Military-grade weather technology

10 December 2012

Vaisala is a global leader in environmental and industrial measurement, developing weather-sensing technology and solutions for a wide range of operations. The company’s new applications manager Lee Nelson talks to Defence & Security Systems International about the company’s range of innovative defence applications.

Could you tell us about Vaisala and its involvement in the defence sector?
Lee Nelson: Vaisala provides a comprehensive range of innovative observation and measurement products and services for selected weather-related and industrial applications. Headquartered in Finland, Vaisala employs about 1,400 professionals worldwide and is listed on the NASDAQ OMX Helsinki stock exchange.

The company provides defence forces and security organisations with weather observation systems and solutions that help improve operational decision-making. Our information-gathering tools reduce uncertainty caused by weather, so our customers can make better-informed decisions for improved safety and effectiveness in air, land and sea operations. We are committed to the success of our customers, assisting them with our understanding of tactical weather requirements, our proven services and the support we offer throughout the lifecycle of each product.

Who are the primary users of your services within the defence sector?
Vaisala serves all branches of the military, as well as security organisations, test ranges and space-launch facilities. We concentrate on weather awareness in four key applications: ballistics correction, aviation weather, naval weather, and test range/space range operations. In addition to their military functions, many national defence organisations also manage civilian airports and contribute to national weather forecasting.

What specific challenges do military customers face and how does Vaisala meet them?
Our customers spend the bulk of their time preparing for combat operations, so they are careful to ensure that training exercises are as safe and effective as possible. It is important to be aware of weather hazards that may affect personnel and system safety. Lightning, strong winds, flooding, extreme temperatures or thick fog can severely impact the ability to conduct peacetime operations in a safe and effective manner. We offer industry-leading systems and sensors for all types of adverse weather detection.

When a military force is called upon, it needs to be able to operate in remote and harsh environments. Portable, rugged and reliable meteorological tools are crucial for success. Whether asked to provide humanitarian support or conduct combat operations, defence forces need to be able to operate the same way as they train. A good understanding of weather is critical to successfully execute whatever mission they are called to perform.

Could you describe some of the Vaisala products that are currently available?
Vaisala offers a broad spectrum of weather-sensing capabilities, many of which are specifically designed to meet the toughness that military users demand. The MAWS201M TacMet Tactical Meteorological Observing System, for example, is a compact weather station that can be easily and rapidly deployed in the field. It offers broad sensor capability and can provide aviation-quality automated weather observations in even the most demanding locations.

Vaisala's early foundations were based on upper-air sensing, and the new MW32 MARWIN Sounding System enables defence users to deploy Vaisala's world-class radiosondes wherever they are needed. The MW32 has an extremely rugged design, which is field proven and meets all applicable military standards.

We are also happy to announce that we've teamed up with EWR to offer the E700XD radar system. This rugged, portable and easy-to-deploy Doppler X-band weather radar is powered by Vaisala's RVP900 signal processing and uses Vaisala IRIS software.

How can military forces around the world benefit from X-band radar?
The primary benefit of X-band radars is that they provide the remote sensing capability needed to track weather in a more mobile package than larger C-band or S-band systems. X-band radars have inherently smaller antennas, making them ideal for tactical mobile operations for severe weather tracking and warning.

Since many military aviation operations, particularly those involving helicopters, take place in the very lowest parts of the atmosphere, X-band radars can also prove invaluable by enabling forecasters to see below the radar coverage into areas that may be blind spots for larger national or regional radar networks. X-band radars can provide good coverage of the surrounding area up to about 100km, while still being able to cover the lowest and most critical part of the atmosphere.

How is Vaisala's X-band radar different from other X-band radars on the market?
Three important features help set the E700XD radar apart. First, its small footprint - the antenna is only about 76cm in diameter. Second, its low power consumption. It uses stable solid-state power with state-of-the-art pulse compression. And third, its rugged design, developed specifically for military applications. The result is a radar system for military use that is the most robust, easy to move, simple to set up and best-performing solution out there.

What requirements does it fulfil and what does it offer customers?
The E700XD is a first-rate radar system designed for military use and built to withstand the rigours of combat and training applications. This is a field-proven system that is currently being used by military weather units all over the world. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The unique combination of sturdy design, smart packaging and reliable performance in the harshest of conditions makes this a smart investment, bringing home-base capability to a deployed operating environment.

What customer service does Vaisala provide?
Vaisala provides complete end-to-end service, including project management, installation and maintenance, as well as full logistical support and mid-life upgrades. We also offer a wide variety of training courses, which cover systems, operations and maintenance.

What gives Vaisala the edge over its competitors?
What sets Vaisala apart is the breadth of our offering, the quality of our products and our long history of providing superior weather-sensing capabilities. We understand the needs of the market and we work hard to ensure that we are not only serving the requirements of today, but are also looking towards the demands of tomorrow and beyond.

What do you see as the current market trends and how do you envisage they might change?
There is some uncertainty on the horizon regarding defence budgets. This can certainly be seen as a short-term challenge, but it is, perhaps, an opportunity as well. With budgets tightening, defence forces are more likely to opt for commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products rather than pay for the development of technology made to their specifications. Since Vaisala offers military-grade products like the MAWS201M, MW32 and E700XD, I believe we are well positioned to meet the needs of our military customers now and in the years to come.

X-band radars such as the E700XD can offer invaluable coverage in the lowest areas of the atmosphere where helicopters operate.
Defence forces rely on portable, rugged and reliable meteorological tools.

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