Navy Ships Are Getting New Forecasting Gear
In an emergency move ordered the day after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Navy is installing updated weather forecasting equipment on ships to keep pilots and ground troops from being hindered by the harsh winter in Afghanistan, officials said Friday.
Knowledge about the region’s deep snow, ice storms and shifting winds has historically been an enormous advantage to Afghan armies fighting outsiders.
“We’re taking that advantage away,” said Petty Officer William Crank, liaison between the fleet and computer specialists at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.
New software and hardware is being installed on aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships and command ships that will be operating out of the Arabian Sea as winter closes in.
The first ship to get the new system was the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis, which left Monday for the Arabian Sea. Work is underway on the amphibious ship Bonhomme Richard, which will leave soon with Marines aboard.
With the new technology, weather forecasts that once took three or four hours to develop can be done within 45 minutes, aiding commanders who are preparing battle plans, officials said.
“We learned a lot from Kosovo,” said Capt. Robert Louis Clark, program manager for the update effort, referring to the U.S.-led campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999. “Kosovo was a real ‘weather war.’ Luckily our [computer] product line has matured incredibly.”
The new weather forecasting equipment was scheduled to be installed over the next 30 months. But on Sept. 12, the Pentagon ordered that the equipment be readied for installation within 30 days.
Better weather information, officials said, can lead to more accurate targeting for missiles and other “smart” weapons at risk of being diverted by wind or precipitation.
The new equipment will permit pilots of F/A-18 Hornet and F-14 Tomcat warplanes to receive updated weather information during the long flights to targets in Afghanistan, allowing them to change targets and strike areas with better visibility. Much of Afghanistan is covered with thick clouds during the winter.
Marine Commandant Gen. James Jones said this week that because of the long flights, “you launch from an aircraft carrier and, by the time you get there [to the target], you have completely different weather.”
Bad weather has already been cited in the downing of a Special Forces helicopter and an unmanned Predator reconnaissance aircraft.
“We want our war fighters to have the latest possible information,” said Cmdr. John Kusters, assistant manager for the update effort.