Weather specialists keep watch over Red Flag airspace

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Chris Stagner
  • Red Flag Public Affairs
The sun shines in Las Vegas more than 330 days per year. People say they love the town because they can golf practically year-round. Sometimes, though, the sun just doesn't shine.

While that may be a mild inconvenience to the outdoor enthusiasts, weather changes mean something completely different to Airmen who are here for air combat training.

The start of Red Flag 10-2 was met by less-than-clear skies. Missions were cancelled. Sorties were changed. The adaptability of the entire air expeditionary wing was tested. However, the efforts of weather forecasters deployed to Red Flag ensured mission planners and aircrews had a clear vision of what to expect so they could plan accordingly and, more importantly, ensure Airmen didn't find themselves on the wrong end of a storm.

"We have to really broaden our mission here," said 1st Lt. Heidi Keller, a weather forecaster from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. "At Lakenheath, we know what the F-15 (Eagle) and HH-60 (Pave Hawk helicopter) guys are looking for. Here, we have to analyze how the weather's going to hit, where it's going to hit and really try to tailor more products to a much larger audience with more dynamic needs."

The air expeditionary wing weather flight, deployed from the 48th Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight at RAF Lakenheath, prepares Red Flag aircrews for everything from sunshine to more rain, and the large-scale integration of Red Flag requires weather specialists to approach their job from different angles.

What the forecasters do goes beyond predicting the weather. They take what information they have, analyze it and integrate it into operational planning.

"There is such a large variety of aircraft here, and they're all operating in the same space at the same time," Lieutenant Keller said. "Different aircraft have different sensitivities and missions. Air-to-air aircraft, for example, don't care about low-level ceilings, which could ruin the day of for those flying a close-air-support mission. We have to tailor the information we have to meet the operational needs of a very large customer base."

What makes those forecasts unique at Red Flag is the way they're integrated into day-to-day operations.

"Weather forecasting is one of the most important components of safe mission planning, whether it's at Red Flag or in combat," said Lt. Col. Brian Farrar, 44th Fighter Squadron commander deployed to Red Flag from Kadena Air Base, Japan. "They plan side by side with our flight leads and mission planners, and we can adjust our mission tactics based on the forecasts they provide"

While the weather forecasters provide important support to the fliers, they also benefit from their time at Red Flag.

"This is a great learning experience for me, both as a new wing-level weather officer and for future deployments," said Lieutenant Keller. "I feel more prepared to provide the fliers with the information they'll need in a combat environment. Red Flag is a massive exercise with more than 1,000 people and nearly 100 aircraft. We're deployed with the wing to provide weather support, and what we do here mirrors the real-world air expeditionary wing model."