ARLINGTON, Va. – Force modernization keeps the National Guard relevant and responsive, so it tops a list of priorities for Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau. This extends from updating weapon systems, to force structure, to updating the non-tactical vehicle fleet.
However, Hokanson cautioned that “modernization is only as powerful as the organization that implements it.”
The National Guard is taking strides to meet White House climate and energy initiatives by updating its fleet of about 13,000 non-tactical vehicles to hybrid or electric in the next four years and tactical vehicles by 2035. According to Guard officials, this would cut roughly 30-50% of fuel costs.
“All of our influence on the overall climate strategy is important, and it is important to be a part of the solution and not be a part of the problem,” said Col. Timothy Wood, NGB logistics officer. “So, we move forward, not just because it’s just an executive order, but because it’s the right thing to do and fall in line with our future.”
The Guard has moved forward with other White House climate and energy initiatives. According to Guard officials, this includes reducing Army greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The Colorado Army National Guard’s environmental quality program was an early example of success.
From 2019 to 2020, the Colorado Guard’s EQ program helped replace five non-tactical vehicles with electric vehicles and one hybrid. Each EV that replaces an internal combustion vehicle saves an estimated $2,000 a year in fuel and maintenance costs. By 2026, COARNG officials plan to achieve 12% battery electric and 18% plug-in hybrid vehicles in its fleet of state and federal vehicles.
“We work in a system of systems: our states, our parent services, the Joint Force, and our partnerships at every level. We must be an operational force that is modernized so we are fully interoperable with the Joint Force and our partners and allies,” said Hokanson. “Modernization begins as an enterprise.”
While moving to the electrification of its fleet, the Guard faces different challenges from its active-duty counterparts, whose infrastructure is largely self-contained on large installations. Wood said Guard units are housed in smaller armories spread throughout each state, which creates logistical challenges in delivering electric charging stations for vehicles.
The solution: use hybrid non-tactical vehicles throughout the process of converting the fleet.
“As we convert, going to a hybrid version first allows us some time and flexibility to meet climate strategy goals, but at the same time continue with our mission,” said Wood. “So, as we balance the resources that we do have, we’re not taking away from the readiness of those units in those states.”
Wood said the Guard is also considering using electric microgrids at armories. This would mean linking several buildings at armories with underground connections to provide more charging stations. In addition to supporting climate change initiatives, existing diesel fuel power could be connected to electric charging options.
“That would give more versatility to respond to national emergencies like natural disasters,” said Hokanson.
The Guard’s top officer recently touted a 99-acre solar energy microgrid and storage project that broke ground last year at a California National Guard military training facility and emergency hub.
“The microgrid would provide enough power to keep the base running for weeks after a major earthquake or other disaster so we can continue our missions,” Hokanson said. “The project is expected to both enhance energy resilience and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
In 2022, more than 225,000 Guard members responded to natural disasters nationwide. Hokanson said that innovating during the modernization process is an institutional strength of the Guard, and he recently urged senior leaders to live up to that tradition.
“There is competition for resources and not enough funding to spend our way out of this challenge,” Hokanson said during the 2022 Air Reserve Component Weapons and Tactics Conference. “That’s where you come in. Where we cannot outspend, we can out-work, out-compete, and out-innovate.”