Every year, the US Army fires hundreds of thousands of rounds in combat training at outdoor facilities across the country. While repeatedly discharging bullets, grenades and mortars might be effective practice for hostile environments, it isn’t great for the actual environment. Munitions can take hundreds of years to degrade, and, when they do, toxic metals such as lead often leach out contaminating soil, streams and groundwater stores.
Recognising this problem, the US Department of Defense recently issued a request for the development of environmentally-friendly 40mm and 120mm training rounds; new technology which has a significantly reduced environmental impact when left out in the wild. By constructing prototypes out of biodegradable materials such as lignocellulose, soy, and bamboo fibres, they aspire to create rounds which will simply disintegrate over time, therefore having a far reduced impact on the local flora and fauna. Ambitious plans proposed by the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) go one step further, and suggest special bioengineered seeds could be packed inside these new rounds, meaning soldiers are inadvertently greening the landscape at the same time as undertaking target practice. ‘Animals should be able to consume the plants without any ill effects,’ insists the project brief.
It’s not the first ‘green’ measure the US military has taken in recent times. Last year, the US Navy caused a stir when unveiling the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the USS Stockdale. As part of the so-called ‘Great Green Fleet’ initiative, it was the first in a series of ships powered using alternative energy sources, such as biofuels produced using waste beef fat provided by farmers in the Midwest. ‘When it comes to power, my focus has been about one thing and one thing only: better warfighting,’ former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus had announced. ‘The Navy’s use of renewable energy in the Great Green Fleet represents its ability to diversify its energy sources, and also our nation’s ability to take what would be a waste product and create home-grown, clean, advanced biofuels to support a variety of transportation needs.’
CORRECTION: The article originally stated that the USS Stockdale was ‘new’, whereas it was in fact first commissioned back in 2009
This was published in the March 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.