Precise Weather Models Guide Navy's War Planning

Article excerpt

Navy vessels depend on accurate weather information to safely traverse oceans to reach battle zones. The timing and nature of strike operations from the sea must also be in sync with weather conditions.

Technologies that can predict weather conditions with a high degree of precision are valued tools for U.S. military commanders as they prepare for war.

The Navy's involvement in predicting weather for all U.S. military forces is integral to the Defense Department's war planning work, because awareness of weather conditions is necessary to fight today's wars, said Richard Spinrad, technical director for the Oceanographer of the Navy.

"Fighting without a knowledge of the weather is like fighting with no maps of the terrain," said Cmdr. David Titley, a Navy meteorologist assigned to the office of the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

"The side that can best anticipate and exploit changes in the weather creates a significant advantage for itself," said Paul Schneider, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. "As it has been said many times before, we are not interested in a fair fight. We seek all possible advantages for our combat troops," he said.

The Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC), based in Monterey, Calif., and the office of the oceanographer, based at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., work in tandem to forecast weather for the fleet. While FNMOC's 300 employees engage in "operational processing," collecting weather data from sources all over the world and plugging the data into models, the oceanographer's office manipulates the information to find patterns, maintains historical records and develops program initiatives. The oceanographer's office is the program sponsor for FNMOC, as well as for the Naval Meteorological and Oceanographic Command (METOC) in Bay St. Louis, Miss.

FNMOC processes weather information by using sophisticated modular supercomputers. Because they are modular, the entire system does not go down when one module breaks. The computer has the capacity to work around a broken module until it can be replaced. Much of the data collected from the supercomputers also is sent simultaneously to another of FNMOC's customers, the Commerce Department's National Weather Service, which provides weather information to the public. FNMOC also hosts an unclassified free Web site, accessible through http://www.fnmoc.navy.mil. According to Spinrad, the Navy's increasing Web presence is part of the concept of a "net-centric Navy."

"Weather models have been deemed a strategic national asset by the federal government," said Bob Bishop, chairman and chief executive officer of SGI Federal, the company that makes the modular supercomputers used by the Navy to collect weather data. "Weather affects everyone," he said. "The travel, aviation, sports, recreation and military industries" all have business to conduct that is either successful or not, depending on the nature of the weather, said Bishop. In fact, Bishop reported, earlier this year, the Navy and another of SGI Federal's customers, The Weather Channel, signed a memorandum of understanding to engage in professional collaboration. The Weather Channel is reportedly interested in generating the same kinds of weather models created by FNMOC, which "utilize the largest existing, real-time databases of oceanic and atmospheric operations," Bishop said.

Weather models fill in the gaps of time and space, said Titley. "We need to be able to put the data that we collect together into a coherent package, and the way we do that is to use the model to step forward in time and space and forecast the weather.

"So I can go to any point (on the weather model), be it the Persian Gulf, the central Pacific or New York City, and I can tell what the forecast will be," said Titley. …