Man Made Weather: Weapon of the future? (11/00)

At the recent Fifth German Climate Conference, a climate expert and I gave a joint paper on man-made climate disasters that were threatening man in historic times. After we had spoken, a participant approached us and told us about research carried out by the US Air Force. The findings were reported back in 1996 but have since been generally ignored. The research paper is available at on the Web. 

All past climate catastrophes caused by man pale in comparison to the study’s findings, which are but a taste of things to come in the next quarter century. He who controls the weather, controls the world.

In 1977, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution prohibiting the hostile use of environmental modification techniques. The resulting convention (ENMOD, Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Technique) committed the signatories — which include the United States — to refrain from any military or other hostile use of weather-modification that could result in widespread, long-lasting or severe effects on the economy and society.

In the 1996 study, seven military officers considered how the weather might be used as a weapon. Their task was to ensure that the US remained the dominant power in aviation and space travel in the year 2025. The study concludes that America’s airborne military forces can "own" and control the weather. This would promote the development of new technology, and that technology will provide the "warriors of the future" with undreamt-of resources for controlling the course of military conflicts, the study concludes.

The byword here is weather modification, in the sense of increasing or decreasing the intensity of natural phenomena. Taken to an extreme, this could include creating entirely new weather phenomena (made-to-order weather) and include manipulation of the global climate. But because of the probable conflict with the ENMOD convention, the study concentrates on influencing weather processes in geographic areas only up to 2,000 square kilometers (800 square miles). What is at stake becomes clear when the authors of the research paper talk of a dilemma akin to that once faced by the pioneers of nuclear research. They stress that only those who are prepared to capitulate strategically could want to renounce the military use of weather modification.

But what are the technologies that will give those who control them in the next 30 years the means for planning weather and actually creating weather patterns? Weather control techniques — some already exist — can be improved in four ways: by using complex non-linear modeling systems, increasing computing capacity, improved data collection and transmission, and by the creation of a globally operative military weather network.

Specific operations to curtail an opponent’s operating ability and improve one’s own could include manipulation of precipitation, storms and fog, but could also involve controlling the ionosphere to guarantee dominance of worldwide communication. The research paper does not yet speak of controlling temperature.

The report explains how military encounters could be decided through weather manipulation. It cites the following example: It is the year 2025 and a South American drug cartel has purchased hundreds of Russian and Chinese fighter planes. So far, the drug barons have been able to protect their production facilities from every attack. The cartel controls the skies and is able to launch 10 of its own planes for each American fighter. It also has a sophisticated French air defense system. Despite all this, the American military want to engage the enemy.

The air force meteorologists are to play a crucial role. They point out to the air force that there is a thunderstorm nearly every afternoon in the equatorial regions of South America. The US Secret Service knows that the cartel pilots are reluctant to fly in or near thunderstorms. So the weather force support element is tasked not only to forecast storm paths, but also to trigger or intensify thunderstorms over critical target areas. And as US fighters fly in any type of weather, they are able to snatch control of the skies from the enemy. Moreover, it is likely the air force will routinely use unmanned drones to manipulate the weather by 2025.

These operations will be supported by highly developed, sophisticated technologies for data collection, weather forecasting and weather manipulation. The unmanned craft can spread cirrus clouds over areas of military deployment. Not only does this deprive people on the ground of a clear view, it also prevents them from using their infrared equipment properly. While microwave heaters create local zones of destructive interference to restrict the use of radar-controlled equipment, the naturally occurring thunderstorm is artificially intensified. It is all part of the game plan. The weather force support element watches the complete operation and reports another — by now routine — successful deployment of the weather weapon.

It is therefore not only possible, but highly likely that such systematic weather modification will become a potent, accurate and globally available weapon of war. It could be used in all conceivable conflicts. Weather is not only everywhere: It is at the same time the most implacable enemy of the ruled and of the rulers, as this report illustrates. In future, the weather may be party to a conflict.

Systematic attempts to influence the weather by technical means have existed for a considerable time. However, these efforts have not been particularly successful so far, for example attempts to control precipitation in arid areas or during droughts. Rainmaking is certainly possible in certain situations. But these situations are rare and not easy to control – given the complexity of weather systems. The authors of the US Air Force research paper were clearly aware of these facts. Thus, they speak of significant and fast progress in our understanding of the variables that affect weather. They are certain that by 2025, it should be possible to identify and parameterize all important weather factors. The authors also say there must be quick and meaningful technical progress so that micro-meteorology can develop into a discipline that is technically sound and practical. As things now stand, implementing the report’s ideas appears utopian and expensive. Furthermore, that implementation could be hindered by initiating contrary processes.

The major significance of the weather for the living conditions of a rapidly growing world population could, however, also cause appropriate resources to be provided for research into improving our knowledge of the weather. Summing up: It is likely that by 2025, man will have taken the step from scenario planning to effective weather modification. The military uses of this knowledge are obvious.

Nico Stehr is a Fellow of the Hanse Institute for Advanced Study in Delmenhorst. This article was translated from the From Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (