first Gulf War to toughening hulls against polar ice, military planners have prided themselves for decades in coming up with innovative solutions to cope with climatic conditions. What is new, and harder to deal with, is designing for a climate that is itself changing.
Politicians need to address head on the climate change issues it seems to want to ignore, if not least for their military.
Richard Galustian is a Senior Consultant to several major international corporations involved in MENA. Based on his background and experience, he has unique access to various influential components of British, US and Middle Eastern and North African societies. One his primary endeavors involves providing political and business advice. Richard has lived and worked most of the past 40 years in the Middle East and North Africa. Noteworthy is the fact that he spent three years in Iraq, post-2003 invasion as well as then time in Afghanistan in 2006 and more recently in Libya. He is a regular columnist with Gulf News in Dubai, Times of Malta, Oman Times as well as having contributed articles to various prestige British and American publications including London’s The Spectator.
This article originally appeared on The Ecologist.