Winning Battles with Weather

by Staff Sergeant Steven V. Scudder

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A hard frost, a sudden thaw, a "hot spell," a "cold snap," a contrary wind, a long drought, a storm of sand----all these things have had their part in deciding the destinies of dynasties, the fortunes of races, the fate of nations. Leave the weather out of history, and it is as if night were left out of day, and winter out of the year.

----An Atlantic Monthly article, 1862

Weather has always played an important role in developing a complete intelligence picture for the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). A good understanding of how weather affects different weapons systems can explain why an enemy has taken a course of action different from a doctrinally expected approach. By understanding weather effects, we in the 101st Airborne Division (AASLT) have been able to enhance our forces’ capabilities and identify enemy weaknesses. The weather forecasters, as active members of the 101st Airborne Division’s intelligence team, have improved weapon systems performance and greatly increased mission success.

Weather Data Collection

In the 3d Brigade Combat Weather Team, we push this capability down to the individual soldier level. (Figure 1 depicts the organizational structure of the weather personnel assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. Our weather personnel are spread throughout the 3d Brigade task force (TF) to provide support to the commanders and soldiers who will execute the battle plan. Every soldier in the 3d Brigade TF is a potential source of weather information. By covering a larger geographical (as well as structural) area, we can gather more information than our counterparts could in the past. In the event we suffer a casualty inside the weather team organization, there is a functioning backup already in place. Another team member would acquire the responsibilities and our weather support would not stop.

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Figure 1. 3d Brigade Combat Weather Team

Organizational Break Down.

The collection and transmission of weather data is a key strategic and tactical element. A July-September 1997 MIPB article. "The Tactical Weather Initiative and the AWEs," provides the technological background behind our weather systems. This technology led our community to make the claim that we can gain a decisive tactical advantage through the exploitation of weather. Technology alone is not the solution to "Owning and Exploiting the Weather"; rather it is how the unit uses this information. The process of disseminating weather products to the decisionmaker during briefings is every bit as important as the quality of the information. Providing the information in a presentation format that the commanders at each level will understand and can use has become a major part of our weather team's mission.


Figure 2. Weather Effects Matrix.

Date: 5-Sep-97 5-Sep-97 6-Sep-97 6-Sep-97 6-Sep-97 6-Sep-97 7-Sep-97 7-Sep-97
Time: 1800L 2400L 0600L 1200L 1800L 2400L 0600L 1200L
Field Artillery
Rotary Aviation
ACFT Recon
Use smoke

Figure 2.  Weather Effects Matrix


Weather Effects on Targeting

Most commanders are concerned with weather primarily due to the effects that it can have on their weapons systems. Even slight changes in the humidity, ambient light, or precipitation intensity can significantly degrade weapons systems performance. To inform commanders of any possible weather degradations, our team creates a weather effects matrix that we present at eacg of the briefings to the commander. An example is shown in Figure 2.

In the 101st Airborne Division, the most noticeable aspect that weather has on our weapons is its effect on the targeting capabilities of our helicopters. In general, helicopters have achieved the ability to operate in almost any weather condition. However, it is a myth that our helicopters are all-weather weapons systems.

While thermal-imaging systems allow a pilot to see objects through smoke or fog, laser-sensing devices that appear on most helicopter weapons systems are subject to error when used in thick atmospheric conditions. Thermal imagery, such as infrared, senses emitted energy (heat) from a target and its background. In contrast, laser-sensing devices detect reflected energy that bounces off a target.

In dusty or foggy conditions, laser-guided weapons can miss their intended targets. For example, The laser miss striking its target by three to four feet simply because the beam is deflected off its path by suspend dust particles. Sometimes, the pilot will detect a target, but his weapons systems cannot "see" the target. The results is an increase in ammunition expenditure, and a degradation in time-on-station performance and mission accomplishment.

In the 101st Airborne Division, our combat weather teams act to forewarn the commanders and aircrews about the possible limitation of their weapons systems well in advance of the mission. Using Figure 2, a 101st Airborne Division forecaster running the Electro-Optics Tactical Decision Aids Program would have alerted the mission Planners that they would need to adjust tactics to compensate for the weather conditions.


Figure 3. Weather in the Area of Operations.

5-Sep-97 18L 19L 20L 21L 22L 23L 00L 01L 02L 03L 04L 05L 06L
SFC Winds 24010KT 24005KT 24012KT
TEMP 30 29 28 27 27 26 26 25 25 25 24 24 23
ILLUM 48% 45% 40% 37% 22% 20% 17% 5%
Moon AZ 176 203 237 258 260 265 269
Moon EL 70 64 56 47 31 23 4 -11 -23 -33 -48 -55 -67
BMNT 6/0538 SR 6/0630 SS 5/1725 EENT 5/1817 MR 6/1258 MS 6/0043
Day Moon Twil NVG Dark

Figure 3.   AO Weather Timelines

Preparing for Deployment

When the 3rd Brigade TF is alerted for a deployment, we begin to prepare weather briefings for the area of operations. By studying the climatology, we can begin to identify possible advantages and problems for our brigade's weapons systems. The earlier we become involved in planning, the more significant a force multiplier the weather can become. The most successful elements of the 101st Airborne Division use their weather teams early in mission planning and in a very proactive manner.

The 3rd Brigades S2 will task the weather section to search for favor-able weather conditions that might affect a future mission. This approach gives the brigade a significant advantage over traditional weather usage. By looking for flyable conditions, the brigade expands its view, giving its system of battle the best possible chances for success. The brigade staff realizes that there is a connection between each part of the intelligence picture. Weather information alone is not that valuable without a "killer application". Including weather information in planning requires us to develop slides that present this information on timelines, as on the chart in Figure 3. This technique meshes better with the aviation section's decisionmaking process and allows our team to have a greater impact on the mission-planning phase.


The 101st Airborne Division uses weather data to multiply its forces and increase weapons' effectiveness. By reducing weather-related casualties, and increase its weapons' effectiveness. A commander can avoid a loss in combat power by altering attack times to compensate for negative weather conditions. Reducing weather-related casualties and the loss of weapons systems increases the force available for action against the enemy. The benefits to aircraft are more apparent but such an approach works well for all systems. Our weather teams maintain a constant watch for conditions that might reduce the Division's infantry’s capabilities as well.

The 101st Airborne division is developing a more integrated approach to intelligence and weather team analysis. By knowing what the mission goals and enemy situation are, we will be able to provide useful products directed at exploiting opportunities presented by atmospheric conditions. Early warning and lead time on weather conditions effecting weapon capabilities will aid the 101st Airborne Division's commanders in achieving their goals and avoiding the negative effects that weather can pose to an operation. A good intelligence shop with a fully integrated weather team will assure mission success and help prevent the "fog of war" from rolling in unannounced.

Staff Sergeant Scudder is the Assistant Chief, Weather Station Operations, for the 19th Air Support Operations Squadron Weather Flight, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He is responsible for assisting the Chief, Weather Station Operations, in managing all aspects of weather support for the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and its associated units. He has served as a weather observer at Grissom Air Force Base, Indiana, and Feucht Army Air Field, Germany, and a weather forecaster at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona. SSG Scudder has an Associate degree in Applied Science Weather Technology through the Community College of the Air Force. Readers can contact the author telephonically at (502) 798-3421 or DSN 635-3421 mil and via E-mail at [email protected]