The Air Force had to evacuate one of its 'Doomsday' planes from its base, and it highlights a growing problem for the Pentagon
Christopher Woody,ReutersMar 19, 2019, 20:54 IST
ReutersAn aerial photo of Offutt Air Force Base and the surrounding areas affected by flood waters in Nebraska.
The US Air Force evacuated nine planes from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska because of flooding this week.
One of those planes was an E-4B, an airborne command-and-control aircraft vital to national defense.
The flooding and the evacuations illustrate the challenges posed to the Pentagon by climate change.
Flooding at a US Air Force base in Nebraska that damaged buildings and forced the removal of a plane integral to US nuclear-attack response highlights the risks climate change poses to national security, experts said Monday.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned whether humans cause climate change and has been angered by assessments from his military and intelligence agencies that say the phenomenon poses national-security risks.
Last week's "bomb cyclone" storm flooded about 60 structures including 30 buildings at Offutt Air Force Base, said Ryan Hansen, a spokesman for the 55th Wing, a unit that provides reconnaissance, intelligence, and combat support.
Eight planes in the 55th Wing had to leave the base, Hansen said, and workers might not be able to assess damage to hangers and maintenance buildings until the end of the week.
One of the planes was a Boeing-made E4-B plane, one of four such aircraft meant to be an aerial command center in case of national emergency or destruction of ground bases, such as in a nuclear attack. Two E4-B's were also damaged by a tornado at Offutt in 2017, CNN reported at the time.
The other eight aircraft were RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance plans, which were flown to Lincoln Air National Guard Base in Nebraska and MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. Global Strike Command, which controls the E-4B, known as the "Doomsday" plane, did not say where it was relocated, citing operational security, though a spokeswoman did tell Military.com that it was not damaged.
The flooding covered much of Offutt's 2 miles of flight line, peaking at about 3,000 feet of flight line, Hansen told Air Force Times. Base personnel worked to contain the waters with 235,000 sandbags and 460 flood barriers.
Francesco Femia, cofounder of the Center for Climate and Security, said the flooding shows that the White House needs to let the military do its job in assessing the climate threat.
"This is an example of a vital threat to our national security from a climate-related disaster, and more of this kind of thing is likely in the future," Femia said.
While flooding from storm surges linked to climate change that could damage sensitive electronics and mechanical equipment have long threatened US naval bases like the one in Norfolk, Virginia, which is the largest naval base in the world, Offutt is a reminder that climate change also poses risks to bases far from sea.
Offutt is also home to US Strategic Command, which oversees the country's nuclear arsenal. The Strategic Command headquarters, set on a hill, was not affected by the floods, and neither was its new building, expected to open in the spring.
"Given the president's denial of climate change ... I don’t know if ironic is the word to capture how strange it would be for the results of climate change to adversely impact the president's ability to control US nuclear weapons in a crisis," said Stephen Young, the Washington representative of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which advocates investment to protect bases from climate change threats.
The White House has considered forming a panel to assess the science used in government climate risk reports that could be headed by a retired physics professor who believes greenhouse-gas emissions are good for the planet. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
That panel would be formed despite multiple defense and intelligence agencies determining that extreme climate is a threat multiplier, aggravating existing problems such as "poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions," a 2015 Defense Department report stated.
Jim Mattis, a former Marine general who served as Trump's defense secretary until the end of 2018, also said it was incumbent on military planners to consider how climate-change-related shifts would affect operations, describing them as real-time issues.
"Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today," Mattis said in response to questions from senators after his confirmation hearing in January 2017. "It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning."
While climate change can't be blamed for a single storm, the vast majority of scientists say emissions from fossil fuels and the burning of forests are trapping heat in the atmosphere and making storms and floods more intense.