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Serving the Present... Remembering the Past...
Air Force Weather

 

AIR FORCE WEATHER

         Reengineering

                          PROVEN IN COMBAT

by Brig Gen Fred P. Lewis with Lt Col Ralph O. Stoffler

     Air Force Weather reengineering efforts have rapidly moved forward over the last year.  Our new concept of operations was used to support operations in the Balkans, Southwest Asia, the Pacific, and Central/South America with good success.  In the following paragraphs, I will look back to last year and draw you a mental picture of how our outstanding people supported Operation ALLIED FORCE in the Balkans.  Let me begin with several vignettes.

A three-person Combat Weather Team (CWT) arrives via C-141 at RAF Fairford on a cloudy morning in March.  They are there to support the     B-52s that are waiting for their call for combat over Serbia and Kosovo.  As the Lieutenant enters base operations, she meets the Operations Group Commander, who informs her that she is expected to brief the first weather update in 50 minutes.  Using the base operations Internet terminal, she quickly downloads the latest Commanders weather briefing, in PowerPoint format, the latest Joint Operations Area Forecast (JOAF) bulletin, and other pertinent information from the USAFE Operational Weather Squadron (OWS) homepage.  Downloading the products into her New Tactical Forecast System (NTFS) laptop she is able to prepare an accurate, relevant briefing for her deployed wing’s leadership and aircrews on the weather situation over the Balkans. Now she moves over to the classified terminal in the Command Post and looks at target forecasts on the OWS classified Internet homepage.  Well armed with information she gives an accurate, relevant weather briefing in less than an hour after she arrived.  This was but the first of many briefings that demonstrated how teamwork between the OWS and a CWT paid big dividends for the warfighters.

A five-person CWT arrives via C-130 at Cervia, Italy.  Cervia has no US weather personnel and limited indigenous weather services.  The CWT is here to support a variety of fighter squadrons.  Some of the squadrons are from US European Airbases, some are from the CONUS, and others are allied squadrons.  A member of a deployed Weather Systems Support Cadre (WSSC) from Sembach Air Base meets the CWT upon their arrival. The WSSC and CWT quickly accomplish site selection for the weather equipment, the NATO Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) and Small Tactical Terminal (STT). While the equipment is being setup, the CWT Officer-in-Charge (OIC) contacts the USAFE OWS.  He informs the OWS of their arrival and identifies the CWT’s immediate weather information requirements.  As the OIC returns to his duty section, the data already has begun to flow on their VSAT terminal and the first weather satellite images are already on the STT.  Promptly, on the hour, the CWT transmits its first observation via the NATO VSAT.  Within a few hours, the USAFE OWS has issued the first Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) for Cervia.  Late that afternoon, the CWT is briefing the first Combat Air Patrol missions over the Balkans. Over the next several days, the OWS and CWT teams hone their operations.  The ridgeline west of the base and the nearby Adriatic Sea have definite impacts on the local weather forecast, and the CWT passes their local-effects assessment to the OWS. Then the OWS incorporates this information into their forecast process, which improves the TAFs. Teamwork in action delivered rapid, positive results for the deployed warfighters again!

The two-person CWT for deployed F-117s (stealth fighters) has been operating at a fixed base in Germany.  They too, are equipped just like the Cervia team. They brought their own STT and were provided a NATO VSAT when they arrived in theater.  Over the last few days, the F-117s have been striking targets in Serbia.  The latest Air Tasking Order from the planners has more targets laid in for tonight’s missions.  The latest mesoscale forecast products from the USAFE OWS show that the proposed F-117 targets will have marginal weather conditions at best.  As launch time grows closer the CWT intensifies their watch on the weather over the target area.  Radar data from the NATO VSAT and high-resolution DMSP satellite data from STT clearly show that weather will be unfavorable for tonight’s mission.  The CWT briefs the deployed wing commander, and he elects to scrub the missions in order to save combat critical resources and avoid sending pilots into harms way with minimal chance of success. That night the weather was observed unfavorable, just as briefed.

The CWT supporting the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) where the air war is being controlled advises the CAOC duty controllers that in 12 hours there will be a short break in the bad weather over Serbia. They estimate the break will last only 1-2 hours, and are confident that after the morning fog/stratus breaks there will be scattered conditions before the afternoon thunderstorms form. The planned strike package that was on weather hold is prepared for launch even though the conditions are currently unfavorable.  Tankers launch 5-7 hours before the planned strike, and the fighters launch 2-3 hours before the strike based on the CWT forecast for favorable weather even though the weather over the strike area is unfavorable at launch time.  The strike package hits the tanker and heads for the target area as the break is just beginning to occur.  As the strike package is 20 minutes out, the weather is favorable, just as forecast, and the missions are a success.  The strong teamwork between the USAFE OWS, the CAOC CWT, and the CWTs paid dividends again.

