In April 1997, William S. Cohen, who was then the U.S. Secretary of Defense when Bill Clinton held the position of President of the United States, made an amazing and controversial statement to a packed audience at the University of Georgia, which is located in Athens. The conference at which the Secretary of Defense was speaking was The Conference on Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and U.S. Strategy. Cohen came straight to the point and told the audience that certain bodies and people – who he elected not to name, which is intriguing – were then presently “…engaging in an eco-type of terrorism whereby they can alter the climate, set off earthquakes, volcanoes remotely through the use of Electro-Magnetic waves. So there are plenty of ingenious minds out there that are at work finding ways in which they can wreak terror upon other nations. It’s real.” Yes, it is real. We know that thanks to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. We now have in our possession an amazing – almost sci-fi like – document that details where the U.S. Air Force hopes to be in 2025, on the matter of weather modification and control – and with respect to multiple additional technologies, too. The document was written in 1996 and is amazing enough in content – even though it was written more than two decades ago. The document is entitled USAF 2025.
Researched and written by the 2025 Support Office at the Air University, Air Education and Training Command, and developed by the Air University Press, Educational Services Directorate, College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research, and Education, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, the document was “designed to comply with a directive from the chief of staff of the Air Force to examine the concepts, capabilities, and technologies the United States will require to remain the dominant air and space force in the future.” The section of the document that we need to focus our attentions upon is titled: Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025. Yes, “owning the weather.”
The U.S. Air Force offered the following, thought-provoking words: “In 2025, US aerospace forces can ‘own the weather’ by capitalizing on emerging technologies and focusing development of those technologies to war-fighting applications. While some segments of society will always be reluctant to examine controversial issues such as weather-modification, the tremendous military capabilities that could result from this field are ignored at our own peril. Weather-modification offers the war fighter a wide-range of possible options to defeat or coerce an adversary.” The USAF 2025 document adds: “The desirability to modify storms to support military objectives is the most aggressive and controversial type of weather-modification. While offensive weather-modification efforts would certainly be undertaken by U.S. forces with great caution and trepidation, it is clear that we cannot afford to allow an adversary to obtain an exclusive weather-modification capability.”
The Air Force presented a fictional scenario which goes some way towards explaining how, and under what specific circumstances, the weather may become the next weapon of conflict: “Imagine that in 2025 the U.S. is fighting a rich, but now consolidated, politically powerful drug cartel in South America. The cartel has purchased hundreds of Russian-and Chinese-built fighters that have successfully thwarted our attempts to attack their production facilities. With their local numerical superiority and interior lines, the cartel is launching more than 10 aircraft for every one of ours. In addition, the cartel is using the French system probatoire d’ observation de la terre (SPOT) positioning and tracking imagery systems, which in 2025 are capable of transmitting near-real-time, multispectral imagery with 1 meter resolution. The U.S. wishes to engage the enemy on an uneven playing field in order to exploit the full potential of our aircraft and munitions.”
So, steps are taken to engage that same enemy, but in a very strange fashion: “Meteorological analysis reveals that equatorial South America typically has afternoon thunderstorms on a daily basis throughout the year. Our intelligence has confirmed that cartel pilots are reluctant to fly in or near thunderstorms. Therefore, our Weather Force Support Element (WFSE), which is a part of the commander in chief’s (CINC) air operations center (AOC), is tasked to forecast storm paths and trigger or intensify thunderstorm cells over critical target areas that the enemy must defend with their aircraft. Since our aircraft in 2025 have all-weather capability, the thunderstorm threat is minimal to our forces, and we can effectively and decisively control the sky over the target.”
The Weather Force Support Element, the USAF 2025 document reveals, “has the necessary sensor and communication capabilities to observe, detect, and act on weather-modification requirements to support US military objectives. These capabilities, we are told “are part of an advanced battle area system that supports the war-fighting CINC. In our scenario, the CINC tasks the WFSE to conduct storm intensification and concealment operations. The WFSE models the atmospheric conditions to forecast, with 90 percent confidence, the likelihood of successful modification using airborne cloud generation and seeding.” Things then become even more science-fiction-like: “According to USAF 2025, by 2025 uninhabited aerospace vehicles (UAV) are routinely used for weather-modification operations. By cross-referencing desired attack times with wind and thunderstorm forecasts and the SPOT satellite’s projected orbit, the WFSE generates mission profiles for each UAV. The WFSE guides each UAV using near-real-time information from a networked sensor array.
