First international AF Combat Weather competition

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Katie Tamesis
  • 93d Air Ground Operations Wing

The 93d Air Ground Operations Wing hosted Thunder Challenge 2021, a world-wide Staff Weather Officer (SWO) competition at Fort Hood, Texas, Oct. 31-Nov. 03, 2021.

There have been smaller, localized combat weather competitions in the past, however Thunder Challenge 2021 was the first world-wide U.S. Air Force SWO competition in history.

“Our talented combat weather NCOs locally develop SWOs with the necessary weather and communication skills, while also developing the hardened ability to operate and survive in uncertain environments to effectively integrate with our combat Army units,” said Lt Col Craig Towlson, 803d Operations Support Squadron director of operations. “Designing a challenge with unit participation from three different theaters of operation to showcase their ‘Best’, to highlight potential gaps in training, and for SWOs to gain new perspectives were objectives of this grueling 4 day challenge.”

Teams of two SWOs with a coach from seven different weather squadrons and detachments gathered from across the globe to compete in events that tested their forecasting abilities, meteorological knowledge, physical strength and combat skills. All the events were designed around critical components of being a SWO and correlated directly to official Air Force Weather curriculum.

“After 2 decades of routine deployments to well-connected and established airbases or FOBs, we need to improve TTPs to become more agile as we focus on Great Power Competition and the uncertainty that it brings,” said Towlson. “Stressing our SWOs physically on day one with the Marine Corps Combat Fitness Test, obstacle course, and small arms range set the stage for the four-day event.  Coupling multiple dilemmas, such as using archived limited weather model data packages to formulate Go/No-Go forecasts in an austere environment, or site selection and emplacement of tactical weather sensors while reacting to contact, made each of the 10 events challenging, as the SWOs used critical thinking and problem solving skills to get a particular mission done.”

This service-level competition also provided the 93d AGOW and the Combat Weather enterprise an opportunity to showcase their capabilities to joint partners, supporting Air Force bases and the public.

“Since SWOs are always attached to an Army unit, we often get overlooked by the Air Force and the other branches,” said Master Sgt. Michael Cobb, 93d AGOW Senior Enlisted Leader Combat Weather Operations and Plans. “Thunder Challenge gives us the opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities and benefits we bring to not only the Army, but also to the Air Force, Space Force and the entire joint force,”

The skills demonstrated at Thunder Challenge parallel the real-world capabilities combat weather brings to the fight. SWOs provide tactical implementation of meteorological data, which is necessary to prevail in contested environments and achieve all-domain superiority.

“When people think of weather, they don’t usually think of how important it is to combat operations,” said Cobb. “For instance, compared to a standard civilian weather forecaster, Air Force SWOs provide crucial meteorological data directed towards a very specific combat operation; i.e. an air assault mission, tidal forecasting for beach landings, etc., down to the minute.”

This year’s winners of Thunder Challenge, Tech. Sgt. Loggins and Senior Airman Bushrod from the 18th Combat Weather Squadron located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, embody the type of force multipliers that are crucial to the advancement of lethal forward thinking and air space dominance in the future fight.

“It was a great feeling to learn that the skills our team had been working on paid off,” said Loggins. “Utilizing whatever skills you’ve gained to accomplish a goal is a big motivator for me. Competing makes you better. For our team, I know that if we put our best foot forward we were content with whatever the outcome. In this case it happened to be on top. It’s also important to look at the things we didn’t do well, learn lessons and make corrections.”

Loggins went on to explain the importance of using Thunder Challenge to prepare for potential future conflicts.

“As we prep for a potentially different fight, resources are going to become increasingly thin,” said Loggins. “Commanders are going to need all information available to them in order to make informed decisions: close air support windows, ISR, terrain conditions, etc; all things we are the subject matter experts on. Making the most out all force multipliers will be crucial.”

Looking ahead, it is no surprise that combat weather experts will play a substantial role in diminishing adversary strikes through analysis of ground, air and space meteorological data collection; bringing the fight to the enemy during the most favorable conditions rather than waiting on the adversary to strike during unfavorable conditions.  

“The future fight focuses on how our enemy will try and mitigate our strengths,” said Loggins. “Lack of communications and disabling networks will be key and it’s not a secret. We are training how to work around these limitations and focus on being more lethal with less resources.”




For more imagery and information about Thunder Challenge 2021 visit: