More than Weather

Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Center for Environmental and Geographical Science

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Publication Title

Small Wars Journal

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The Department of Defense (DOD) currently uses several satellite constellations to remotely monitor the environment. One of DOD’s primary interests in environmental monitoring is detecting current weather patterns and discerning how they affect the warfighter. While understanding real-time weather is critical to mission success, understanding long-term environmental impacts from population growth and urbanization, land use change, and climate change is also of critical importance to the strategic vision of the US armed forces. Indeed, many high-ranking officers and military officials have acknowledged that understanding effects from these environmental changes is critical to our nation’s security. A statement by Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense, concerning climate change elaborates this point: “The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security…rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.” In the same speech, Panetta vowed that the Pentagon would take a leading role in combating these changes (Simeone, 2012).

Using currently deployed US-owned satellite systems can provide the data required to detect environmental change and lay the foundation for analysis and predictive modeling. This analysis can lead to an understanding of which regions or countries will be most affected, and in what way. Such predictions allow military decision-makers to make informed decisions and military planners to develop better operational plans or contingency plans. In this manner, data from satellites with environmental monitoring missions is of strategic importance to the US military – now and in the coming decades. The purpose of this paper is to show why environmental monitoring is strategically important, outline some of the most commonly used US environmental monitoring satellites and show how these satellites currently are, and will continue to be, of critical importance in planning US military operations.

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