Army brings real-time weather to artillery targeting

The Meteorological Measuring Set Profiler will give Army artillerymen a 'nowcast' of weather at target locations by integrating data from multiple sources.

The Army will integrate real-time computer weather modeling into field artillery targeting through its acquisition of 50 new meteorological systems from Smiths Detection, a technology developer based in Edgewood, Md.

The systems integrate weather balloon, ground sensor and satellite data with an internal database of worldwide locations and algorithms to deliver what the company calls a nowcast of weather conditions at the target location, even when such locations are beyond sensor range.

The company announced Jan. 22 that the Army will buy 50 of its Meteorological Measuring Set Profiler (MMS-P) systems for $19.3 million. It is the fourth generation of a weather balloon and Humvee-mounted computer system first deployed in 2004, but it is the first to employ nowcasting. The system transmits weather data to the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System via the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System. All echelons of the Army and some levels of the Marine Corps and Navy rely on the data system for fire support command and control.

Previous generations of MMS lacked the ability to simulate weather conditions beyond sensor range and couldn’t correct well for local weather conditions, such as wind pushing the balloon-mounted sensors in the opposite direction of the intended target, said Tim Pacciotti, a vice president and general manager at Smiths Detection.

As a result, the company worked with researchers at Pennsylvania State University’s Meteorology Department to develop analytics capable of determining downrange weather conditions. Pacciotti said the system has a range of hundreds of kilometers. A  paper published by Penn State in 2004 said the Army had asked for a 500-kilometer range.

Relying on software to gauge downrange weather conditions is a paradigm shift for artillery operations, Pacciotti said. “They’re used to firing off of a sensor and sensor data only,” he said. The MMS-P takes about 15 minutes to generate a nowcast and can be set up or broken down in about 20 minutes, he added.

Everything from air humidity, pressure, wind conditions and drag can affect shell trajectory. Although many weapons systems are equipped with targeting sensors, “even with those smart sensors, you need to get it inside the basket,” he said. Furthermore, real-time awareness of the target location’s weather could influence what type of shell a commander decides to fire. For example, if conditions are foggy, a shell with an optical-guided system might not be the best choice, Pacciotti said.

The system could have applications elsewhere in the military, he said, adding that the Marine Corps has already expressed interest in using a similar system to provide a mobile weather operations center for maneuver commanders.

The Army first contracted with Smiths Detection in 2000 to build weather data systems. With the latest order, the total program value is now more than $89 million, according to company data. Although it’s unlikely the company will deliver any more MMS units, it will refurbish the roughly 50 older versions already deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pacciotti said.

The recent $19.3 million comes from supplemental funding approved by Congress for fiscal 2008, he added.