“Prior to the attack, which is coordinated with forecasted weather conditions, the UAVs begin cloud generation and seeding operations. UAVs disperse a cirrus shield to deny enemy visual and infrared (IR) surveillance. Simultaneously, microwave heaters create localized scintillation to disrupt active sensing via synthetic aperture radar (SAR) systems such as the commercially available Canadian search and rescue satellite-aided tracking (SARSAT) that will be widely available in 2025. Other cloud seeding operations cause a developing thunderstorm to intensify over the target, severely limiting the enemy’s capability to defend. The WFSE monitors the entire operation in real-time and notes the successful completion of another very important but routine weather-modification mission.”
While the military stated that this scenario might be viewed by some as being “far-fetched,” it was as sure as it could be that “technological advances in meteorology and the demand for more precise weather information by global businesses will lead to the successful identification and parameterization of the major variables that affect weather.” The USAF 2025 people then did a bit of digging into the future, which, one suspects, will not be too far off of the mark: “By 2025, advances in computational capability, modeling techniques, and atmospheric information tracking will produce a highly accurate and reliable weather prediction capability, validated against real-world weather. In the following decade, population densities put pressure on the worldwide availability and cost of food and usable water. Massive life and property losses associated with natural weather disasters become increasingly unacceptable.
“These pressures prompt governments and/or other organizations who are able to capitalize on the technological advances of the previous 20 years to pursue a highly accurate and reasonably precise weather-modification capability. The increasing urgency to realize the benefits of this capability stimulates laws and treaties, and some unilateral actions, making the risks required to validate and refine it acceptable.” Less than a decade from now, we can suggest, our planet may not resemble the world in which we live today. After all, consider the following from the Air Force, who are confident that they will be able to “shape local weather patterns by influencing the factors that affect climate, precipitation, storms and their effects, fog, and near space. These highly accurate and reasonably precise civil applications of weather-modification technology have obvious military implications. This is particularly true for aerospace forces, for while weather may affect all mediums of operation, it operates in ours.”
The military recommended that, “the DOD explore the many opportunities (and also the ramifications) resulting from development of a capability to influence precipitation or conducting ‘selective precipitation modification.’ Although the capability to influence precipitation over the long term (i.e., for more than several days) is still not fully understood. By 2025 we will certainly be capable of increasing or decreasing precipitation over the short term in a localized area.” Perhaps most important and relevant of all is the way in which the United States was guaranteed to benefit, strategically, from the deployment of such technologies in areas of hostility: “Before discussing research in this area, it is important to describe the benefits of such a capability. While many military operations may be influenced by precipitation, ground mobility is most affected. Influencing precipitation could prove useful in two ways. First, enhancing precipitation could decrease the enemy’s trafficability by muddying terrain, while also affecting their morale. Second, suppressing precipitation could increase friendly trafficability by drying out an otherwise muddied area.”
As for the matter of not just creating storms – but definitive super-storms – that might decimate entire landscapes, and without even a bullet or a missile fired, the Air Force’s report makes things acutely obvious that it is this area, perhaps more than any other, which presents the biggest strategic gains: “The desirability to modify storms to support military objectives is the most aggressive and controversial type of weather-modification. The damage caused by storms is indeed horrendous. For instance, a tropical storm has an energy equal to 10,000 one-megaton hydrogen bombs, and in 1992 Hurricane Andrew totally destroyed Homestead AFB, Florida, caused the evacuation of most military aircraft in the southeastern US, and resulted in $15.5 billion of damage.”
