Jon E. Dougherty is a Missouri-based political science major, author, writer and columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
For centuries man has sought the ability to predict and control
patterns, though the ability to do so has remained elusive. Besides
lacking the technology, ethical concerns have held back development of
what could be the ultimate weapon.
However a research paper written by officers in the U.S. Air Force
concludes that weather-modification is inevitable and that to prevent
nations from developing this technology into a weapon they can employ
against the United States, the U.S. should do so first.
In about 30 years, the report said, the United States should have the
ability not only to control local and regional weather patterns but to
apply that technology in a number of military scenarios. Authors of the
believe it is in the best interests of the U.S. military and,
the Air Force, to be able to control or create weather elements such as
precipitation fog, and full-blown storms for military uses.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael E. Ryan commissioned the report
called “Weather as A Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather In 2025.”
It was first presented on June 17, 1996.
Military planners have often bemoaned the fact that during critical
operations weather has been a mitigating factor. Though the U.S.
is generally considered superior to the forces of other nations and can
wage war in most kinds of weather, Air Force operations traditionally
suffered the most from inclement weather like rain, fog, and other
The Air Force is tasked with most military satellite and space
missions, and such weather conditions tend to degrade the ability of
sensitive surveillance equipment such as infrared technology and
imagery. The Air Force is seeking to find a new way to defeat such
phenomena because they believe without a capability such as
weather-modification, critical combat missions in the future will be
continue to be hampered to the detriment of U.S. forces.
For example, the report said that a significant number of air sorties
the city of Tuzla during the initial deployment supporting the Bosnian
peace operation were aborted due to poor weather. And during Operation
Desert Storm, Gen. Buster C. Glosson once asked his weather officer to
tell him which targets would be clear in 48 hours for inclusion in the
bombing campaign over Iraq and Kuwait.
“But current forecasting capability is only 85 percent accurate for
than 24 hours, which doesn’t adequately meet the needs of the air
order (ATO) planning cycle,” said the report.
The report also said that “over 50 percent of the F-117 sorties
weather aborted over their targets and A-10s only flew 75 of 200
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
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
multiplier. Weather-modification clearly has potential for military use
the operational level to reduce the elements of fog and friction for
friendly operations and to significantly increase them for the enemy,”
For the purpose of this report the Air Force defined
as “the alteration of weather phenomena over a limited area for a
period of time.” The authors predicted that within the next three
the concept of weather-modification could expand to include the ability
shape weather patterns by “influencing their determining factors.”
For example, when faced with an enemy which may have technological or
numerical superiority in terms of air power in any given area of the
quite simply the U.S. is hoping to develop the technology to alter the
weather patterns over that specific theater of operations. The military
says it is imperative because it believes other countries — some of
potentially hostile to the U.S. — are attempting to develop their own
“Achieving such a highly accurate and reasonably precise
weather-modification capability in the next 30 years will require
overcoming some challenging but not insurmountable technological and
legal hurdles,” the report said. The authors believe that altering
weather patterns will eventually become an “integral part of U.S.
national security policy with
both domestic and international applications.”
“Society will have to provide the resources and legal basis for a
capability to develop,” said the authors, which signaled that the Air
anticipates public reluctance and likely legal battles as hurdles to the
development and deployment of a global weather-modification system.
The U.S. currently has a limited number of weather-modification
technologies available. But the report said that “technology
advancements in five major areas are necessary for an integrated weather
modification capability,” which include “advanced nonlinear modeling
techniques, computational capability, information gathering and
transmission, a global sensor array, and weather intervention
techniques.” Even though “some intervention tools exist today,” new
technologies “may be developed and refined in the future.”
