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Weather leaders discuss issues, shape future

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. (AFNS) -- In 544 B.C., the famous Chinese philosopher and author of “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu, once said, “Know the ground; know the weather. Your victory will then be total.”

Today the U.S. Air Force pays heed to this advice, more than two thousand years later.

Weather leaders from across the command came together during an annual weather conference March 13 to 17, 2017.

The purpose of the conference was to shape the future of the weather force by discussing topics that affect Air Force operations in worldwide areas. Additionally, it gave leaders an opportunity to brainstorm solutions to concerns in the career field.

“We get one opportunity every year to get the leadership of Air Force weather in ACC (Air Combat Command) together to talk about issues,” said Col. David Bacot, the Air Combat Command chief of weather operations. “It’s an opportunity for folks who have talked to each other on the phone to see each other in person, and with every conference, a lot of the real work gets done.”

There are multiple examples throughout U.S. history that show how people were either at an advantage or disadvantage because of the weather.

“We also have some examples in our military history of successes and failures through the proper or improper use of our weather professionals,” said Maj. Gen. John K. McMullen, the ACC vice commander.

The general looked at everyone in the room with a smile, pointing his finger to say, “Every weatherman in the room has heard of the weather preparations for the invasion of Normandy. They were with folks that predicted a break in the weather in June 6, 1944 so that we could start (D-Day).”

The Nazis weren’t ready for the largest amphibious invasion in history because they were “ill-prepared,” McMullen explained.

“That made a difference,” McMullen said. “Some would say it turned the tide, but that isn’t necessarily how history reports it. You don’t just open the history book and see where it says, ‘the weather guy won the war,’ but it certainly played a big role.”

This example shows that when weather Airmen do their job well, it allows them to tell commanders how weather will negatively or positively impact their ability to operate. “And more importantly,” Bacot said, “A place where we’re okay to operate, but maybe the enemy can’t.”

“That’s called finding an asymmetric advantage. Asymmetric advantages are crucial to the nature of warfare,” Bacot explained. “If you can find a weakness in your adversary, you can take advantage of that weakness from a battlefield or even a warfare perspective.”

During the conference, Bacot also explained that their career fields can have an impact everywhere in the mission, not just with weather information that is used for takeoffs and landings.

“It’s how weather will impact our weapons, how will it impact our sensors, how will it impact our satellites, and even how it may impact the cyber world,” he said. “When you’re flying with a particular weapon that has a sensor, that weapon has to detect the target, it has to resolve what it is and weather can affect that.”

From an engineering perspective, sensors can detect targets based on distances. These distances not only determine whether the sensor can resolve the difference between an enemy and a friendly, but they also determine the ability of the sensor to lock on to the target, Bacot explained.

“Weather impacts those distances,” he said. “With (global positioning systems), their accuracy can be impacted by the sun.”

During the conference, weather leaders not only talked about the current impacts weather has on the force, but also readiness for deployments and potential contingencies in the years to come.

“We work very hard to make sure that all of our Airmen, regardless of where they are located in the world, are ready to go downrange,” Bacot said. “And that’s a mix of both the technical skills of being a weather forecaster, to how we integrate those forecasts into operations, how we protect resources, aircraft and people when severe weather strikes.”

Although only 25 percent of the weather force is supporting the Army as combat weather, Bacot wants to ensure all weather Airmen have the necessary “Soldier skills” and are ready for anything that could happen during a deployment.

Bacot explained that when weather Airmen are attacked by the enemy, they need to be able to respond in unison with their comrades in the Army, in addition to doing their job as weather operators.

One big change weather leaders also discussed is increasing the size of the weather career field and adjusting the overall deployment to dwell rate.

To enable Airmen to prepare for those high end fights, weather leaders have decided to build resiliency by increasing the amount of time Airmen can spend with families between deployments.

“My opinion is that the (weather) guys here are essential to today’s fight and will be even more essential in tomorrow’s fight,” McMullen said.