Storm chasing aboard HMAS Canberra

Lieutenant Matthew Bell inflates a weather balloon on board HMAS Canberra. Photo: Petty Officer Tom Gibson

Storm chasing aboard HMAS Canberra

Timely and informed decisions are essential when conducting military operations, whether they be about a threat, a ship’s fuel state or the environment. 

HMAS Canberra meteorologist Lieutenant Matthew Bell knows too well about this. 

As RAN sailed the South China Sea, en route to the world’s largest maritime exercise, Rim of the Pacific, in Hawaii, Lieutenant Bell let go of a weather balloon with a transmitter attached. 

Lieutenant Bell said he was anticipating the data it would return to help guide the ship.

“As mariners, we know that weather plays a critical role in all activities, particularly with amphibious and aviation operations,” Lieutenant Bell said. 

“Commanders rely on accurate forecasting for navigation safety and ship routing, and a meteorologist report is a regular and important part of daily briefings.” 

Lieutenant Bell said weather balloons allowed forecasters to verify their systems and improve forecast reliability.

“From a single weather balloon launch, we gather a substantial amount of data for aviation forecasting, including cloud heights, upper-wind strengths, freezing level and importantly for aviation operations, thunderstorm potential,” Lieutenant Bell said. 

The data provided by activities such as the weather balloon launch during the task group’s transit to RIMPAC enhances understanding of environmental influences on propagation, which leads to more effective use of radar and communication systems. 

For task group navigator Lieutenant Commander Alec Fieldsend, environmental factors are significant. 

“While modern warfare and platforms have increased in complexity, the influence of the environment on the conduct of operations can never be underestimated,” Lieutenant Commander Fieldsend said. 

“An up-to-date understanding of the local surface and sub-surface conditions can provide the tactical advantage to best an adversary.”

Canberra is part of an ADF task group that includes HMA Ships Hobart, Stuart, Arunta and Sirius.

About 1500 ADF personnel are taking part in the three-month deployment to conduct exercises within Southeast Asia and Hawaii over the coming months. 

The deployment demonstrates Australia’s commitment to sustaining strong and positive defence relationships with regional nations as well as the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region.

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