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Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025

May 28, 2014
Excerpted from a US Air Force Report

In 2025, US aerospace forces can "own the weather" by capitalizing on emerging technologies and focusing development of those technologies to war-fighting applications. Such a capability offers the war fighter tools to shape the battlespace in ways never before possible. . . . A high-risk, high-reward endeavor, weather-modification offers a dilemma not unlike the splitting of the atom.


Weather as a Force Multiplier:
Owning the Weather in 2025

A Research Paper Presented To Air Force 2025 by Col. Tamzy J. House, Lt Col. James B. Near, Jr., LTC William B. Shields (USA), Maj. Ronald J. Celentano, Maj. David M. Husband, Maj. Ann E. Mercer, Maj. James E. Pugh

(August 1996) -- "2025" is a study 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.

Presented on 17 June 1996, this report was produced in the Department of Defense school environment of academic freedom and in the interest of advancing concepts related to national defense.

Click Here for the full report.

In 2025, US aerospace forces can "own the weather" by capitalizing on emerging technologies and focusing development of those technologies to war-fighting applications. Such a capability offers the war fighter tools to shape the battlespace in ways never before possible. . . . A high-risk, high-reward endeavor, weather-modification offers a dilemma not unlike the splitting of the atom.

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. . . . [W]eather-modification offers the war fighter a wide-range of possible options to defeat or coerce an adversary.

In this paper we show that appropriate application of weather-modification can provide battlespace dominance to a degree never before imagined. In the future, such operations will enhance air and space superiority and provide new options for battlespace shaping and battlespace awareness.

"The technology is there, waiting for us to pull it all together;" in 2025 we can "Own the Weather." Why Would We Want to Mess with the Weather? According to Gen Gordon Sullivan, former Army chief of staff, "As we leap technology into the 21st century, we will be able to see the enemy day or night, in any weather— and go after him relentlessly."

A global, precise, real-time, robust, systematic weather-modification capability would provide war-fighting CINCs with a powerful force multiplier to achieve military objectives. Since weather will be common to all possible futures, a weather-modification capability would be universally applicable and have utility across the entire spectrum of conflict. The capability of influencing the weather even on a small scale could change it from a force degrader to a force multiplier.

People have always wanted to be able to do something about the weather. In 1957, the president's advisory committee on weather control explicitly recognized the military potential of weather-modification, warning in their report that it could become a more important weapon than the atom bomb.

However, controversy since 1947 concerning the possible legal consequences arising from the deliberate alteration of large storm systems meant that little future experimentation could be conducted on storms, which had the potential to reach land.

In 1977, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution prohibiting the hostile use of environmental modification techniques. . . . The influence of the weather on military operations has long been recognized.

A significant number of the air sorties into Tuzla during the initial deployment supporting the Bosnian peace operation aborted due to weather. Over 50 percent of the F-117 sorties weather aborted over their targets and A-10s only flew 75 of 200 scheduled close air support (CAS) missions due to low cloud cover during the first two days of the campaign.

The application of weather-modification technology to clear a hole over the targets long enough for F- 117s to attack and place bombs on target or clear the fog from the runway at Tuzla would have been a very effective force multiplier.

Within the next three decades, the concept of weather-modification could expand to include the ability to shape weather patterns by influencing their determining factors. By 2015, 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 highly accurate and reasonably precise civil applications of weather-modification technology have obvious military implications.

In the broadest sense, weather-modification can be divided into two major categories: suppression and intensification of weather patterns. In extreme cases, it might involve the creation of completely new weather patterns, attenuation or control of severe storms, or even alteration of global climate on a far-reaching and/or long-lasting scale.

Extreme and controversial examples of weather modification -- creation of made-to-order weather, large-scale climate modification, creation and/or control (or "steering") of severe storms, etc. -- were researched as part of this study but receive only brief mention here because, in the authors' judgment, the technical obstacles preventing their application appear insurmountable within 30 years.

The number of specific intervention methodologies is limited only by the imagination, but with few exceptions they involve infusing either energy or chemicals into the meteorological process in the right way, at the right place and time. The intervention could be designed to modify the weather in a number of ways, such as influencing clouds and precipitation, storm intensity, climate, space, or fog.

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. Research has been conducted in precipitation modification for many years, and an aspect of the resulting technology was applied to operations during the Vietnam War.

A pilot program known as Project Popeye conducted in 1966 attempted to extend the monsoon season in order to increase the amount of mud on the Ho Chi Minh trail thereby reducing enemy movements. A silver iodide nuclei agent was dispersed from WC-130, F4 and A-1E aircraft into the clouds over portions of the trail winding from North Vietnam through Laos and Cam bodia into South Vietnam. Positive results during this initial program led to continued operations from 1967 to 1972. . . .

[I]nternational agreements have prevented the US from investigating weather-modification operations that could have widespread, long-lasting, or severe effects. However, possibilities do exist (within the boundaries of established treaties) for using localized precipitation modification over the short term, with limited and potentially positive results.

