“Go” or “No-Go” the answer is up in the air, literally

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Andrew Williams
  • 28th Operational Weather Squadron
Deployed service members supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom rely on detailed, mission-specific weather forecasts to help determine whether to start a mission or operation - and a team effort is just the ticket to fill that need.

The forecasts often become the final element used when deciding whether a mission is given the "go" or "no-go," and could make the difference between success and failure. To ensure commanders in the field have access to those forecasts, a deployed Weather Specialty Team at the Combined Air Operations Center works in concert with the 28th Operational Weather Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.

The 28th OWS is the U.S. Central Command's designated reach-back joint weather center for their area of operations. It's tasked with providing weather information for all branches of the U.S. military and our multinational coalition partners contributing to OEF and OIF. On any given day, the CAOC weather team utilizes graphic products and planning forecasts directly affecting future operations.

Throughout the Air Tasking Order decision cycle, weather information is being continually exploited. As sorties launch, the 28th and the WST are still on-task, updating the forecast and constantly communicating with each other. The WST members are also in contact with combat operations division personnel and the CAOC director keeping them abreast of any weather changes. It's a process which ultimately aims to save the U.S. and our coalition partners' lives and the high cost of missions cancelled at the last minute.

For example, during the week of Oct. 14 - 20 last year, events unfolded like this: Saturday afternoon at Shaw - nearing Sunday morning in Iraq, a weather forecaster at the weather squadron created and posted a three-day forecast for various sites in the OIF operating area. It called for unfavorable conditions: extensive cloud cover, isolated thunderstorms, and dust reducing visibility to less than one mile. Not the conditions Airmen or aircraft generally choose to operate in. Within hours, the WST took the forecast and tailored it for specific missions. From there, the WST briefed the planners working on the air taskings, adding key weather information every step of the way.

As a direct result of this process, which is repeated multiple times weekly, more than 1,300 sorties were launched with only a few being cancelled as a result of unfavorable weather. On average each week, over the last two years, approximately two percent of missions were cancelled due to adverse weather. Some examples of mission success during the week included: more than 100,000 pounds of supplies safely delivered, multiple weapons caches removed from the streets, and 72 suspected terrorists detained with several killed.

While the 28th works with the WST to create products for warfighters down range, there exists another significant relationship between these two organizations which enhances forecast product accuracy. The WST, in addition to weather teams at various forward-deployed locations, provides the 28th OWS with an invaluable set of eyes-forward in the field. These teams are deployed in various austere locations inside the AOR filling a data sparse region with pertinent, real-time weather information where it is needed most in order to make the best possible forecast available to the WST.

As former 28th OWS Commander Lt. Col. Steven DeSordi said, "A strong, mutual, team-oriented and cooperative relationship is essential to mission success."

By keeping OWS forecasters "in-touch" with rapidly changing weather conditions and mission requirements, the deployed weather teams enable the OWS to accomplish its mission in a timely, relevant, and accurate fashion. This makes the interaction between the 28th and all deployed weather elements crucial.

With the combined efforts and two-way communication of the 28th OWS personnel stationed stateside and the WST personnel deployed in-theatre, our military men and women have access to reliable weather forecasts directly impacting individual missions.