SOUTHWEST ASIA, May 1, 2017 —
Dropping bombs on targets in Syria and Iraq during combat missions supporting Operation Inherent Resolve requires a complex array of information, including intelligence gathered well in advance of the combat sortie.
This intelligence often is gathered by coalition partners flying out of the 407th Air Expeditionary Group, but an unseen force is providing those units with information critical to their mission.
“When you are watching for vehicle traffic or personnel traffic, you are not looking for something that is very big,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Tommy Tam, the 407th Expeditionary Operation Support Squadron superintendent and weather station flight chief. “You have to get into some very fine detailed imagery, and if a cloud is blocking that, then it impacts the mission.”
Tam said that even seemingly benign weather conditions can affect operations.
“From an [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] standpoint, the biggest issue they will come across is cloud cover,” he said. “It seems pretty innocent -- just because you have a cloud in the sky doesn’t mean you have bad weather. But it is a direct impact to what they are able to do.”
Both the Italian and Polish air forces rely on U.S. Air Force weather forecasts to complete their missions.
“The air component performs reconnaissance missions for support of Inherent Resolve operations,” said Polish air force Capt. Grzegorz Jasianek, the public affairs officer for Poland's military contingent for Inherent Resolve operations. “Imagery intelligence is based on aerial photography. That is why the weather is so important. It has a huge impact on mission performance and image quality.”
But providing this critical information to coalition partners does not come without its challenges. Although Tam’s flight always has been able to give pilots updates while in flight, the flight only recently became able to update partners of changing weather conditions before they enter their aircraft. This was due to differences in the communications networks used by the separate nations, Tam explained.
After identifying the problem, the weather flight worked to overcome the obstacle and ensure the Italian and Polish air forces are able to receive the information required for execution of their operations whenever it is required.
The U.S. Air Force provides the coalition forces with a daily product called the mission execution forecast, which includes everything from temperature, pressure and wind speeds to lunar data for night operations. In addition, the flight provides hourly weather observation and issues the watches, warnings and advisories for the installation.
Tam said most of the technical data used to compile the flight's forecasts comes from the 28th Operational Weather Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. However, the weather flight also has an instrument cluster on the flight line to collect local weather data.
“The biggest piece that gives us our observing capabilities is our tactical weather equipment,” Tam said. “It gives us all the information we need, such as winds, temperature, sky conditions and lightning.”
And this information is imperative to successful mission execution by our coalition partners, Jasianek said.
“Help of U.S. Air Force weather airmen to perform our mission is priceless,” he added. “Meteorological data that they send allows for proper planning of air missions in the station area as well as over the territory of the task. That is why it is so important to cooperate with Polish and American soldiers who are working together to fulfill the motto of our mission: 'One Mission, Many Nations.'”