22 November 2011

India May Use U.S. Aircraft for Weather Forecast

If all goes well then India's monsoon forecast and cyclone prediction are likely to become more accurate in coming years with a hi-tech aircraft from the U.S. being used for weather reconnaissance missions.

The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), mandated to provide weather forecast, has requested the Planning Commission for a budget of around 400 crore ($78 million) in the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) for acquiring aircraft like C-130J, a transport aircraft, an official said.

 India presently has six of these special operations planes which are used by the Indian Air Force to transport its Special Forces commandos for specialist operations, mostly behind enemy lines.

"We want an aircraft like C-130J for atmospheric research. These are transport aircraft having weather instrumentation to obtain data on movement, size and intensity of tropical cyclones, storms and other weather conditions including tracking monsoon," Shailesh Nayak, secretary MoES, told IANS.

The ministry has formed a committee to come out with specific recommendations for the aircraft and a roughly 300 day usage plan. Each aircraft, specially fitted for weather reconnaissance, costs around 400 crore, he said.

C-130J Super Hercules can land in any type of a runway, be it bitumen, pierced steel place or just mud runway. It needs a shorter runway than most other aircraft and hence can reach any remote corner.

"As of now we use chartered aircraft which goes over the clouds and collects observation based on which forecast for cyclones, monsoon and other extreme weather events is done. With C-130J, the weather observations will be more accurate as the aircraft has instruments that go right into the eye of the storm and collect the observation," said Nayak.

The improved observation is likely to help government in planning evacuation, rescue, relief operations.

"If we have accurate weather forecast then we can make cyclone track prediction with much less error. This will help in saving lot of efforts, as well as life, money and time of the government to take relief measures," he said.

Cyclones usually strike India and neighbouring countries between April and June, before the monsoon onset, or between October and December, just after it ends.

WC-130J weather reconnaissance, a modified version of the C-130 transport aircraft, is used by the so-called Hurricane Hunters of the U.S. Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron.