April 28, 2017 (by MSgt. Benjamin Wilson) - Dropping bombs on target 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.
A Polish air force maintainer looks on as an F-16 prepares to taxi for a mission at the 407th AEG on April 24th, 2017. The Polish Airmen are part of the 60-nation coalition force supporting Operation Inherent Resolve in the fight against ISIS. [USAF photo by MSgt. Benjamin Wilson]
Often times, this intelligence is gathered by coalition partners flying out of the 407th Air Expeditionary Group. But there is an unseen force providing those units 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 Master Sgt. Tommy Tam. “You have to get into some very fine detailed imagery and if a cloud is blocking that, then it impacts the mission.”
Tam, the 407th Expeditionary Operation Support Squadron superintendent and weather station flight chief, said that even seemingly benign weather conditions can have an impact on the effectiveness of 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 the weather forecasts generated by the U.S. Air Force to complete their missions.
“The air component performs reconnaissance missions for support of Inherent Resolve Operations,” said Polish Air Force Capt. Grzegorz Jasianek, Polish Military Contingent of Operations Inherent Resolve public affairs officer. “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,” he said.
However, providing this critical information to coalition partners does not come without its challenges.
Although Tam’s flight has always been able to give pilots updates while in flight, it wasn’t until recently they were able to update the coalition partners of changing weather conditions prior to entering the aircraft. This was due to differences in the communications networks used by the separate nations.
After identifying the problem, the weather flight here applied worked to overcome the obstacle and ensure 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 located here 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.
According to Tam, the majority of the technical data used to compile their forecasts comes from the 28th Operational Weather Squadron, at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. However, the weather flight here also has an instrument cluster on the flightline to collect local weather data.
“The biggest piece that gives us our observing capabilities is our tactical weather equipment,” he said. “It gives us all the information we need, such as winds, temperature, sky conditions and lightning.”
And this is the information imperative to successful mission execution by our coalition partners.
“Help of U.S. Air Force weather Airman to perform our mission is priceless,” said Jasianek. “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.”