By Capt. Alexander Baldwin, M.SAME, USAF, 1st Lt. Scott Weiss, M.SAME, USAF, Capt. Louis Zib, M.SAME, USAF, Lt. Col. Justin Delorit, Ph.D., P.E., PMP, M.SAME, USAF, and Christopher Chini, Ph.D.

For repair and construction projects supporting the U.S. Air Force, a 5 to 10 percent contingency factor is often used to capture unforeseen costs. As a result, the service’s repair and construction programs fail to adequately factor in lifecycle costs and impacts during the project planning phases.

Potential changes such as mission expansion, economic conditions, and climate change makes accounting for these complex lifecycle costs even more difficult. The traditional use of standards and guidance founded upon historical trends could prove to be unreliable. However, one key lifecycle cost consideration that can generate future savings is the incorporation of climate change impacts on infrastructure assets through climate projections.

TAKING A BROADER VIEW

Infrastructure costs are generally calculated using a lifecycle cost analysis. These assessments detail the costs associated with an asset’s construction, service, operation, maintenance, remodeling, and disposal. While the Air Force has focused exclusively on the construction or renovation cost of an asset through its repair and construction procurement programs, it is shifting to a more active preventative maintenance program for its infrastructure assets.

The inclusion of a lifecycle cost analysis gives decision-makers the ability to consider the whole cost of an asset when determining the best use of funding resources. Lifecycle cost analysis approaches offer broader opportunity to evaluate threats to budget, such as climate change, and support resiliency efforts through modeling and analysis.

Climate change is of great concern to infrastructure systems, especially when compounded by uncertainty in the inherent non-stationarity of future use planning. Studies on global infrastructure and climate change predict increased impacts on a multitude of infrastructure systems. It is also apparent these systems are not designed to withstand such changes.

While organizations are beginning to develop climate change adaption strategies, there exists a gap in guidance for how to implement or execute improvements.

All types of infrastructure are vulnerable to changing climate conditions, from roads and bridges to water and energy systems. For example, demand for electricity is expected to increase as temperature and cooling demand rise. Correspondingly, electric substations and distribution infrastructure need to adapt to changing demands and environmental stressors.

Since 2010, the Department of Defense has identified climate change as one of the greatest threats to national security and highlighted the need to incorporate climate change adaption strategies into infrastructure asset portfolios. Unfortunately, contemporary attempts to implement climate change adaption measures have been minimal in scope and effect.

A shift to a lifecycle mindset in infrastructure planning by including considerations for climate change impacts into current project estimations and design would provide a better understanding of future operations, maintenance, and repair costs for Air Force installations under environmental uncertainty. As a result, in-depth lifecycle impact analyses can be conducted and provide a more efficient allocation of funding resources.

MODELING PROJECTIONS

A shift to a lifecycle mindset in infrastructure planning by including considerations for climate change impacts into current project estimations and design would provide a better understanding of future operations, maintenance, and repair costs for Air Force installations under environmental uncertainty. As a result, in-depth lifecycle impact analyses can be conducted and provide a more efficient allocation of funding resources.

Incorporating climate projections alters construction designs to account for future potential climate impacts. Assets that are designed to withstand current weather impacts might not be adequately designed for conditions 10, 20, or 50 years in the future. While understanding the impact of future climate trends on assets is complicated by inter-regional variations, predictive models can be applied using internationally accepted climate projections to facilitate discussions on long-term policy and budget allocation.

Although exact future climate conditions are unknown, using probabilistic forecasts must be considered when modeling or planning long-term facilities and infrastructure. As an example, modeled forecasts of the impact of climate change on electricity usage for Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, and the increased damages associated with more intense tropical cyclones at Eglin AFB, Fla., show a substantial increase through the end of this century.

The impacts of climate change are evident through gradual changes in climate parameters or shifts in the characteristics of extreme weather events. Improving infrastructure design to include “likely” climate parameters or extreme weather event intensification over facility lifespans can improve the infrastructure’s robustness. An example of including future climate change and its impacts is captured by research conducted on evaluating Eglin AFB’s vulnerability to tropical cyclones by modeling hurricane events and their expected damage potential. These efforts quantify the magnitude of risk the installation faces from future climate conditions.

