Norman Weather Lab to Test Top-Secret Radar System

Article excerpt

In a move to commercialize military hardware, a formerly top- secret U.S. Navy phased array radar system soon will be put to the test as a weather warning system in Norman.

A memorandum of understanding has been signed by the University of Oklahoma and national agency officials to develop the SPY-1 radar, used on the AEGIS ships to detect anything on or above the water. Tests will be done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Severe Storms Laboratory campus in Norman.

The Navy has awarded a $9.1 million contract to Lockheed Martin to build and integrate the system for the Norman unit, U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. announced Thursday.

Designing the test system is expected to be completed next month, according to Doug Forsyth, chief of the radar research and development division at the lab.

"Construction and integration probably will take until October and by April 2003, we expect to be able to start capturing weather data," Forsyth said.

The idea behind the move -- a joint operation of the severe storms lab, OU, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin -- is to develop follow-on military technology that can be adapted for civilian use. A commercial unit also is expected to be developed from the tests.

"We put our Doppler radars across the nation back in 1988 and they have been in use for 10 or 12 years now," Forsyth said. "We are trying to develop a new technology that can be put in place to replace the Doppler."

With the phased array radar, Forsyth said, researchers expect to nearly double the warning time that residents now get in case of severe weather.

"We hope to increase the warning time from about 12 minutes -- what we had during the May 3, 1999, tornado -- to about 22 minutes, maybe a little more," he said. "I don't think that we will be able to do much more than that as far as warning after a tornado touches down. But we'll be able to collect data before a touchdown and give better warning of the what the storm contains."

The phased array radar also will be able to focus closer on individual drops of precipitation within a storm and measure the amount of moisture that's expected to hit the ground, he said. …