Arsenal going green

Written by Huma Siddiqui | Updated: Oct 29 2007, 07:44am hrs
IT is ironic but as much as we hate the idea of war, it is a reality of life and it does happen. Human sufferings on account of fatalities and life-long disabilities encountered by armies around the world are hard to wish away too. But, if lead-free bullets, recyclable explosives or bang-free bombs are an indication, then arms makers around the world are becoming more environmentally aware. They are creating weapons that reduce the collateral damage of warfare, with environment being the key factor.

A look at the green arsenal coming out of the assembly line:

* Bullets with lower lead content. Lead used in ammunition can harm the environment and poses a risk to people

* Armoured vehicles with hybrid diesel/electric engines to reduce carbon emissions

* Bombs and rockets that release fewer toxins like volatile organic compounds and other hazardous and often carcinogenic chemicals

* Stable artillery, which does not blow up accidentally and has a longer shelf life, thereby reducing waste

Earlier this month, an environmental survey vehicle (ESV)a radiological laboratory on wheelsdeveloped by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was handed over to the Indian Navy. The ESV is equipped with instruments to measure radioactivity levels in solids, liquids and in the air. This will help in certifying the suitability of substances that can be consumed or inhaled from the viewpoint of radiation safety in coastal areas.

DRDO chief M Natarajan says, It is capable of measuring alpha, beta and gamma radiation quantitatively and qualitatively to even very low levels of radio- activity, thereby facilitating early detection of any unusual increase in radioactivity in the area. Thats not all. DRDO officials inform that more environment friendly projects are being designed and developed.

Everything from looking at making a fighter jet more fuel-efficient and looking at the materials that munitions are made of and what their impact on the environment would be, arms makers are gung-ho on the green journey that modern arsenal is undertaking. They are also toying with the idea of making explosives that eventually turn into manure, which essentially regenerate the environment that they had initially destroyed.

Analysts inform that armed forces around the world have significant quantities of complex munitions that have now reached their out of service dates. Increasingly, stringent environmental regulations and security constraints mean that the storing of these munitions indefinitely or disposing of them using open detonation and burning is no longer the answer.

The way forward: arms manufacturers world over are everyday trying to develop environmentally friendly munitions: lead-free bullets, reduced-toxin rockets and smoke-free hand grenades. The new generation of weapons will care as well as kill. They will cause less harm to nature than conventional weapons did.

Reports suggest that the US department of defence, Pentagon is pumping millions of dollars into developing environmentally friendly lead-free bullets, for use both in training and on the battlefield. The new green bullet will be used in the white heat of war, too.

Under contract from the Pentagon, American arms manufacturers are making bullets with an environmentally benign core: they will consist of tungsten composite of tin or nylon rather than lead. It will be a new kind of bullet that can kill you or that you can shoot a target with, and which is not an environmental hazard. The US Navy is working towards making the rockets fired from its ships less offensive. The American military is contemplating the possible use of soybean oil in jet fuel, the use of solar panels in the conflict zone and hydrogen-powered miniature aerial vehicles. In some cases, the weapons have been changed to reduce collateral damage and to make sure they are as accurate as possible.

Says, Jeffery Adams, directornews and information at US-based Lockheed Martin, The company takes great pride in its environmental stewardship. It has significant achievements to its credit in order to reduce the green house gas emissions and carbon footprint. Lockheed Martins user request evaluation tool allows air traffic controllers to safely route aircraft more efficiently. By doing so, the tool saved 25 million miles in aircraft travel and $175 million in fuel and operating expenses in 2005. The companys polar-orbiting television infrared observation satellite provides global data for short and long-range weather forecasting systems. By monitoring the Earths surface, cloud cover, radiation, ozone, and temperature profiles, it provides relevant data in assessing the threat of global warming. US aircraft maker Boeing has been testing the use of cleaner emission and efficient synthetic fuels for US air force aircraft.

One of the worlds largest arms manufacturer BAE, with support of the British ministry of defence, is developing a whole raft of green bullets and rockets. The company wants to move away from old lead-based, potentially toxic munitions that can harm the environment and pose a risk to people, towards munitions that are less harmful and risky.

BAE is also looking to make lead-free bullets, and has developed armoured vehicles with lower carbon emissions; weaponry with fewer volatile organic compounds and other hazardous chemicals in them; safer and sustainable artillery; and explosives that can be turned into compost once they have been used (that is, once they have already turned people into compost).

Also included in the plans of arms makers are attempts to manufacture quieter warheads, in an effort to reduce noise pollution. They also want to reduce the carbon emissions from their military vehicles, including looking at introducing hybrid engines to their armoured vehicles. Weapons are going to be used and when they are, the idea is to make them as safe for the user as possibleto limit the collateral damage and to impact as little as possible on the environment.

War is destructive, however green the garb in which it is dressed. But, if all the weapons were made in a green manner, it would be a good thing.