Meteorology and oceanography

  • Last updated: 03 Nov. 2011 13:52

Today, the Alliance is often operating, or monitoring conditions that affect its strategic interests, beyond the borders of its member nations. It therefore needs to have the most accurate, timely and relevant information – both current and forecasted – describing the meteorological and oceanographic (METOC) aspects of these environments. For example, comprehensive weather and flood forecasting and oceanographic features such as wave heights, temperature, salinity, surf and tidal movements, or even the presence of marine life, can seriously affect military activities.

The sun shines low in the sky just after midnight over a frozen coastline near the Norwegian Arctic town of Longyearbyen, April 26, 2007. The sea water is normally frozen solid at this time of year but global warming may be warming the region.      REUTERS/Francois Lenoir   (NORWAY)

NATO cooperation in METOC support for its forces aims to ensure that Allies get the information they need through efficient and effective use of national and NATO assets. This information helps allied forces exploit the best window of opportunity to plan, execute, support and sustain military operations. Furthermore, it helps them optimize the use of sensors, weapons, targeting, logistics, equipment and personnel.

To advise the Military Committee, a METOC working group was recently formed from two separate meteorology and oceanography groups.

The NATO Meteorological and Oceanographic Military Committee Working Group

The NATO Meteorological and Oceanographic Military Committee Working Group [MCWG(METOC)] advises the Military Committee on METOC issues. It also acts as a standardization authority by supervising two subordinate panels on military meteorology and military oceanography.

MCWG(METOC), which comprises delegates from each allied country, meets annually to address military METOC policy, procedures and standardization agreements between NATO and partner countries. It relies to a large extent on the resources of NATO members, most of which have dedicated civil and/or military METOC organizations.

The group supports NATO and national members in developing effective plans, procedures and techniques for providing METOC support to NATO forces and ensuring data is collected and shared. In a more general sense, it encourages research and development as well as liaison, mutual support and interoperability among national and NATO command METOC capabilities that support allied forces.

NATO created the MCWG(METOC) by merging the former Military Oceanography Group and the Military Committee Meteorology Group in 2011.

The role of NATO countries

NATO member countries are expected to provide the bulk of METOC information and resources. At the same time, national delegates are able to steer policy, when needed, through the MCWG(METOC) and act as the approval authority for standardization. Among other tasks, nations are expected to:

  • contribute to a network of data collection sites and platforms,
  • provide METOC analysis and forecasts, and
  • provide military METOC support products and services, such as tactical decision aids (TDAs) and acoustic predictions.

NATO established a METOC Communications Hub collocated with the Bundeswehr Geo-Information Office in Germany to better enable information-sharing among Allies and partner countries. Other allied nations also contribute to data-sharing capabilities by, for example, sustaining databases of oceanographic information or taking a lead responsibility in supporting specified operations and missions.

Climate change

The interdependencies and importance of climate change was one of the motivating factors for combining the former oceanography and meteorology groups. NATO nations and partners monitor global situations like climate change that affect security interests. In this respect, it collaborates with international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Meteorological Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization.

NATO military METOC policies and procedures, including those supported by the MCWG(METOC), facilitate hazard assessment and prediction capabilities and rapid response for natural disasters.

The working group helps NATO members and partner countries look at how, within their national civil or military METOC capabilities, or within a collective capability, they are assessing and preparing for climate change and other national security threats.