HAARP installation
HAARP aerials - a wide, panoramic photo (87K .jpg)

Military Studies Altering Earth's Ionosphere
September 28, 2000
By Frank Sietzen, Jr., SPACE.com

Washington -
High above the roof of the world U.S. military scientists are playing the farthest reaches of the sky like a harp. And the returning "sound" the instruments make may shape the future of military satellite communications -- while blocking those of future adversaries. HAARP's field of antennas search the stratosphere.

HAARP stands for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, a massive series of antennas aimed up at the farthest reaches of the ionosphere high above a frozen wasteland in Alaska.

If radio transmissions are long and powerful enough, the beams actually change the distribution of electrons in the ionosphere, altering for a brief time literally the way the sky is put together.

Built as a joint project of the U.S. Air Force and the Naval Research Laboratory, the HAARP complex sends and receives radio waves through the skies and studies how atmospheric changes caused by the transmissions distort and delay how the signals pass through space. The studies might allow military planners to design new communication systems in future space vehicles. The equipment would be less susceptible to such events as sunspots and other space anomalies.

Advanced systems might be able to alter the ionosphere in a controlled way to establish new communications capabilities while interfering with other satellites. The military would, in effect, be harnessing the power of Mother Nature -- albeit briefly.

This year Project HAARP celebrates its 10th anniversary. But the project has only been probing the skies above Alaska since 1998. "We've only been getting any meaningful results for two years, " said Ed Kennedy, the Navy Research Lab's technical manager for HAARP.

Arrayed on a barren, frozen field about 8 miles (13 kilometers) north of Gakona, Alaska, some 48 high-frequency radio antennas are aimed out into space, blasting 960 kilowatts of radio signals into the vast sky. When the HAARP complex is completed, 180 antennas operating at 3,600 kilowatts will be in full operation. Although the individual antennas used in HAARP use the same power levels as other high-power transmitters in universities and government laboratories, the HAARP project will cluster more of them together and have a longer sustained research effort than is underway anywhere else in the world.

"Right now, we've only been able to prove that HAARP can transmit with the same power and gather the same results as those experiments being conducted at other university and research centers," Kennedy explained. "We really haven't begun the advanced work that HAARP is capable of," he added.

That work will consist of using the HAARP radio beams to actually alter the ionosphere itself. If radio transmissions are long and powerful enough, the beams actually change the distribution of electrons in the ionosphere, altering for a brief time, literally, the way the sky is put together. The actual composition of the ionosphere -- the elements of hydrogen, oxygen and other gases --remain the same. The change is only in the way the electrons are arranged -- and is temporary.

What Is HAARP?

HAARP stands for "High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program." It's a joint project of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and the Naval Research Laboratory.

By transmitting high-frequency radio signals into the area above Alaska, subtle shifts in the arrangement of electrons in the ionosphere are triggered. The area was selected because of the active auroras that occur in the Alaskan region. That region has an ionosphere that can be characterized as mid latitude, auroral or polar depending on how active the sun is on any given day. This gives researchers a wide variety of ionospheric conditions to probe with the HAARP antennas.

Currently 48 high-frequency antennas are used to transmit signals 960 kilowatts in strength. Eventually, when fully operational, HAARP will feature 180 antennas sending signals 3,600 kilowatts in strength.And why does the military care about shifting the sky? "This process can lead to several interesting applications, " Kennedy says. Among these could be new designs for communications systems aboard future U.S. military spacecraft or satellites -- even the ground facilities that talk to them. And what about any enemy? Kennedy suggests that it might also be possible someday -- thanks to research gleaned from facilities like HAARP -- to design equipment that might be able to deny adversaries the ability to communicate through or from space, in theory at least, by shifting the ionosphere every so slightly.

The idea that powerful radio transmissions cause subtle alterations in the ionosphere is not new. More than two decades ago researchers found that late at night the signals from certain radio stations in Sweden were being combined with the broadcast signals from other stations. The cause was previously undiscovered changes in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. This same process of invisible waves in the ionosphere allows radio listeners to hear signals from far distant stations during the late evening hours when radio traffic is minimal, and has been studied by researchers for years.

Kennedy says Project HAARP is the most advanced attempt to cluster together dozens of radio transmitters that can trigger such atmospheric changes in a controlled way, with scientists monitoring the results as the frequencies are varied by the transmissions. "HAARP has flexibility and frequency-modulation capabilities not duplicated elsewhere," he said. The resulting database might give defense planners an edge in the future shape of military space projects.

But HAARP's high-frequency blasts into the skies have worried some that the military tinkering with the sky might prove more permanent damage. And others have suggested that the Air Force and Navy have more sinister plans to "blast open" the sky.

Kennedy scoffs at such conspiracy theories. "Everything we do is unclassified," he says. "All of HAARP is open to anyone to study."