US AFLCMC invests in Thor weather forecasting supercomputer


The US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Hanscom Air Force Base (AFB), Massachusetts, US, has invested in a new weather forecasting supercomputer called Thor.

The computer system has been designed to model global weather patterns and provides individual air bases and army units with specific forecasts for areas as small as 17km².

Thor also provides more customised forecasts for military applications, including aeronautical forecasts with up to 80 weather gradients reaching high into the atmosphere.

The system is also capable of providing narrow forecasts in remote areas where military units are active, which is typically overlooked in more regionally focused forecast models.

Thor programme manager Robert Born said: “We’re running the same modelling programme as our allies in England, Australia, South Korea, and New Zealand.

“That way, when we’re in joint operations, we can all be working off the same forecast and aligning our plans to the same base assumptions.”

Claimed to be the 150th most powerful supercomputer currently available, Thor has close to 1,000 individual blade servers.

Northrop Grumman completed the installation of Thor in early 2016 and handed over the computer to the airforce in May.

Prior to acquiring the supercomputer, army and airforce weather predictions relied on data from the United Kingdom Meteorological Office.

"When we’re in joint operations, we can all be working off the same forecast and aligning our plans to the same base assumptions."

The increased capacity of Thor allows weather airmen at Offutt, Nebraska, US, to generate initial conditions and process them.

AFLCMC-Offutt Air Force Base Thor lead engineer Dr Frank Ruggiero said: “Knowing accurate weather forecasts has always been a military imperative.

“Going back to D-Day, one of the major reasons that operation was successful was surprise. That surprise was generated partially because the Germans did not have accurate reads on weather in the North Atlantic. They thought we couldn’t invade June 6, 1944, because the weather wasn’t good enough.”

Thor is also claimed to provide a processing location for all US Air Force (USAF) and US Army forecasts.


Image: Thor weather forecasting supercomputer generates thunderstorm potential. Photo: courtesy of USAF graphic/Benjamin Newell.