System allows weather-based mission planning

  • Published
  • By Chuck Paone
  • Electronic Systems Center Public Affairs
Military mission planners cannot control the weather, but with the Joint Weather Impacts System, they can predict it more accurately and further in advance.

Combat Air Forces Command and Control System Program Office experts here are working on the JWIS, which "gives planners the opportunity to anticipate and exploit [the weather] rather than just cope and avoid," said Lt. Col. John Pino, Air Force Weather Weapon System deputy director.

JWIS was created in response to user feedback from operations such as Allied Force and Desert Fox, which showed that despite improved weather models, weather was not factored into the planning process beyond 24 hours. In fact, it was more like two to six hours at the tail end of the mission-planning cycle, said Maj. John Dreher, the JWIS program manager.

Now, he said, weather can be factored in 36 to 72 hours out, in line with the normal mission-planning cycle. While weather data previously needed to be entered manually, with JWIS the data is updated automatically and incrementally every six to 12 hours, and is available to anyone in the air operations center via Web-enabled access.

Operational weather squadrons located closest to the theater generally provide the weather information; however, the JWIS Web-based weather portal has the ability to pull in different sources, said John Morris, chief engineer for the Air Force Weather Weapon System.

Based on that, operators need not worry about where the data comes from. They simply hit their profile and the specific data relevant to their exact needs, from mission planning through execution, appear, Dreher said. Tactical-decision aids show air tasking order planners when and how weather will affect missions and allow them to make decisions based on that information.

"Now you can see why conditions are right or wrong for a particular target at a particular time," Pino said. "And it's not just weather in the traditional sense that gets factored in. JWIS looks at all environmental conditions that can affect a mission, including solar and lunar lighting, blowing of sand, dust or snow, anything that influences naked eye or infrared vision. Is there too much light, too little? JWIS can provide the data to answer all those questions."

The system is even applicable to time-critical targeting, the ability to track and destroy targets that are mobile or which, if not removed promptly, pose a specific threat to friendly forces, he said.

"The TCT cell in the operations center can check quickly to see what platform and what weapons will work best under the conditions at the time," Pino said.

This is a first step toward a true enterprise integration approach, Morris said. Enterprise integration is an engineering management approach being used by industry and the military to develop systems in harmony, so that they work together and help achieve common objectives. In this case, enterprise integration is illustrated by having weather and environmental information fully integrated with most of the systems that support mission planning and execution. In the past, weather data stood alone and had to be added to the equation manually, he said.

Another key to integration is that users at every level have the same access and capabilities. JWIS does this by allowing those at the strategic, force and unit levels to factor the same information into their decision-making processes in the same way, said Judy Bible, director for the Air Force Weather Weapon System.

The plan is to install JWIS at the Prince Sultan Air Base combined air operations center in Saudi Arabia in July, giving the center running the Operation Enduring Freedom airwar the latest capability, Bible said.

Program managers said the fact that users seem pleased with JWIS is of little surprise since it came about as a direct result of operational mission needs and because its development has been a truly collaborative process.

"We've worked closely with the Air Force Research Lab. We also worked very closely with the Aerospace C2 Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center [at Langley Air Force Base, Va.], which represents the user community," Dreher said. "We knew from the outset that it was essential to involve the users up front." (Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)