One casualty of shrinking military budgets and the disappearance of Cold War threats has been the U.S. Air Force's over-the-horizon or ionospheric radar system known as OTH-B. For the scientific community this is not all bad news: The vast potential of the six powerful 5–28-MHz radars for geophysical monitoring may soon be available to anyone who can afford to run and maintain them.
To reap civilian benefits from the billiondollar investment in these radars, the 1994 defense appropriation directed the Air Force to “fully cooperate with efforts of other governmental agencies to utilize the dual-use capabilities of this system for remote environmental and weather monitoring and other purposes.” So far, only the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has tapped the radars' environmental monitoring potential. Since 1991, it has conducted tests to map surface wind direction over basin-scale ocean areas and track ocean storms, including Hurricane Andrew. Recent tests show the radar can be used to map ocean surface currents as well.