The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is currently developing portable automatic weather stations (AWS) for remote airfields and helipads without monitoring facilities for climatic parameters.
Regular IAF airbases have comprehensive meteorological services or fixed AWS, but advance landing grounds (ALG) and helicopter operating sites in Ladakh and the north-east lack these facilities.
Meteorological information such as surface temperature, wind speed and direction, humidity, atmospheric pressure, cloud cover, and visibility is crucial for aviation operations as they impact aircraft and helicopter performance and flight safety, especially during take-off and landing.
ALGs are primarily unpaved airstrips or hardened mud in remote areas with limited navigation and support facilities. DRDO scientists state that since operations to ALGs and remote helipads are infrequent, there is no need for permanent AWS, as they would require additional maintenance efforts. However, weather conditions in mountainous regions can change unexpectedly, affecting flying. Therefore, portable AWS that can be stored in nearby military units and deployed when needed are an effective solution.
Examples of ALGs in Ladakh include Daulat Beg Oldie, the highest airstrip at 16,700 feet, Fukche, and Nyoma, which will be upgraded into a full-fledged fighter base. In the north-east, ALGs such as Tuting, Vijaynagar, Walong, Ziro, and Tawang, as well as various high-altitude helipads, are used for transportation of personnel and equipment.
ALGs are primarily serviced by helicopters and the AN-32 tactical transporter, with the C-130 Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster also operating from unpaved runways. DRDO, along with the India Meteorological Department and the Airports Authority of India, operates fixed AWS at multiple sites in India for scientific and operational purposes.
The envisioned portable AWS by DRDO will be man-portable, with sensors mounted on a collapsible stand and powered by rechargeable batteries or solar panels. These portable AWS can be deployed not only at ALGs and helipads but also other locations to meet specific operational requirements.