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AFW-WEBS…it’s more than a weather website

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Today's joint, interagency, and multinational force requires machine readable weather data to facilitate interoperability and dynamic command and control.  It wasn't long ago when Airmen visited the Joint Air Force and Army Weather Information Network to get the most up to date weather information. However, its static weather forecast images were not keeping with the times.

Sensing the change in requirements, 557th Weather Wing innovators spent more than a year collaborating with industry and government partners to develop a method of providing meteorological information in a geo-referenced and machine readable format.  The team created Air Force Weather WEB Services (AFW-WEBS).

"We are now able to deliver net-centric data," said Capt. April Ellis, Flight Commander in the 16th Weather Squadron responsible for AFW-WEBS development.  AFW-WEBS employs widely accepted Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standards.  OGC standards facilitate system interoperability.

"Last month our services were accessed well over one million times," Capt. Ellis said.

If users need web-visualizations, AFW-WEBS still delivers, but web-based visualizations are only one type of service offered by AFW-WEBS.  Rather, core data services are what enable the machine-to-machine connections.  Geotagged data and information can be exchanged and displayed through command and control systems allowing leaders to make risk assessments based on weather.

The web-based application, accessed through the AFW-WEBS website, allows humans to configure and view weather information.  According to Capt. Ellis, a user can cater the image to the needs of the mission by displaying only what information they want versus unnecessary weather information for their specific mission. Ellis said, "Before, they would have to click through ten different images and then in their mind compile the information."

"The operational system was deployed in summer of 2010, and expansion and improvements have occurred ever since," Assistant Flight Commander Capt. Kristin McNeil said. "Our development cycle enables us to make rapid improvements to the system and meet emerging needs."

Behind the scenes four teams, comprised of about 30 personnel, constantly work on quality control, development, and production sustainment. They employ Agile software development methods utilizing two week development cycles and implementing changes once a month on all three security enclaves.

"A large number of our users are Air Force weather forecasters," said Ellis. "But, pilots access our services as well."  To further assist the pilots, the creators of AFW-WEBS are looking to stand up an Electronic Flight Bag weather application for mobile devices.

"When pilots go to their aircraft, they have bags filled with documentation that can weigh from 200 to 300 pounds," said Ellis. "This is an initiative to put all of that on an iPad. It is going to reach in and use the services created by AFW-WEBS."

"The weather changes so fast and the better fidelity we have through these services, the better our pilots are going to be able to execute the mission," said Ellis.

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