The views and opinions expressed or implied in WBY are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.

Air Force Weather’s Three Foundational Truths as it Transforms

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Shane Gillies and Lt Col Dan Santiago

As the Air Force Weather career field embarks on a transformation initiative, it must do so while remaining connected to the foundational reasons for the function’s existence. Air Force Weather seeks to position itself as the provider of choice for authoritative environmental data, information, and intelligence. By doing so, it will “deliver decision advantage through superior environmental intelligence to further United States Air Force, Department of Defense, and national interests.”1 To ensure transformation creates and shapes an enterprise prepared for future conflict with a near-peer adversary, Air Force Weather must embrace a culture grounded in its foundational truths.

Without a shared culture based on a set of fundamental core beliefs identifying what the organization or function values, any transformation effort risks becoming incoherent and disorganized. Members of an organization could perform the culture’s desired behaviors without having any values to tie their actions to, creating the illusion of progress where only unfocused activity exists. Dangers arise such as lack of alignment, pursuing the shiniest new technologies, or chasing after the buzzword du jour. Amid finite resources, such misguided forays lead to unrecoverable opportunity costs and diminished effectiveness.

In 2021, Air Force Weather initiated a transformation program to focus the career field’s natural environment support on the future. Led by the Director of Weather, senior leaders inside and outside of Air Force Weather sought the expertise and ideas of officers, enlisted, and civilians throughout the career field. Individual lines of effort included a bottom-to-top review of all requirements to understand the current state of weather and environmental sciences support, a digital transformation to better manage vast amounts of information, and new approaches to steady-state and contingency operations concepts for providing environmental support to the warfighter.2 The transformation progressed as the function’s leaders met in late 2021 to solidify the path forward.

During an in-person conference focused on transformation, the function’s senior leaders and key stakeholders unveiled a framework for the desired Air Force Weather culture. This articulated culture outlines a set of guiding principles that include the following enterprise behaviors and characteristics:  empowered risk taking, inclusive and collaborative, user and mission outcomes focused, community transparency, solutions-oriented, and forward-leaning.3 On the surface, these are attractive behaviors. However, without a shared foundation or starting point one could interpret and apply these enterprise behaviors in many ways. For example, empowered risk taking encourages career field personnel to act aggressively and seize fleeting opportunities. Those actions could be counterproductive if not tied to a shared foundational purpose. Air Force Weather must pay attention to the core beliefs and values that organizations tend to take for granted, values that serve as the foundation for productive actions and, ultimately, shape the enterprise’s culture.4

Thus, we asked ourselves the following question:  at the most foundational level, why does the Air Force Weather function exist? That prompted additional questions. What attributes differentiate members of our career field from others? What makes us unique and constitutes the value we add to military and defense activities? Analyzing these questions allowed us to strip away the surface-level discussions and examine the function of environmental support at its core. In doing so, we identified a set of foundational values and beliefs. We sought to distill these values and beliefs into “truths” that remain valid despite ever-changing technologies, strategic policy and strategy documents, and operational concepts—truths that transcend place and time and have influenced warfare for thousands of years. To do this, we leveraged “first principles” thinking where a first principle is a “foundational proposition or assumption that stands alone.”5 This mindset forced us to reassess assumptions that have developed over time in Air Force Weather and dismiss those that are no longer or never were true. What remains are truths that form the foundation for why Air Force Weather exists.

We assert there are three foundational truths that stand alone to underpin environmental support:

  1. The natural environment will affect warfare.
  2. There is always more to understand about the natural environment elements that affect warfare.
  3. Effective decisions in warfare rely on understanding the natural environment.

These truths should serve as a “true north” as Air Force Weather transforms. Acknowledging and embracing these truths is the first step. The next is developing and executing a coherent “theory of action” to achieve each truth. From this foundational starting point, the career field can more effectively employ the enterprise behaviors to generate the outcomes required to meet the future needs of the Department of Defense.

