90. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Pickering) to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1 2


  • Weather Satellites: Coalescence

The Under Secretaries Committee report of November 29 on the proposed coalescence of NOAA/NASA and DOD polar-orbiting satellites enclosed a joint NOAA/NASA statement regarding their preferences among the options covered in the report and comments from the OMB staff. The views of the Department of State on this subject are covered below.

The Department of State recommends that coalescence take one of two forms corresponding to options A and B of the USC report:

The use of common components in separate NOAA/NASA and DOD polar-orbiting weather satellites systems, but only to the extent that there remains a clear separation in characteristics and operations of these two systems; or
A single system of polar-orbiting weather satellites under civilian management, operation, and control.

State recommends against coalescence involving a single system under either military or shared military and civilian management, i.e., options C and D in USC report. Either of these options could lead to potentially unacceptable risks to our international interests.

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U.S. legislation and policies in space and weather satellite activities have placed primary responsibility in civilian agencies except that, as provided in the 1958 Space Act, “activities peculiar to or primarily associated with the development of weapons systems, military operations, or the defense of the U.S.” are to be the responsibility of the DOD. A Bureau of the Budget Circular (A-62 of November 13, 1963) setting forth guidelines for the planning and conduct of U.S. meteorological services, directed that the Department of Commerce, “to the maximum extent practicable and permitted by law, will provide those basic meteorological services and supporting research needed to meet the requirements of other agencies.” Specifically excluded from these guidelines were meteorological activities involving special military security considerations.

The practice and science of meteorology are inherently international endeavors, since knowledge of the global atmosphere is ultimately required for both. The U.S. civil weather satellite programs have provided the outstanding demonstration of our oft-stated intent to use space for peaceful purposes, in cooperation with others, for the benefit of all. Substantial progress is being made in international meteorological programs which include the use of weather satellites to acquire data for operational and research purposes. State believes that because of these factors, and in the light of U.S. space and meteorological policies, there would be a special sensitivity internationally to a real or apparent increase in military control in the services now provided, or planned to be provided, by the civil program of polar-orbiting weather satellites. Possible adverse reactions by other nations are discussed in the NSC Under Secretaries Committee’s report on coalescence.

Option A corresponds to a continuation of the present separate management of two distinct systems, except that monetary savings would be sought through the use of appropriate common components. Adverse international reactions would not be expected as long as this is viewed by other nations as representing little change in the current arrangement. However, there is a possibility that the use of common components could be carried too far. If the civilian [Page 3] and military systems become nearly indistinguishable due, for example, to common spacecraft instruments, orbit heights, and communications systems, then suspicions might be raised that the civil system was a “front” for military purposes. Thus if option A is chosen, we recommend that the use of common components not be carried to the point where there is no longer a clear separation in characteristics and operations of the two systems.

Option B involves coalescence to a single system, so that it would be expected that cost savings could be maximized. While this option would represent an important change from the current separate civil and military systems, State believes that there would not be significant adverse international reactions since this approach, with civil management, would correspond to long-established U.S. legislation and policies in space and weather satellite activities.

Since the DOD has now declassified its system of polar-orbiting weather satellites and has supplied data from their instruments to other domestic and foreign users of meteorological information, and since the similar NOAA/NASA system involves or could involve the use of instruments of comparable characteristics and capabilities, it follows that the DOD system and its data are not “peculiar to or primarily associated with” military requirements. Thus, under option B, Commerce (and hence NOAA) could provide, as directed, “those basic meteorological services and supporting research needed to meet the requirements of other agencies”, including the DOD. The subsequent use of meteorological data and services would be determined by each of the user agencies. NOAA and NASA could plan future systems and instruments to satisfy to the maximum extent feasible, the special and new requirements of all of the user agencies. (It would be expected generally that there would be in the civil system provision for denying data to foreign users in case of national emergency.)

Thomas R. Pickering
Executive Secretary
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, Box 2960, SP 12–3. Confidential. Drafted by Chapin. Deputy Executive Secretary Samuel R. Gammon signed above Pickering’s typeset signature.
  2. The Department of State recommended retaining civilian control over the management and operation of weather satellites.