By Paul Shirk, 55th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 07, 2020
Tech. Sgt. Matthew O’Neill, 1st Weather Group NCO in charge of Weapons and Tactics, uses a workstation running the improved Joint Operations Area Forecast (JOAF) tool at the 557th Weather Wing (WW), Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, Feb. 7, 2020. Developed by multiple 557th WW units, including the 28th Operational Weather Squadron and 16th Weather Squadron, JOAF 2.0 allows mission planners more detail and customization abilities when researching weather conditions for a flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Shirk)
The 557th Weather Wing is working to integrate its strengths into the recently formed 16th Air Force, which brought intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, cyber, electronic warfare, information operations and weather all under one roof. Integration is a key theme for the Air Force’s first information warfare numbered air force.
The 557th’s efforts both reinforce the value of the wing’s existing missions, such as providing weather for aviation, but also offer new opportunities for the wing to increase lethality in the ISR missions of other 16th AF wings.
“The realignment of the 557th WW into the information warfare numbered air force will have a profound effect on the future of weather and environmental intelligence operations, and we intend to bring that future fast,” said Jeffrey Fries, 1st Weather Group chief of operations standards and tactics.
Some mission elements of the 557th WW are already integrated, such as weather support to flying wings. One example is the 1st Weather Group’s increased support for remotely piloted aircraft, or RPAs.
“The typical RPA mission length can be a lot longer, in part because they don’t have the human element in the cockpit to get fatigued,” said Maj. Tyler West, chief of 1st WXG Weapons and Tactics. “Depending on the airframe, the RPA can also cover a lot more ground.”
In addition to the extended time in the air, many elements of an RPA and its missions warrant more tailored weather support. Some RPAs typically fly at altitudes where clouds are more probable, and they generally have a larger surface area relative to their weight, which can make them more sensitive to adverse weather conditions.
Developed in part by 1st WXG’s 28th Operational Weather Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, the improved Joint Operations Area Forecast tools allow RPA mission planners to more selectively highlight the weather conditions of concern when planning a mission, and at a higher resolution.
This tailored weather support also extends to manned aircraft. The 17th OWS, based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, is assisting the 480th ISR Wing through the 613th Air Operations Center, outlining weather impacts to their prior missions, allowing the 613th AOC staff to optimize future missions.
This environmental intelligence does not just apply to friendly forces. The 17th OWS is also providing support to the Pacific Tactics and Adversary Studies Element, enabling analysts to add weather effects as an additional consideration as they assess adversary capabilities and tactics.
“The natural environment tirelessly disrupts, degrades, or in some cases denies military activities, across the sea, land, air and space domains,” Fries said. “Understanding and applying knowledge of the state of the environment and the impact to friendly and adversary forces provides opportunity to seize an advantage over a potential adversary.”
Fries added, “providing this environmental intelligence information when planning and executing missions is of great importance in a peer fight. We aim to provide this advantage, hopefully an asymmetric one, to our decision makers in all domains, all the time.”
Another area of integration was a recent visit to the Air Force Technical Application Center by a delegation of 557th WW leadership. The visit explored ways to strengthen collaboration, especially regarding numerical weather modeling initiatives to help optimize AFTAC’s nuclear detonation detection mission.
In cyber, the 2nd Weather Support Squadron, which serves as the 557th WW’s cyber defense squadron, is working with units like the 624th Operations Center at Lackland AFB, Texas, utilizing its resources and cyber expertise to improve the wing’s cyber threat incident response and rapidly secure the wing’s mission relevant cyber terrain, known as MRT-C.
“They provide us with the threat environment in cyberspace, which in turn allows us to protect, respond and recover the weather wing’s mission terrain,” said Maj. Pete Hasa, 2nd WSS director of operations. “In the end, they’re working to better understand our mission so they can better support us in the future.”
Going forward, research is also underway to better understand the atmosphere’s effects on the electronic warfare mission provided by the 55th Wing’s EC-130H Compass Call aircraft.
“The conditions of the atmosphere often have an effect on what the Compass Call aircraft is trying to do,” West said. “It’s something that traditionally has not been incorporated as much so we’re trying to help them understand how the atmospheric conditions might impact their weapons system.”
Integration between wings is also happening at 16th AF’s Innovation Council. Through workshops, teleconferences and seminars, the wings are sharing best practices and shedding light on new ways to innovate.
These and other integration efforts are driving the wings of the 16th AF to meet the commander’s goal of converging on tough problem sets in order to deliver outcomes for the Nation.