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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Combat Air and greenhouse gas emissions reductions: Priorities for action towards 2050

This paper focusses upon the UK’s Typhoon and Lightning forces as the prime combat air system of aircraft and airfields towards 2050. Climate change effects are likely to increase conflicts and popular demand for emissions reductions across all industries including militaries. To address these aspects, four future scenarios are created with axes varying international cooperation or competition, and high or low demand for emissions reduction. The tension between combat effectiveness and emissions reductions underpins discussion throughout and challenges adoption of civil aerospace emissions reductions in some areas. Data from UK-based fuel and energy consumption is used, together with interviews of RAF personnel, to complement literature sources. Within the combat air system, focus is prioritised towards reducing the 160ktonnes CO2e aircraft emissions. These are found to be seven times larger than buildings emissions, and fifty times larger than ground vehicles. Sustainable aviation fuel may enable significant emissions reductions in kerosene powered aircraft but its availability is risky. Flying less is the key method to reduce emissions yet pilot competence must be retained. This requires effective simulation and displacing combat aircraft sorties on to more efficient platforms and cyber where possible. With no single means to dramatically reduce emissions it will be necessary to support small innovations through organisational structures. Small emissions gains will most likely be successful where they simultaneously lever time, performance and/or cost benefits. Such gains can bring direct benefits whilst also minimising the emissions that must be offset or carbon traded. Partnering is shown to be important for extending the benefits of emissions reductions found in UK combat air. Typhoon and Lightning are globally operated by other nations plus militaries share logistics chains, fuel pipelines and airspace with civilian aircraft. The resilience of UK combat air stations is briefly considered noting flood risks in late 21st century from sea level rises.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.