All-weather friends vital to CAOC mission

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Amanda Currier
  • U.S. Central Command Air Forces-Forward Public Affairs
It really does all depend on the weather when it comes to planning air operations.

This holds true at the Combined Air Operations Center here, the central hub for air and space operations dealing with operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and in the Horn of Africa region.

The CAOC weather cell staff boosts the effectiveness of air missions in this area of responsibility by offering timely and accurate weather forecasts to operational planners in the center. The planners use the weather information to help them determine the daily air tasking order, or schedule of planned flight missions for the entire AOR.

"We support the planning and execution of the air tasking order," said Maj. Karl Pfeiffer, chief of the CAOC weather cell. "We deliver daily, and sometimes hourly, information to every division in the CAOC."

On an average day, CAOC people control about 250 sorties throughout the region. The weather affects how these air missions are carried out.

Working together, the CAOC weather cell staff continuously monitors and predicts changes that could benefit or compromise the success of these air missions. They then relay relevant weather information to all those who have a hand in preparing air tasking orders.

Inclement weather such as heavy rain, sand storms or fog can create problems that could jeopardize mission success. By informing CAOC operations planners about these conditions, the weather cell helps planners determine how and when to set up air missions. The weather staff helps planners decide what course of action to take should the weather negatively affect an ongoing air mission.

Bad weather and heavy cloud cover can play havoc with the sensors on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms. In such cases, operational planners have to decide which platform will work best for the prevailing weather conditions.

"Part of my job is to schedule [RQ-1] Predator flights," said Staff Sgt. Wes Quast, CAOC Predator liaison officer. "The weather cell let's me know if it is safe for my aircraft to fly. We also work with them to make sure we get the best use of the (Predator) asset."

The weather cell works hand in hand with the CAOC Joint Search and Rescue Center. The JSRC is responsible for coordinating the recovery of injured and distressed personnel. The weather staff lets JSRC members know if Mother Nature will pose any problems for their personnel recovery plans and helps the center work around those problems.

"We respond to a number of Joint Search and Rescue Center taskings," Major Pfeiffer said. "In fall 2003, flash-flooding in Afghanistan stranded friendly forces. Our weather team worked closely with the JSRC to find the best route of flight to the site and then provided constant updates on the weather while the mission was in progress."

Ultimately, this team effort led to the rescue of 21 soldiers and the successful medical evacuation of three wounded, the major said.

The weather cell uses Web-based technology from larger centralized weather facilities such as the Central Air Forces Command Weather Flight at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.; the Air Force Weather Agency at Offutt AFB, Neb.; and the Air Force Combat Climatology Center in Asheville, N.C.

By leveraging the work of weather and computer personnel at Shaw, AFWA, AFCCC and other Department of Defense weather organizations, the center's weather cell is able to support the entire area of responsibility with a relatively small five-person staff.

"We're standing on the shoulders of a lot of great people to make weather support happen at the CAOC," Major Pfeiffer said. "A very rewarding part of this job is seeing mission planning responding to the weather forecast. When our customers have enough confidence in us to make operational decisions based on our outlooks, we know we're doing the right things."