Reliable Toughbook Laptops Play Key Role in Air Force Weather Systems

The United States Air Force carries out missions all over the world in nearly every environment imaginable. With the goal of providing “compelling air, space and cyber capabilities for use by the combatant commanders,” it’s critical to get the correct information to the right person at the right time. With this in mind, a critical task to ensure safe and successful missions is the ability to track weather data in real-time to advise airmen on potentially critical conditions.

For the past 15 years, the U.S. Air Combat Command has relied on the Tactical Meteorological Observing System (TMOS or AN/TMQ-53) to accurately accumulate and collect weather data and provide critical information to military personnel on air speed, wind direction, temperature, humidity, cloud height and present weather conditions such as rain, snow, fog, ice and lightning.

“When we went into Afghanistan and Iraq there were very few places that could provide accurate weather data, so these (TMOS) systems were deployed and subsequently turned into the Air Force’s workhorse for weather data collection,” said Barbara Moore, AN/TMQ-53 Program Manager.

However, when TMOS was first engineered, it was designed using standard, off-the-shelf consumer notebooks. While these consumer-grade notebooks had a lower sticker price, they quickly proved unreliable in the Air Force’s challenging environment, ultimately costing more money in the end.

As TMOS was used more heavily in Middle East combat zones, technical problems began to add up. Personnel reported that one of the highest failure rates of the systems were related to the computers. Some of the problems included sand intrusion, heat and damage during transportation.

“The systems get boxed up multiple times throughout the course of a deployment and get moved from rooftop to ground level, put in the back of Humvees and transported hundreds of miles in a helicopter,” said Alli Bey, a contractor who helped to prepare the TMOS deployable weather systems. “The weather system can’t operate or provide the user with any valuable information unless the computer is functioning correctly.”

While the computers would initially perform during an operational check prior to deployment, by the time the computers were deployed to the location and exposed to a variety of harsh environments, the devices would fail.

In 2010, the Air Force was ready for a better solution. Bey and his team heard the failure complaints and decided to evaluate rugged laptops instead. “The first product that came to mind was the Panasonic Toughbook,” he said. After looking at a few models, the team eventually settled on the Toughbook 30, the world’s most rugged laptop. Its powerful performance includes a MIL-STD-810G and IP65 certification as well as 18 hour battery life, ideal for all kinds of missions in every environment imaginable. Bey and his team worked with Panasonic to customize a solution to best meet their needs.

The U.S. Air Combat Command received the first Toughbook laptops in 2010 and deployed them to a combat weather team in Florida. “The team demoed them and, quite frankly, put them through hell to make sure that they were going to work – and all of them passed,” said Bey. Following the successful testing process, the program was given permission to move forward in deploying Toughbook laptops and upgraded the entire fleet by the end of 2011.

“The Toughbook laptops reduced the amount of inventory we had to keep on hand and decreased our shipping costs,” said Bey. “We are no longer shipping computers all around the world because they are constantly failing. We went from a failure rate of about 25 percent of the entire fleet to down to less than 2 percent.”

“Our airmen are now more combat-ready because they know when they test their Toughbook computers at the shop before they get on a plane to deploy, that the computer is also going to work in the deployed location,” said Moore. Previously, it was up to the contractor to decide which computer to use and previous contractors chose to buy the cheapest computer that would fit the requirements. But now, the government mandates that the Air Force use Panasonic Toughbook 30 or Toughbook 31 computers or equivalents.”

For more information, read the full case study here.