Green Killing Machines

Can that which kills, maims, and destroys also be ecofriendly? It may sound like a trick question, but to the U.S. military, the answer is "yes." The Department of Defense is currently developing more environmentally friendly munitions and weapons, including: less toxic alternatives to lead bullets; missiles that spew less exhaust; and a "paintless" coating for fighter aircraft that will reduce dependence on paints and strippers containing hazardous chemicals.

Reducing its reliance on hazardous materials, it turns out, has several benefits for the military. Green bullets, for example, could save the Army up to $20 million a year and will reduce the problem of lead-contaminated soil at the military's 1,870 small-arms firing ranges. Close to 700 million rounds of lead-based bullets are fired each year, and removing lead from one range alone can cost several million dollars.

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Green weapons also help the DOD comply with an executive order that requires certain federal agencies to cut their toxic releases in half by 2000. The military's newfound commitment to the planet may even make new allies. "Maybe we shouldn't belittle this," concedes Robert Norris, a research analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "They are doing something. It may not be enough fast enough, but they recognize that they can't do business the way they used to."

So, is the military turning into a bunch of tree-hugging pacifists? Not a chance. The new weapons are just as deadly. "None of these efforts to green our weapons systems will reduce their performance," assures Sherri Goodman, deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security.