USAF Special Reconnaissance (SR)

Air Force United States

Special Reconnaissance (SR)—formerly Special Operations Weather Technician or Team (SOWT)—is conducted by trained Air Force personnel assigned to Special Tactics Squadrons of the United States Air Force Special Operations Command who operate deep behind enemy lines to conduct covert direction of air and missile attacks, place remotely monitored sensors, and support other special operation units. Like other special operations units, SR units may also carry out direct action (DA) and unconventional warfare (UW), including guerrilla operations. As SOWT they were tactical observer/forecasters with ground combat capabilities and fell under the Air Force Special Tactics within the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). The mission of a Special Operations Weather Team Specialist was to deploy by the most feasible means available into combat and non-permissive environments to collect and interpret meteorological data and provide air and ground forces commanders with timely, accurate intelligence. They collect data, assist mission planning, generate accurate and mission-tailored target and route forecasts in support of global special operations, conduct special weather reconnaissance and train foreign national forces. SOWTs provided vital intelligence and deployed with joint air and ground forces in support of direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance, special reconnaissance, austere airfield, and combat search and rescue. 

History During World War II, Army Air Forces combat weathermen supported the American effort against the Japanese in the China-Burma-India theater of operations. They also participated in the European theater at Normandy Beach, France; and in the Netherlands and Yugoslavia.

However most of the special operations weather lineage, honors, and heraldry origins of WWII are attributed to the 10th Weather Squadron, at New Delhi, India under the 10th Air Force. The 10th Weather Squadron was constituted 10th Weather on 15 Jun 1942 and activated on 24 Jun 1942 (New Delhi, India). Inactivated on 3 Jul 1946 the 10th Weather Squadron was subsequently activated on 1 June 1948, inactivated on 20 May 1952, activated on 16 Jun 1966, organized on 8 Jul 1966, inactivated on 30 Sep 1975, designated 10th Combat Weather Squadron and activated on 1 Apr 1996, and finally inactivated 7 May 2014. The inactivation of the 10th Combat Weather Squadron resulted in special operations weathermen from the unit being integrated into 720th STG.

The various regional conflicts escalating in Southeast Asia during the years 1961 through 1975 were causal for reactivating the 10th Weather Squadron on 8 July 1966 at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, to conduct combat weather operations in Southeast Asia. The 10th subsequently relocated to Long Binh AI, RVN, 3 Aug 1967 and then to Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, 18 February 1974 before being inactivated 30 June 1972. The squadron trained indigenous weather personnel and set up clandestine weather observation networks throughout Southeast Asia. The 10th Weather Squadron played an important part in the raid on the Son Tay POW camp (a.k.a. Operation Ivory Coast) of 1970. The weather forecasting for this mission primarily relied upon images obtained from Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites, data obtained by weather aircraft reconnaissance sorties, and extensive climatic analysis data. Weather forecaster Major Keith R. Grimes who as Lt Col became the commander of the 10th during the period from 7 July 1974 to 15 Jul 1975 was weather advisor to the Joint Task Force Commander planning Operation Ivory Coast. It is Major Grimes' extensive work with climatological data and forecasts prepared by Air Weather Service personnel credited by Air Weather Service historians as setting raid's general date.

Previously, during 1963 and 1964, Captain Keith R. Grimes organized the first ad-hoc Air Weather Service Unconventional Warfare Detachment at Hurlburt Field, FL, between 1963 and 1964. These few in-member numbers special warfare weathermen began deploying to Laos with primary mission training friendly forces to take and report weather observation. It was this small in numbers group of weathermen who worked clandestinely in Laos, under dangerous conditions and on a nearly uninterrupted basis, to establish and maintain weather observing and reporting net essential to combat air operations. Posing as civilians with varying cover stories and carrying only a civilian identification card functioned not only as weathermen and advisors, but as forward air controllers, intelligence gatherers, and fighters. By 1972 the Air Weather Service had twenty-seven jump qualified combat weather team weathermen. Most were assigned in support of the XVIII Airborne Corps, or the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions, but others were assigned with the 7th Weather Squadron in Germany and eight were assigned with the 5th Weather Wing's Detachment 75 at Eglin AFB's Hurlburt Field in support of Air Force and Army Special Forces. From 1972 to about 1985 parachutist qualified combat weather teams and special operations weather teams were considered nonessential. The prevailing senior leadership attitude during this period was expressed by a question AWS chief of staff, Colonel Edwin E. Carmell hypothetically asked in December 1972 of "If you look at it objectively, what kinds of weather do you get out of those guys?" in referring to Detachment 75. "I think the answer is pretty clear," he continued: "they aren't needed."

The decisive origins of Special Operations Weather becoming a unique separate career weather Air Force Specialty Code having a specialty description is the 1 October 1996 reactivation of the 10th Air Weather Squadron as the 10th Combat Weather Squadron (10th CWS) and assigned to the 720th Special Tactics Group (720th STG) of the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). On 5 May 2008, the Air Force approved the establishment of a new Air Force Specialty Code for Special Operations Weather, formally recognizing their commitment to deploy into restricted environments by air, land or sea to conduct weather operations, observe and analyze all environmental data. The 10th Combat Weather Squadron was inactivated 7 May 2014 with special operations weathermen from the unit being integrated into the Special Tactics Group, Wing and Squadrons.

Special operations weathermen were not included in the failed US embassy hostage rescue attempt in Iran in 1980, known as Operation Eagle Claw. A review group composed of six senior military officials (Admiral James L. Holloway III, United States Navy, Retired; Lieutenant General Samuel V. Wilson, United States Army, Retired; Lieutenant General Leroy J. Manor, United States Air Force Retired; Major General James C. Smith, United States Army; Major General John L. Piotrowski, United States Air Force, and Major General Alfred M. Gray Jr., United States Marine Corps) released a report titled "Rescue Mission Report, August 1980" on Saturday, 23 August 1980. Issue 15 "Weather Reconnaissance" (pp. 40 and 41) of the report discusses the ability of the Joint Task Force's weather team (the AWS team was assigned to the JTP J-2 section) to accurately and reliably forecast Iranian weather, particularly along the 200 nautical mile helicopter route is discussed. The report asserts "in hindsight" that more timely and accurate weather data could and should have been obtained from a WC-130 reconnaissance sortie scouting the route ahead of the helicopters, which would have encountered the dust phenomena before the helicopters and forwarded this info to the helicopters. However immediately following the "hindsight" suggestion is disclosure of the OPSEC risks of such a WC-130 pathfinder reconnaissance, potentially causing mission compromise, was considered to override any advantages gained. Regardless, this working group's assessment for direct weather causals for mission abort and the Desert One tragedy was insufficient and inadequate command and control combined with lack of precise weather abort criteria being determined during mission planning for mission aircrews to rely on in the absence of positive command and control.

Special operations weathermen have directly participated in the majority of modern special operations contingency operations since Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S. invasion of Grenada working with other special operations and conventional forces. These recent successes include operations Just Cause in Panama, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Task Force Ranger operations in Somalia, Uphold Democracy in Haiti, operations in Bosnia and counter narcotics operations in South America, as well as ongoing operations in support of Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.


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