Just as a black tar roof easily absorbs solar energy and subsequently radiates heat during a sunny day, carbon black also readily absorbs solar energy. When dispersed in microscopic or "dust" form in the air over a large body of water, the carbon becomes hot and heats the surrounding air, thereby increasing the amount of evaporation from the body of water below.

As the surrounding air heats up, parcels of air will rise and the water vapor contained in the rising air parcel will eventually condense to form clouds. Over time the cloud droplets increase in size as more and more water vapor condenses, and eventually they become too large and heavy to stay suspended and will fall as rain or other forms of precipitation.

Can this type of precipitation enhancement technology have military applications? Yes, if the right conditions exist. . . . Transporting it in a completely controlled, safe, cost-effective, and reliable manner requires innovation. Numerous dispersal techniques have already been studied, but the most convenient, safe, and cost-effective method discussed is the use of afterburner-type jet engines to generate carbon particles while flying through the targeted air. This method is based on injection of liquid hydrocarbon fuel into the afterburner's combustion gases.

Lab experiments have shown microwaves to be effective for the heat dissipation of fog. However, results also indicate that the energy levels required exceed the US large power density exposure limit of 100 watt/m2 and would be very expensive.

Field experiments with lasers have demonstrated the capability to dissipate warm fog at an airfield with zero visibility. Generating 1 watt/cm2, which is approximately the US large power density exposure limit, the system raised visibility to one quarter of a mile in 20 seconds. . .. Recent army research lab experiments have demonstrated the feasibility of generating fog. . . . This technology would enable a small military unit to avoid detection in the IR spectrum. Fog could be generated to quickly, conceal the movement of tanks or infantry, or it could conceal military operations, facilities, or equipment.

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.

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. . . . 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.

As indicated, 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. . . . Possible mechanisms to investigate would be ways to modify the electropotential characteristics over certain targets to induce lightning strikes on the desired targets as the storm passes over their location.

In summary, the ability to modify battlespace weather thro ugh storm cell triggering or enhancement would allow us to exploit the technological "weather" advances of our 2025 aircraft. . ..

Modification of the near-space environment is crucial to battlespace dominance. . . . Active modification could provide a "technological fix" to jam the enemy's active and passive surveillance and reconnaissance systems.

In short, an operational capability to modify the near-space environment would ensure space superiority in 2025; this capability would allow us to shape and control the battlespace via enhanced communication, sensing, navigation, and precision engagement systems. . . .

Exploding/disabling space assets traversing near-space.
The ionosphere could potentially be artificially charged or injected with radiation at a certain point so that it becomes inhospitable to satellites or other space structures. The result could range from temporarily disabling the target to its complete destruction via an induced explosion.

While most weather-modification efforts rely on the existence of certain preexisting conditions, it may be possible to produce some weather effects artificially, regardless of preexisting conditions. For instance, virtual weather could be created by influencing the weather information received by an end user. . . . his difference in perception would lead the end user to make degraded operational decisions.

Nanotechnology also offers possibilities for creating simulated weather. A cloud, or several clouds, of microscopic computer particles, all communicating with each other and with a larger control system could provide tremendous capability. Interconnected, atmospherically buoyant, and having navigation capability in three dimensions, such clouds could be designed to have a wide-range of properties.

They might exclusively block optical sensors or could adjust to become impermeable to other surveillance methods. They could also provide an atmospheric electrical potential difference, which otherwise might not exist, to achieve precisely aimed and timed lightning strikes.

One major advantage of using simulated weather to achieve a desired effect is that unlike other approaches, it makes what are otherwise the results of deliberate actions appear to be the consequences of natural weather phenomena.

According to J. Storrs Hall, a scientist at Rutgers University conducting research on nanotechnology, production costs of these nanoparticles could be about the same price per pound as potatoes. This of course discounts research and development costs, which will be primarily borne by the private sector and be considered a sunk cost by 2025 and probably earlier. . . .

Even today's most technologically advanced militaries would usually prefer to fight in clear weather and blue skies. But as war-fighting technologies proliferate, the side with the technological advantage will prefer to fight in weather that gives them an edge. The US Army has already alluded to this approach in their concept of "owning the weather."

Accordingly, storm modification will become more valuable over time. The importance of precipitation modification is also likely to increase as usable water sources become more scarce in volatile parts of the world. The importance of space weather-modification w ill grow with time.

The world's finite resources and continued needs will drive the desire to protect people and property and more efficiently use our crop lands, forests, and range lands. The ability to modify the weather may be desirable both for economic and defense reasons. The global weather system has been described as a series of spheres or bubbles. Pushing down on one causes another to pop up.

We need to know when another power "pushes" on a sphere in their region, and how that will affect either our own territory or areas of economic and political interest to the US.

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. . . . [W]eather-modification is a force multiplier with tremendous power that could be exploited across the full spectrum of war-fighting environments.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.




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