The Air Force said that by 2025 it fully expects to be able to
the weather “on a mesoscale (<200 sq km) or microscale (immediate local
area) to achieve operational capabilities." They plan to implement this
technology by using highly trained "weather force specialists (WFS)," as
well as access ports to the "global weather network, a dense, highly
accurate local area weather sensing and communication system," and
While more accurate weather forecasting has been an objective for a
of years in the private sector, clearly this report signals a shift in
government policy from developing a primarily civilian-oriented forecast
technology to a military technology designed to alter weather activity
“Efforts are already under way to create more comprehensive weather
models primarily to improve forecasts, but researchers are also trying
influence the results of these models by adding small amounts of energy
at just the right time and space,” the report said. “These programs are
extremely limited at the moment and are not yet validated, but there is
potential to improve them in the next 30 years.”
A global weather-modification system could also be used to provide
weather data to an enemy. “Offensive abilities could provide spoofing
options to create virtual weather in the enemy’s sensory and information
systems,” said the report, “making it more likely for them to make
decisions producing results of our choosing rather than theirs. It would
also allow for the capability to mask or disguise our
“Conceivably, with enough lead time and the right conditions, you
‘made-to-order’ weather,” the report claimed.
Air Force planners also envision controlling what they term as “near
in the future with 2025 technology. The report describes the desire for
military commanders to deny an enemy satellite communication
so U.S. forces could, for example, make amphibious landings without an
enemy knowing where the U.S. would strike and in what numbers.
Currently other countries, such as China, are developing laser
so they can employ beams against U.S. spy satellites, thus disabling
rather than spend money on research to alter weather activity in the
atmospheres. That option, say experts, is limited in scope and
though they did not offer any information about whether or not such
technology could be effectively miniaturized in 30 years so satellite
lasers could be more easily deployed, like a missile battery or an
“It sounds like they (the military) want a system they can employ
from fixed locations, without having to move it (the
system) around,” said one source who requested anonymity.
“Modification of the near-space environment is crucial to battlespace
dominance,” the report continued. “General Charles Horner, former
commander in chief, United States space command, described his worst
nightmare as ‘seeing an entire Marine battalion wiped out on some
foreign landing zone because he was unable to deny the enemy
intelligence and imagery generated from space.’”
To accomplish this, Air Force officials believe they can successfully
the ionosphere as well, thus enabling commanders on the ground to
air and intelligence superiority over vast expanses of land — perhaps
an entire military theater of operations or an entire continent.
“Modification of the ionosphere to enhance or disrupt communications
recently become the subject of active research. According to Lewis M.
Duncan, and Robert L. Showen, the former Soviet Union conducted
theoretical and experimental research in this area at a level
greater than comparable programs in the West,” the authors said.
“There is a strong motivation for this research, because induced
ionospheric modifications may influence, or even disrupt” an enemy’s
entire radio communications capability.
Throughout much of the report, Air Force authors rely mostly on the
of altering pre-existing weather conditions and patterns in order to
the weather-modification technology the most effective. However,
are also entertaining the possibility of a concept called “artificial
virtual) weather,” which is nothing more than feeding false weather
information into an enemy’s information systems with powerful
communications equipment incorporated into the entire
“Virtual weather could be created by influencing the weather
received by an end user,” the authors wrote. “(The enemy’s) perception
parameter values or images from global or local meteorological
systems would differ from reality. This difference in perception would
the end user to make degraded operational decisions.” Virtual or
“artificial” weather technologies do not currently exist, the report
“Even today’s most technologically advanced militaries would usually
to fight in clear weather and blue skies,” authors concluded. “But as
war-fighting technologies proliferate, the side with the technological
advantage will prefer to fight in weather that gives them an edge.”
The report continued, “As more countries pursue, develop, and exploit
increasing types and degrees of weather-modification technologies, we
be able to detect their efforts and counter their activities when
necessary. As depicted, the technologies and capabilities associated
with such a counter weather role will become increasingly important.”
“The lessons of history indicate a real weather-modification
will eventually exist despite the risk (because) the drive exists.
always wanted to control the weather and their desire will compel them
collectively and continuously pursue their goal,” the report concluded.