The Air Mobility Operations Control Center (AMOCC) at Ramstein Air Base, Germany is providing one-stop flight services for all airlift support missions in the Balkans theater, and weather support is part of this service. Each evening the AMOCC controllers pass the mission schedule for the next day to the USAFE OWS.  The flight-briefing cell at the OWS coordinates with the AMOCC and local CWTs, and the next day, as aircrews receive their Flight Plans, the weather briefing is included in the package.  Sometimes the briefing is e-mailed, sometimes faxed, but it is always there.  The briefings are stored in the USAFE OWS central computer server, which can be accessed by people in the OWS or the supporting CWTs.  Aircrews at over 30 fixed and deployed bases throughout Europe are efficiently supported in this manner, allowing the CWTs to focus on better supporting the aircrews, by working right in the fighter and airlift squadrons' operations areas.

Only the duty observer is on shift at Ramstein CWT.  An inbound aircraft calls the Ramstein Pilot to Metro Service (PMSV) and asks for a weather update.   It is a C-5 enroute to the Balkans from the CONUS.  The remote switch on the PMSV automatically relays the call to the USAFE OWS.  The flight weather-briefing cell quickly answers the call and provides the information requested.  Moments later, a C-17 is on final approach to Ramstein, and the crew needs the latest Ramstein weather observation.  This time the duty observer answers the PMSV call and passes the information directly. By using integrated equipment, the CWTs and OWS provide better support to the aircrews and allow CWT personnel to work directly in the flying squadrons and tailor support to the aircrews.  

After weeks of intensive bombing missions, there is a break in action.  As the diplomatic corps step in, combat squadrons throughout the Balkans are ordered to stand down, and the CWTs stand down with the rest of the team.  The OWS has the stick while the CWTs take a well-deserved break.  Bare base CWTs move to limited duty observations only while the CWTs collocated with major airports or allied bases stand down completely.  The OWS continues to issue 24-hour TAFs and has full responsibility for severe weather resource protection support.  The OWS has a point of contact at each CWT, and if severe weather is expected, the USAFE OWS notifies the local units.  Teamwork in action has allowed our people to take a well-deserved break from days of 12-hour shifts. 

Is this all wishful thinking or an ideal dream?  No, this is the reality that occurred during Operation ALLIED FORCE in the Balkans.  This is Air Force Weather reengineering in action.  During Operation ALLIED FORCE, our three-tiered approach for providing operational weather support by combining the efforts of the Strategic Centers, USAFE OWS, and the CWTs was brought to reality.  The Air Force Weather Agency at Offutt AFB and the Air Force Combat Climatology Center at Asheville provided overarching hemispheric products, fine-scale modeling for targeting on the battlefield, and high-resolution, warfighter-focused climatology.  The USAFE OWS produced a variety of products from theater scale to target scale to include PowerPoint slides for detailed briefings and Joint Operations Area Forecasts for the theater.  The CWTs worked in close conjunction with their operators to ensure that each mission achieved success.  The CWTs applied USAFE OWS products in conjunction with their own now-casting information to ensure the warfighters had the right weather information to help them put bombs on target.

    The combined cooperation of all three tiers of Air Force Weather, coupled with effective equipment and communications spelled success not for just for Air Force Weather, but it helped contribute to the overall success of the Kosovo Air Campaign. The meteorological focus of the USAFE OWS and careful mission focus of the CWTs helped aircrews exploit the poor European spring weather and maximize operations during the limited favorable weather windows.  The success we achieved during Operation ALLIED FORCE certainly sets the stage for the future.  As reengineering is completed, worldwide, we will truly be a lean, mean force that will continue to bring even more value-added support to the operators.

    We are extremely proud of how far our Total Force Air Force Weather capability has come over the last several years as we dramatically improved the quality of the weather support for our Air Force and Army operators, warfighters, and trainers.  Yes, much of our structure, operations, training, and procedures could be viewed as strikingly similar to those of years past when many of you, members of the AWA, were on watch for our great Nation and Air Force.  We have learned from our past making our future even brighter.  We’re extremely proud of you, our great Air Force Weather heritage, and our many Air Force Weather heroes.  Thank you all for being part of this heritage, and I ask you for your continued support as we move forward into the 21st Century.  Brig Gen Fred P. Lewis is the USAF Director of Weather (AF/XOW); Lt Col Ralph O. Stoffler was the first commander of the USAFE Operational Weather Squadron in Sembach AB, Germany, and is now on the AF/XOW staff at the Pentagon

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