WASHINGTON — The Department of the Air Force is using artificial intelligence to augment weather predictions and better understand environmental conditions in places where the U.S. military may be headed.

Deputy Chief Information Officer Winston Beauchamp told the UiPath TOGETHER Public Sector conference on June 14 that the technology is improving forecasting abilities and providing valuable insights for planning and operations.

“Using AI, we’ve been able to enhance our weather models to take data that we don’t have ground-based sensors to collect, and extrapolate and interpolate between those data points to come up with weather predictions over parts of the world,” he said.

While poor weather predictions in civilian life can translate to soaked shirts or sunburns, lackluster or dated models for the military can prove far more disastrous. Weather has profound effects across domains, according to Air Force documents, and influences how, when and where actions are taken.

Climate change — a national security imperative, according to President Joe Biden — is a further complicating factor.

“We don’t always remember that weather is a really important thing in military operations, and it doesn’t always use the same data that our civilian weather forecasters use,” Beauchamp said. “When planning military operations, the weather can be a huge determiner of success or failure.”

The Air Force in 2021 awarded Boston-based Tomorrow.io a $19.3 million contract to support deployment of radar-equipped weather satellites and so-called weather intelligence. That same year, the service and Oak Ridge National Laboratory launched a supercomputer forecasting system to support work done by Air Force Weather. The Department of Energy lab billed it as a platform “for some of the most advanced weather modeling in the world.”

The Air Force and Space Force are, according to Beauchamp, using AI to accelerate decision making and to better inform the decisions being made. The Pentagon, more broadly, has promised to foster and incorporate AI for the same reasons.

“AI has a great deal of attention, right now, inside the Department of the Air Force,” he said. “Employing these technologies is going to continue to improve our way of conducting operations in the future.”

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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