ERDC: An Evolution of Military Sustainability Theory?

bricksDespite the push to shrink the global U.S. military footprint across the world, U.S. troop deployments will continue for years to come. These deployments, which come in a variety of forms, are typically expensive to develop and require the military to import costly materials to maintain continuous preparedness. One such example is the Forward Operating Base (FOB), which is the core of any troop deployment in the field and provides a headquarters and home base for our soldiers.

Even though these installations are a necessity, the price tag that is associated with them is not. The high cost to establish these facilities is only rooted in the way that we construct them. FOBs have always used wood-based products and, since many of our deployments are in extreme environments, the construction materials must be flown in en masse. If, by chance, steps could be taken to research innovative ways to build FOBs in the field, then the sustainability of these ventures could be heightened immensely. Fortunately, this research is ongoing and the Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) recently released the results of it first substantial analysis of the usefulness of locally sourced building materials. Titled “Indigenous Construction Materials for Theater Facilities”, the ERDC published it in September 2013.

If there is a consistent theme that weaves throughout the report, it is that “there is a need to explore the mission sustainability benefits of using indigenous construction materials (ICMs), structural systems, and building methods to produce semi-permanent structures for contingency operations”[1]. Understandably, any material that is deemed as an ICM must meet a lengthy list of parameters. As the report states, “an ICM must either be environmentally friendly, recyclable, renewable, safely disposable, or any combination of these characteristics.”[2] Additionally, ICMs must also be “natural…plentiful….require only basic tools…preparation…and transportation systems.[3]

On the other hand, the report is clear about the disadvantages that define ICMs and their use in the field. Specifically, the report states that ICMs are “labor-intensive, have low quality control, vulnerable to weathering, and have low impact resistance.”[4] Yet, these detractions do not disqualify the essential role that the ERDC hopes that ICMs will play in the future.

Outside of the fiscal benefits that ICMs offer, the research also focused on the socio-cultural implications of using ICMs in FOB construction. According to their results, ICMs can enhance relations with the local population due to “the support of local building practices…use of local labor forces…and it can provide buildings suitable for reuse….after the military construction life cycle ends.”[5] Increased interface with local populations can only be a positive as inclusion nurtures acceptance. Even if the U.S. military forces are not fully accepted, toleration is preferable to active anger.

So what does this report mean to TIDES? Sustainability is a central theme in all that we promote and we see this report as a first step towards something greater. As the Army prepares to evolve its decision-making processes to include the role of ICMs in FOB construction, it is evidence that the efforts made within CTNSP have value and effectiveness. Perhaps this is the first domino of many, leading to the disassembling of the military stovepipe culture. Yet, we cannot rest on our laurels. We must continue to push forward and advocate for solutions like this if we are to be successful in nurturing this worldview throughout government. For more information on this report, click here.

 

[1] Al-Chaar, Ghassan, Lucy Whalley, Jonathan Beckstrom, H. Garth Anderson, Rosa Affleck, Meredith Carr, and Jennifer Macpherson. “Indigenous Construction Materials for Theater Facilities.” Engineer Research and Development Center. US Army Corps of Engineers, Sept. 2013. Web, 2.

[2] Al-Chaar, Ghassan, Lucy Whalley, Jonathan Beckstrom, H. Garth Anderson, Rosa Affleck, Meredith Carr, and Jennifer Macpherson. “Indigenous Construction Materials for Theater Facilities.” Engineer Research and Development Center. US Army Corps of Engineers, Sept. 2013. Web, 9

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Al-Chaar, Ghassan, Lucy Whalley, Jonathan Beckstrom, H. Garth Anderson, Rosa Affleck, Meredith Carr, and Jennifer Macpherson. “Indigenous Construction Materials for Theater Facilities.” Engineer Research and Development Center. US Army Corps of Engineers, Sept. 2013. Web, 16

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About startides

TIDES Research Assistant Intern
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