Weather Forecasters Aid Mission Planning

  • Published
  • By Bob Jensen
  • 9th Aerospace Expeditionary Task Force Public Affairs
Asking about the weather is not a casual question in the Combined Air Operations Center at a desert airbase. In fact, it is one of the key questions asked during every phase of the air tasking order, or ATO, cycle.

"Most systems we have are weather sensitive, so weather predictions must be integrated into the planning at all times," said Lt. Col. Fred Fahlbusch, CAOC weather cell chief. "There are some systems and weapons that are all-weather, there's no doubt about that; however, these systems and weapons have to take off and land so there's always the (weather factor) at the base."

Even though a pilot may be able to drop a bomb guided by the global positioning system, the pilot still has to land despite bad weather at the planned recovery base. Low visibility because of sand storms or fog can cause aircraft to divert to another base. This diversion can cause a domino effect because the plane will not be available for future missions.

Weather affects every air mission, not just air strikes and reconnaissance. For example, humanitarian operations planners need to know the conditions at their location and at the target zone. When dropping humanitarian rations, knowing wind patterns helps pilots hit the right drop zone.

"It's the same with dropping leaflets," Fahlbusch said. "You have to know what the winds are like at the required altitudes to drop the leaflets to hit the target or they'll wind up somewhere else."

"So even though the weather may not be a factor over the target area, somewhere in ... (the) process it always is," he said. "During launch, recovery, dropping the bomb, refueling the plane or imaging the target."

Fahlbusch, who is also the staff weather officer for the air component commander, outlined the ways the cell supports each step of the ATO planning process.

The ATO contains the marching orders for aircraft in the theater.

"The execution of an ATO requires synchronization at many levels and across many units," he said. "Our goal is to make sure the people who are executing the ATO are not surprised, and they're able to continue to execute it despite what weather challenges they encounter. If the product we put out is accurate, then weather is a force multiplier in the execution of the ATO."

The weather cell staff provides information to planners from the beginning of the ATO process to the completion of actual missions, according to Fahlbusch. It is a complicated process that involves hundreds of military experts taking mountains of information and transforming that into the actual mission plans.

Beginning five days out from each mission date, the weather cell workers provide a forecast of what to expect down the road. The team continues to provide input to the CAOC staff doing combat planning, guidance, apportionment, targeting and creating the master air attack plan. Weather forecasts help planners decide which weapons to use on specific targets.

The weather cell workers share real-time weather conditions over the targets and forecasts of what the weather will be like over the areas where planes may need to refuel or land.

After each mission, the weather workers provide input for combat assessment of the missions and how weather played a part in their success or failure.

Just like the weather, the work changes every day for the weather cell