The year 2025 is not at all far away. And there's a good reason why I say that: things might be changing in our atmosphere, on the land, and even in the water. April 28, 1997 was the date on which a startling statement was made by William S. Cohen - at the time, the United States Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration. The location was the University of Georgia, which was playing host to The Conference on Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and U.S. Strategy. As a captivated audience listened intently, Cohen revealed something that was as remarkable as it was controversial. Hostile groups – that Cohen, whether by design or not, did not name – were actively “…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.” Cohen was not wrong: in 1996 the U.S. Air Force unveiled to the public and the media an astonishing document. It read like science-fiction. It was, however, nothing less than amazing, controversial, science-fact. The title of the document was USAF 2025. It was, basically, a study of where the Air Force hoped to be – technologically and militarily speaking – in 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.” Beyond any shadow of doubt, the most controversial section of the entire USAF 2025 report was that titled Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025. Forget missiles, bombs, bullets, troops, and aircraft. The future, very possibly, lies in defeating the enemy via global, weather manipulation.
“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 report states. The authors also noted: “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.” It’s very clear that a great deal of thought had gone into the production of this particular section of the report. It begins by providing the reader with a theoretical scenario, one filled with conflict, but which may very well be resolvable by turning the weather into a weapon:
“Imagine that in 2025 the US 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 US wishes to engage the enemy on an uneven playing field in order to exploit the full potential of our aircraft and munitions.” At this point, a decision is taken to focus carefully on making the local weather work for the United States and against the cartel: “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 WFSE, the report notes, 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.” The countdown to Weather War One is about to begin. 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.” The Air Force admitted that “this scenario may seem far-fetched,” but remained fully confident 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.”
It was then time for the USAF 2025 team to do a bit of hypothetical future-forecasting: “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.” By 2025, the world, it seems, will be vastly different to the one we inhabit today. The Air Force noted that entire nations would have the ability to “shape local weather patterns by influencing the factors that affect climate, precipitation, storms and their effects, fog, and near space.” And as the team astutely observed: “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.”
With the above in mind, the combined brains behind the reported advocated 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.” Demonstrating the military advantage to such a program was made clear to the DoD: “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.” Much attention was given to a phenomenon that no-one can deny is on the increase: storms. It’s one thing to manipulate precipitation, but to engineer a storm as a means to defeat our foes? Yes, such a possibility is actively is being discussed and researched, as the document clearly demonstrates:
“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.” The controversial document states: “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.” Once again, speculating on the future, the authors ask an important question: “Will bad weather remain an aviation hazard in 2025?” Their response follows: “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 US 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.” If storms do become future weapons of choice, precisely how might this be achieved? The answer might already be available. The USAF 2025 team carefully addressed the scientific issues surrounding this very question: “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.” Critical to the success of any attempt to trigger a storm cell, noted the authors, “…is the pre-existing atmospheric conditions locally and regionally.” That’s to say, the atmosphere must already be “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 conceded that “the technical hurdles for storm development in support of military operations are obviously greater than enhancing precipitation or dispersing fog as described earlier.” They added, however: “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.” Now it’s time to take a look at the conclusions of the USAF 2025 report: “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.” And, finally: “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 it.