With climate change projections throughout the 21st century included, the model is also able to realize spatiotemporal effects. This analysis can be downscaled to the facility level by using Air Force Geographical Information Management System data to determine when infrastructure investment is needed to adapt to future extremes.

Currently, Air Force installations do not have the in-house expertise to apply climate projections using prediction or forecast modeling. By introducing modeling expertise to military civil engineer units, future climate change impacts can be implemented in the lifecycle design of projects. Incorporation of climate change modeling for local conditions is possible as well.

Modeling tools that determine climate impacts, sea level rise, and global temperature change are available for public use. Other options for defense installations include university partnerships, Air Force modeling specialists, installation-specific modeling experts, contracting modeling capabilities, and training current personnel on how to utilize modeling data correctly for military project submittals.

FINDING A PATH FORWARD

Getting to a better present state for Air Force installation resilience involves following a few inter-related steps that provide a path forward for including lifecycle cost analysis of climate change into asset management processes.

  • Incorporate climate change projections through forecast modeling in lifecycle cost analyses. The use of prediction and forecasting modeling techniques is well established in the research of climate change impacts on infrastructure. However, climate change impact forecasts require expertise on not only the local infrastructural systems, but also regional parameters, existing trends, model frameworks, and application of climate projections.
  • Establish expertise on climate change adaptation at installations and beyond. Hiring government civilian employees or contractors responsible for developing and monitoring climate activity and change projections at an installation is Additionally, the opportunity exists to establish a climate change task force that develops regionalized climate change studies and educates installations on the possible adaption path- ways to identified impact areas (similar to an Airfield Pavement Evaluation Team that travels to installations on a cyclical basis to test, evaluate, and recommend improvements).
  • Capture and incorporate data more holistically. The establishment of a climate change development team would allow for improved gathering of regional data for bases, development of projections of climate impacts across different areas, and recommended infrastructure improvement solutions that are installation-specific. Air Force asset managers could then use this climate change report to inform repair and construction projects and create installation development plans.
  • Develop funding pathways to account for increased costs of climate change adaptation. Internal funding pathways need to be developed for military installations. The Air Force has recently promoted funding of repair and construction projects that meet certain objectives, enterprise objectives, and Specific Enterprise Execution Directions (SEEDs), which are installation-specific requirements that improve bases and reward projects focused on accomplishing certain metrics. Developing an enterprise objective for infrastructure resilience or installation SEEDs that allow repair and construction projects to adapt to future conditions are potential ways the Air Force could implement and fund the use of climate impact forecasts more effectively.

MITIGATING FUTURE RISK

Climate change presents both an immediate and long-term threat to the Air Force and its ability to project power to anywhere at any time. Already bases have faced disruptions in readiness due to extreme weather events. More worrisome, forecasters predict that some aspects of climate change are expected to increase at potentially exponential rates. To combat this threat, Air Force installations must include climate change forecast considerations in the design and construction lifecycle cost analysis planning considerations for infrastructure development and sustainment.

By adopting these initiatives, the Air Force can ensure that its infrastructure assets are properly scoped and estimated for the entire lifespan of the systems—reducing lifecycle maintenance and repair costs. These initiatives will ensure that the ability to operate and sustain aerial vigilance, reach, and power is continued despite the uncertain future global climates we face.


Capt. Alexander Baldwin, M.SAME, USAF, is Operations Engineering Chief, 375th Civil Engineer Squadron, Scott AFB, Ill.; alexander.baldwin.2@us.af.mil.

1st Lt. Scott Weiss, M.SAME, USAF, is Deputy Engineering Flight Commander, 319th Civil Engineer Squadron, Grand Forks AFB, N.D.; scott.weiss.5@us.af.mil.

Capt. Louis Zib, M.SAME, USAF, is Detachment Two Commander, Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center; louis.zib.1@us.af.mil.

Lt. Col. Justin Delorit, Ph.D., P.E., PMP, M.SAME, USAF, is Assistant Professor, and Christopher Chini, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor, Department of Systems Engineering & Management, Air Force Institute of Technology. They can be reached at justin.delorit@ afit.edu; and christopher.chini@afit.edu.

[This article first published in the September-October 2021 issue of The Military Engineer.]