WASHINGTON (AP) -- Apparently it does take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. The military has improved the accuracy of its airdrops of supplies and other materials by up to 70 percent, thanks to technology developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Cargo, vehicles and paratroopers can easily drift off course by winds which can vary widely at different altitudes.
This can be a particular problem in mountainous terrain such as Afghanistan.
So the Defense Department launched a program to improve wind forecasts and a contractor turned to NOAA for assistance.
NOAA researchers developed software that runs on a laptop computer onboard the aircraft, called the Local Analysis and Prediction System.
The system uses data from ground instruments, balloons, aircraft, satellites and instruments dropped from the aircraft to measure the wind speed and direction at various levels to predict the course of the items being dropped.
The improved wind forecasts reduced the average error distance between the center of the drop zone and the actual landing position from 5,000 feet to 1,300 feet, NOAA reported.
"Reducing the landing zone size makes recovery less dangerous for ground-based military units, who often cross hazardous areas to reach supply drops," John McGinley, one of the developers of the system, said in a statement.
McGinley, John Smart, Linda Wharton and Daniel Birkenheuer of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., won the agency's Technology Transfer Award for development of the system. The awards will be presented at a ceremony on October 22 at NOAA's Silver Spring, Md., campus.
The system can be used for dropping almost any cargo, from water over a blazing wildfire to food for a famine-stricken population.