OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
The 557th Weather Wing completed its first operational readiness exercise since standing up as an Air Combat Command wing.
Held Aug. 19-23, Operational Readiness Exercise - Steel Colander tested the wing’s ability to deliver weather intelligence in a contested, degraded and operationally-limited environment.
“We exercised not only wing capabilities located on Offutt Air Force Base, but also those of our geographically-separated units worldwide, to include all our operational weather squadrons,” said Ted Vroman, a 557th WW Plans and Programs exercise planner.
The Air Force Weather Agency, a field operating agency, deactivated in 2015 when the 557th WW stood up. Conversion from a FOA to an operational wing removed many non-operational functions from the organization, leaving the wing an operations-focused entity and in the position to benefit from comprehensive operational readiness exercises.
Throughout the exercise, the 557th WW supported the operations of a simulated joint task force within a single geographic combatant command area of responsibility.
‘’The scenario drove one of our operational weather squadrons, the 21st Operational Weather Squadron, located at Kapaun Air Station, Germany, to be designated the lead meteorological production unit,” Vroman said. “As the exercise progressed through a series of operational injects, we overloaded the LMPU with exercise tasks, causing them to deliberately off load missions to other OWSs.”
Vroman added, “We then threw in a series of system and communications outage and cyber threat injects to further test resiliency and continuity of operations. In the end, all the OWSs got involved in one form or another.”
The specialized mission of the 557th WW created unique challenges for its leadership and exercise planners as they had to develop what an ORE should look like for a weather wing.
“This was our first ORE as a weather wing,” Vroman said. “ACC doesn’t have a process on the shelf for conducting OREs for a unit like ours. For the flying wings, the Air Force has been doing OREs for decades and they have a well-matured process. So over the next few years we’re going to build that process for the 557th.”
Not having an established ORE construct allowed the 557th WW to be innovative in testing and evaluating the operational readiness of new processes, teams and ideas within the wing.
“Of course, we wanted to test current procedures, but not be too restrictive to units so that they weren’t willing to think outside the box when confronted with a problem set,” Vroman said. “We told them up front there will be no formal grading in the evaluation and that took some pressure off.”
A major part of the exercise featured the use of the wing’s new internally-developed cyber Mission Defense Team. Its job was to defend against simulated cyber threats that were injected into the exercise.
“It was time well spent,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Roberts, 2nd Weather Support Squadron commander. “Our team demonstrated how proactive and persistent cyber defense, even with limited resources, is able to support multi-functional assets operating in multi-domain environments. Our MDT learned a lot and we grew as a team during that exercise.”
Another unique aspect of the ORE, primarily used during its planning, was the wing-wide utilization of an Army-based, wing-tailored Military Decision Making Process to generate squadron courses of action in support of the exercise. The wing is institutionalizing this process into its everyday life.
As the 557th WW continues to evaluate the effectiveness of its first ORE, plans are already in the works for a second and potentially third ORE in 2020, incorporating more complex scenarios.