By Paul Shirk, 55th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 22, 2019
Illustration showing web pages from the 14th Weather Squadron’s (WS) Climate Go-Kit, Feb. 19, 2019. The 14th WS created the Climate Go-Kit to allow weather forecasters to prepare for operations in a Contested, Degraded or Operationally-limited, known as CDO, environment. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Paul Shirk, photos courtesy of Department of Defense)
Members of the 14th Weather Squadron Climate Go-Kit development team pose for a group photo at their Asheville, North Carolina, office Jan. 31, 2019. By utilizing in-house resources, the development team was able to build the go-kit system in approximately six months, saving approximately $128,000 versus outsourcing the development. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Charles Buckler)
This is part 1 of a series highlighting innovations by the 557th Weather Wing’s 2nd Weather Group.
After only six months of in-house development, the 2nd WXG’s 14th Weather Squadron in Asheville, North Carolina, introduced their Climate Go-Kit, a new tool for weather forecasters to prepare for operations in Contested, Degraded or Operationally-limited, known as CDO, environments.
The go-kit’s development aligns with three Air Force priorities: to drive innovation, restore readiness and cost-effectively modernize.
“Go-kits provide climate information about a country directly to the warfighter,” said Master Sgt. Kenneth Elwood, 14th WS systems flight chief. “Users can use the information to help familiarize themselves with the country’s climate; answer planning and general climate type questions; and develop forecasts, to name just a few.”
The 14th WS is the Air Force’s only climate operations unit, co-located with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information. The 14th WS collects, protects and exploits authoritative climate data to optimize military and intelligence operations and planning worldwide.
This posture enables the 14th WS to create a climate go-kit tailored for a specific country. The compressed and downloadable files which make up the kits contains seven climate products: monthly climate data summaries; climograms; regional, country and station-specific narratives; and country and aviation climatology images. The latest version released in December 2018 added Wind Stratified Conditional Climatologies and Modeled Diurnal Curves.
“The go-kit helps forecasters and operators alike provide decision quality information in the planning cycle,” said Col. Patrick Williams, 2nd Weather Group commander. “Whether an Air Force or joint operation, the go-kit helps planners decide bed-down locations, optimum aircraft or ground vehicles to use, fuel loads, ammunition types, timing of operations, logistical considerations and a host of other factors. All the information needed for those decisions are at the forecaster’s fingertips regardless of the communications situation, so the mission can go on.”
The go-kit concept began in 2004 when the 14th WS offered prepackaged climatology files and images on a DVD for Africa, Southwest Asia and the Far East through the Air Force Weather Technical Library. Expeditionary forecasters could request copies to include in their deployment bags.
The current go-kit offers an updated approach to providing climatology information by having a country-specific, prepackaged set of climate products that is ready to download and deploy. The go-kit enabled the 14th WS to create capabilities for weather forecasters to work in large scale, peer-to-peer engagements while in CDO environments.
Approximately $128,000 was saved by developing the go-kit with in-house resources. A military and civilian team of six programmers and 12 meteorologists and weather forecast Airmen logged over 1,300 programming hours building the software for the go-kit.
Creating something a forecaster could use without an internet connection presented unique challenges for the internal development team. They needed to develop an easy-to-use web interface that would be compatible with a variety of systems and would comply with information security requirements.
“Selecting what climatology products to include was our first hurdle,” said Maj. Rosemberg Ortiz, 14th WS project team lead. “We wanted to make sure we had a good balance. General climate information about the country on the one side with station-specific climate data a forecaster could reference during the mission execution forecast process on the other.”
In addition to the development team’s testing, various joint military weather flights and detachments assisted by testing the product and providing feedback.
“Having programmers, meteorologists, and weather forecasters under one command allowed us to design, develop, and produce the climate go-kit in months versus the years it may have taken if we contracted it out,” Elwood said.
Synergy between the meteorologists and programmers also helped the go-kit become more intuitive. Meteorologists were able to walk the programmers through how they would use the go-kit’s data when building a forecast, programmers then built the go-kit’s pages to present data in that order.
Today, users can pick from over 280 downloadable country and U.S. state files by logging into the 14th WS website and selecting the desired country. The file can vary in size, but can be downloaded in several minutes.
The go-kit has been downloaded several hundred times since its original June 2018 launch, said Alicia Hughes, 14th WS webmaster.
Other 2nd WXG squadrons are drawing on the concept created by the 14th WS’s work to deliver even more capabilities in the future.