On the matter of manufactured storms, we are also told: “At any instant there are approximately 2,000 thunderstorms taking place. In fact 45,000 thunderstorms, which contain heavy rain, hail, microbursts, wind shear, and lightning form daily. Anyone who has flown frequently on commercial aircraft has probably noticed the extremes that pilots will go to avoid thunderstorms. The danger of thunderstorms was clearly shown in August 1985 when a jumbo jet crashed killing 137 people after encountering microburst wind shears during a rain squall. These forces of nature impact all aircraft and even the most advanced fighters of 1996 make every attempt to avoid a thunderstorm.”
USAF 2025 then asked an important question, one which has a bearing everyone who flies – regularly or occasionally: “Will bad weather remain an aviation hazard in 2025?” In answering its very own question, the Air Force said: “The answer, unfortunately, is ‘yes,’ but projected advances in technology over the next 30 years will diminish the hazard potential. Computer-controlled flight systems will be able to ‘autopilot’ aircraft through rapidly changing winds. Aircraft will also have highly accurate, onboard sensing systems that can instantaneously ‘map’ and automatically guide the aircraft through the safest portion of a storm cell. Aircraft are envisioned to have hardened electronics that can withstand the effects of lightning strikes and may also have the capability to generate a surrounding electropotential field that will neutralize or repel lightning strikes. Assuming that the U.S. achieves some or all of the above outlined aircraft technical advances and maintains the technological ‘weather edge’ over its potential adversaries, we can next look at how we could modify the battlespace weather to make the best use of our technical advantage.”
The technology and science surrounding the issue of turning weather into weapons was further explored: “Weather-modification technologies might involve techniques that would increase latent heat release in the atmosphere, provide additional water vapor for cloud cell development, and provide additional surface and lower atmospheric heating to increase atmospheric instability.” Paramount to the success of any attempt to ignite a storm cell, noted the authors, “…is the pre-existing atmospheric conditions locally and regionally.”
In essence, that means the Earth’s atmosphere must be deemed “conditionally unstable and the large-scale dynamics must be supportive of vertical cloud development. The focus of the weather-modification effort would be to provide additional ‘conditions’ that would make the atmosphere unstable enough to generate cloud and eventually storm cell development. The path of storm cells once developed or enhanced is dependent not only on the mesoscale dynamics of the storm but the regional and synoptic (global) scale atmospheric wind flow patterns in the area which are currently not subject to human control.”
The Air Force admitted that “the technical hurdles for storm development in support of military operations are obviously greater than enhancing precipitation or dispersing fog as described earlier. One area of storm research that would significantly benefit military operations is lightning modification. Most research efforts are being conducted to develop techniques to lessen the occurrence or hazards associated with lightning. This is important research for military operations and resource protection, but some offensive military benefit could be obtained by doing research on increasing the potential and intensity of lightning.”
Let’s now take a look at the final words on this particular issue: “The lessons of history indicate a real weather-modification capability will eventually exist despite the risk. The drive exists. People have always wanted to control the weather and their desire will compel them to collectively and continuously pursue their goal. The motivation exists. The potential benefits and power are extremely lucrative and alluring for those who have the resources to develop it. This combination of drive, motivation, and resources will eventually produce the technology. History also teaches that we cannot afford to be without a weather-modification capability once the technology is developed and used by others. Even if we have no intention of using it, others will. To call upon the atomic weapon analogy again, we need to be able to deter or counter their capability with our own. Therefore, the weather and intelligence communities must keep abreast of the actions of others.
“Weather-modification is a force multiplier with tremendous power that could be exploited across the full spectrum of war-fighting environments. From enhancing friendly operations or disrupting those of the enemy via small-scale tailoring of natural weather patterns to complete dominance of global communications and counter-space control, weather-modification offers the war fighter a wide-range of possible options to defeat or coerce an adversary. But, while offensive weather-modification efforts would certainly be undertaken by US forces with great caution and trepidation, it is clear that we cannot afford to allow an adversary to obtain an exclusive weather-modification capability.”
2025 is not that far way at all. It will be interesting to see if by that year we will have perfected weather-based weaponry to a highly significant degree.