New Agency structure, same essential mission



Commentary by Col. Patrick "Mike" Condray
AFWA Commander


4/9/2007 - Offutt AFB, Neb. -- March 28, 2007 marked a major milestone for the Air Force Weather Agency as we reorganized HQ AFWA along A-Staff lines, reactivated 2nd Weather Squadron under the command of Lt. Col. Marv Treu and activated the brand new 2nd Systems Operations Squadron under Lt. Col. (sel) Chris Cantrell. These two squadrons will join with the Air Force Combat Climatology Center under command of the 2nd Weather Group when that unit is activated in summer 2007. 2nd WXG will command AFWA's global weather operations in the same way that 1st WXG commands AFWA's CONUS weather operations.

Does this mean that 2nd WXG will be Air Force Global Weather Center "reborn?" Not really. Another way of looking at it is that 2nd WXG is like AFGWC's "grandson" - you can definitely see a family resemblance between the old and the new with the missions performed by 2nd WS, 2nd SOS, and AFCCC (which was once part of AFGWC). However, there are also distinct differences between the "grandfather" AFGWC and "grandson" 2nd WXG. One of the most obvious is that the group is focused completely on weather operations - collecting, analyzing, predicting, tailoring, and integrating weather information. Unlike AFGWC, 2nd WXG will not have its own "lead command" functions - the planning, developing, and sustaining of 2nd WXG systems will be done by the AFWA A-Staff. Put another way, the A-Staff will support 2nd WXG in the same way that they support 3rd WS's Battlefield Airmen, 10th WS Special Forces, 1st WXG CONUS operators and OSS weather flights around the world.

AFWA's sweeping reorganization is aimed at clarifying roles and responsibilities. When AFWA was established back in 1997, two distinct units were blended together with HQ Air Weather Service and the "old" AFGWC. That was done as part of the dramatic transformation known as Air Force weather re-engineering, which greatly improved the training and efficiency of weather operations worldwide.

However, as our former Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. John P. Jumper once said about making major changes, "there is a zero percent chance we will get it 100 percent right on the first try." The more AFWA operated as a combination of HQ AWS and AFGWC, the more people realized that several of the specific roles and missions within the Agency had become blurred. Simply put, many offices and individuals had dual responsibilities - doing direct support for day-to-day operations as well as managing long term training, policy or program management issues.

Recognizing this, Col. John Lanicci, my predecessor as AFWA/CC, established process improvement teams to clarify specific AFWA tasks and how those tasks are accomplished. The work of these teams is continuing, but shortly after my arrival in June 2006, they presented me with a set of proposals that has ultimately led to the events of March 28. Fundamentally, there are two components of this re-organization:

- Consolidating AFWA's responsibilities as the Air Force's lead command manager for weather operations within an A-Staff structure and

- Establishing operational units - in Air Force terms, flights, squadrons, or groups - who conduct weather operations. 1st WXG was established in May 2006; 2nd WXG will stand up this summer to complete the process.

Transforming the previous AFWA structure (including the DN, DP, SC, XO, and XP Directorates) into an A-Staff structure puts AFWA within the standard Air Force, and to a large extent Joint, HQ staff structure - "matching the phone books." This helps communicate what the A-Staff does and makes it easier for outside agencies to quickly find the right office(s) to work specific issues. As the Air Force's weather lead command management team, the AFWA A-Staff is responsible for developing, fielding, and sustaining the Air Force Weather Weapon System - the complex "system of systems" that collect and analyze weather information, then bring it to warfighters worldwide. The A-Staff doesn't fix, fly or operate the AFWWS, but like Air Combat Command's managers for F-16 operations, the AFWA A-Staff tracks overall equipment requirements and inventories, develops training, conducts stan/eval, and works a myriad issues such as system accreditation and integration to ensure the AFWWS works smoothly to meet joint warfighter needs.

AFWA's operational units are responsible for fixing, flying and operating their parts of the AFWWS. Think of them as our aircrews, wrench-turners, and refuelers. They carry out weather operations 24/7/365 by collecting, analyzing, and predicting weather data, then ensuring that the right information is tailored to meet specific warfighter needs and rapidly integrated into decision making from the battlefield to the National Command Authority level. AFWA's 1st WXG consists of four Operational Weather Squadrons focused on CONUS weather operations.

The two units activated March 28 - 2nd WS and 2nd SOS - have a focus that is global and beyond, reaching into space. For that reason they will join with our global climatology unit at Asheville, N.C., to form AFWA's Second Weather Group. The 2nd WXG will be established this summer, but given the urgency of today's wartime environment we pressed ahead to re-activate the 2nd WS and to establish the 2nd SOS. In effect, I will be "dual-hatted" as both AFWA/CC and 2nd WXG/CC until the new commander comes in.

The sun literally never sets on 2nd WS, whose responsibilities include providing specialized weather support to high-impact decision makers worldwide. The squadron acts as the Department of Defense's space weather center, collecting solar data from space platforms as well as detachments in the CONUS, Hawaii, Australia, and Italy. The 2nd WS Space Flight then uses that data to analyze and forecast potential space environmental impacts on the fight. Terrestrial warfighters also depend on the squadron to track hazards such as tropical cyclones and volcanic ash clouds as well as providing specialized support to worldwide national intelligence community missions and special operations combat missions in close combat with our nation's anywhere, anytime.

The 2nd SOS is similar to 2nd WS in that its operations have a global impact on military decision making, but it is a very different type of unit. Weather information has always been very time-sensitive. Data that is even a few hours old loses much of its value, while a perfect forecast that reaches warfighters after they have been committed to a decision is essentially worthless. These truths make it critical that literally terabytes of data are routinely processed, analyzed, used to produce detailed forecasts based on sophisticated scientific models and shot back out to the fight.

The 2nd SOS is the unit responsible for operating the strategic weather computing complex and production network that makes all this happen 24/7/365. One way of appreciating the magnitude of this task is that our fellow Offutt AFB units, the 55th WG and U.S. Strategic Command Headquarters. both have one-of-a-kind missions with extensive worldwide responsibilities. However, the sheer volume of information being processed and disseminated by the 2nd SOS takes up roughly 2/3 of the data bandwidth coming in and out of Offutt AFB each day. The squadron's experts also provide full-time technical systems assistance to joint weather operators worldwide to ensure smooth information flow. That huge information flow underscores their critical role "fueling" and "fixing" the Air Force Weather Weapon System. If something goes wrong with the 2nd SOS, the AFWWS would rapidly "lose altitude" and crash, crippling our weather warriors and leaving warfighters without the ability to properly factor weather into their decisions.

In Navy terms, Major Cantrell and every member his 2nd SOS team are "plankowners" - part of the crew assigned to a warship when it is first commissioned in service. But there was no "shakedown cruise" for the 2nd SOS or the 2nd WS - both swung into action supporting combat ops around the world right from Day One!