Why the United States Desperately Needs Weather Satellite Data From China and Russia, But Congress Says No


In this analysis, I explain why this data gap matters and why filling the void with potential adversaries would be such a tactical risk.

The impending gap in weather data in the Middle East

For years, the United States and its allies have relied on Europe’s geosynchronous grid Meteosat-7 weather satellite to provide continuous views of cloud cover, precipitation and wind over the “hot areasof the Middle East and surrounding regions. However, Meteosat-7 is to be “retired” in April 2017 and there is no existing capability or plan by the US or Europeans to adequately replace it and the critical information it provides in the near future.

The Department of Defense (DOD) is likely to miss this data the most, as it requires continuous real-time monitoring of current and near-term changes in weather elements. This information is most vital in the later stages of planning, preparation, execution and ultimately the success of any land, sea and/or air operation.

But from 2017 and at least several years after, China and Russia will operate the only geostationary weather satellites. Feng-Yun-2G, Electro-L, respectively) capable of providing continuous views from the sky over the Middle East. However, The DOD was constrained by congressional pressure not to use Chinese or Russian satellites to fill the void left by the loss of Meteosat-7.

The risks of receiving satellite intelligence from a potential adversary

Some of the reasons Congress opposes US use of Chinese or Russian satellite information are fairly obvious and straightforward, but others are more enigmatic.

In any potential conflict with the Chinese or the Russians, any denial of satellite data could have critical ramifications for the United States’ ability to conduct missions and/or achieve a positive outcome. Even if the flow of data were maintained, it is well within the realm of reasonable speculation to create false and misleading information by clandestinely manipulating observations in time and space – and most likely doing so undetected. .

It is important to note that the very nature of modern numerical weather analysis and prediction opens up the possibility of cyber warfare, i.e. an adversary hacking into and interfering with US computer systems, with potentially important. The arena here includes databases containing meteorological observations of all types and from all sources, as well as the computer forecasting models and the centers that use and produce them.

The unclassified reality of such a hacking threat was highlighted recently when the Washington Post reported: “Chinese hackers recently broke into the Federal Weather Network, forcing cybersecurity teams to seal off vital data for planning. disasters, aviation, navigation and dozens of other critical uses.

When the NOAA system was breached, he claimed he didn’t know if the hackers had removed hardware or inserted malware into his system, but the implications left little doubt that it was a real possibility. The NOAA system is used by military forecasters as well as civilians. The Department of Defense also relies on weather advice from the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (CFNMO) and has access to the military modeling system of the UK Met Office.

Therefore, it is entirely possible that an adversary could manipulate observational data and model forecasts at a critical time to the detriment of DOD’s weather-dependent decision-making. Also, it is likely that it can be accomplished undetected.

We know that even very small differences in computational analysis and forecasting systems can lead to decreased skill and increased levels of uncertainty (value) in forecasting (see schematic illustration below).

Meanwhile, in recent years, China has developed its own advanced technology weather modeling system. Of course, anticipating the possibility of conflict, what can be done by one party can be exercised by the other, defensively and/or offensively. The potential for weather wars in cyberspace is very real.

It is an axiom of military planning and strategy that the weather can be decisive through battles and various tactical missions on land, sea and in the air. For millennia, serendipity alone determined which side gained critical advantage from weather events. There was little or no basis to reliably assess current or very near-term changes in weather patterns other than what could be seen or felt. There was also, of course, no scientific basis for predicting the weather from hours to days in advance.

This has only recently changed in historic timeframes with advances in observing platforms, particularly radar and satellite remote sensing, which can “see” – in near real time – current conditions around the world. . Coupled with the advent of high-speed computers and the development of sophisticated prediction models, forecasts of critical parameters are routinely available to consider when making critical decisions based on weather conditions.

Either due to relatively inferior weather analysis and forecasting systems, or the consequences of “information warfare” (aka “cyber warfare”), whichever side has the most accurate, timely and reliable weather information (least uncertain) is most likely to be able to use this information to their advantage and to the detriment of an adversary. Examples include the projected intensity and track of hurricanes and typhoons, storms in general, dust storms, winds and sea state.


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