The first foundational truth is the natural environment will affect warfare. There are countless examples throughout American history alone where the weather provided a fleeting opportunity for victory or caused otherwise successful plans to fail. In 1776, a Nor’easter storm allowed Continental Army soldiers under the command of General George Washington to fight another day and avoid capture by British forces attacking New York City.6 During World War II, the weather-based decision to launch Operation Overlord in June 1944 is the classic example where the environment played a critical role in warfare’s outcome. Today, adversaries and competitors challenge friendly freedom of maneuver and accomplishment of objectives by threatening the electromagnetic spectrum. Even without deliberate adversary actions, our reliance on the electromagnetic spectrum is vulnerable. An X-ray class solar flare in 2017 disrupted communications during disaster response operations in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Irma.7 Because the natural environment will affect warfare, a theory of action based on this truth is that the career field must invest in understanding both warfare and the natural environment’s effects on warfare. It is not enough for career field personnel to be experts in only their scientific disciplines of meteorology and other environmental sciences such as space weather and hydrology. Air Force Weather members must also develop expertise in the art and science of warfare. The career field must seek and exploit opportunities to educate its officers, enlisted members, and civilians in the theory, history, and doctrine at all levels of war to understand how the natural environment plays a role in warfare. With such an understanding, the function can best leverage its unique expertise in the environmental sciences.

The second truth is that there is always more to understand about the natural environment elements that affect warfare. The chaotic nature of weather and related disciplines will continue to offer opportunities for research into better understanding phenomena at the conceptual and detailed level. At the time of execution, there is always more to be known about the natural environment. From the overarching global climate to micro-climates on future battlefields, there can be better sensing to understand the natural environment at ever finer resolutions. This sensing, in turn, informs the characterization and prediction of the current and future natural environment—another area offering opportunities for better resolution and accuracy. As a theory of action, Air Force Weather should focus investment and action on understanding, sensing, and characterizing the elements of the natural environment that affect mission outcomes. These investments must focus on specific environmental phenomena that have significant impacts on operations rather than chasing incremental gains in overall forecast accuracy or on elements of the environment that have minimal impact on operations. Action must take place across the entire spectrum of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, facilities, and policy (DOTmLPF-P). By focusing effort on truly impactful elements of the natural environment, Air Force Weather will limit wasteful investment and action. Despite the importance of understanding both warfare and the natural environment, the first two foundational truths are incomplete without the third truth.

The third foundational truth is that effective decisions in warfare rely on understanding the natural environment. Military leaders and decision makers must understand the impact the natural environment will have on operations. This allows them to make decisions that minimize risk to friendly forces and operations, and identify and exploit opportunities presented by the natural environment to gain advantage over adversaries. This was true when the British failed to capture the fleeing Continental Army, General Dwight Eisenhower approved the successful Operation Overlord, and post-hurricane search and recovery forces operated with degraded communications. This foundational truth is critical to entities inside and outside the career field alike. Even if a perfect understanding of the current and future natural environment was possible, it would be for naught if it does not inform commanders’ decisions. If Air Force Weather cannot effectively inform the decision-making process, it operates for its own sake or, said more derisively, “weather people doing things for weather people.” This final truth’s theory of action should be an investment in understanding and informing decision making. This requires investing in effective methods of communication and an understanding of decision science. Air Force Weather members must understand decision making and how to effectively integrate awareness of environmental impacts into the decision-making process. This will include machine-to-machine interfaces and integration with command-and-control systems. As with the other truths, the career field must look across all facets of DOTmLPF-P to work towards this truth. We must integrate with the digital platforms providing key knowledge to decision-makers and systems as well as educate Air Force Weather personnel to understand the art and science of decision making.

The future holds exciting possibilities for the Air Force Weather career field as it works to deliver decision advantage. As it transforms, the career field must embrace its three foundational truths:  1) the natural environment affects warfare, 2) there is always more to understand about the natural environment elements that affect warfare, and 3) effective decisions in warfare rely on understanding the natural environment. These foundational truths and their respective theories of action provide Air Force Weather shared values and beliefs and a starting point to ground the desired enterprise behaviors as part of its transformation culture. Without this deliberate linkage of objectives, foundational truths, their theories of action, and a clearly defined culture, Air Force Weather’s transformation will fail and leave the United States at a disadvantage against a near-peer adversary.

Shane D. Gillies

Lieutenant Colonel Shane Gillies, USAF, is a Weather and Environmental Sciences Officer and works in the United States Air Force’s Program Integration Division also known as the “Engine Room.” He commanded the 22d Expeditionary Weather Squadron at Camp Buehring, Kuwait and is a graduate of the United States Army’s Command and General Staff College as well as the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS). 

Daniel S. Santiago

Lieutenant Colonel Dan Santiago, USAF, is a Weather and Environmental Sciences Officer and is the Chief, Weather Operations, Plans, and Programs for Air Force Materiel Command. He commanded the 2nd Weather Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska and is a graduate of the National Intelligence University.


1. Air Force Weather, “Change the Culture; Change the Outcome” (pamphlet presented at the Weather Executive Council, Alexandria, VA, December 2021), 4.

2. Col Gary B. Kubat, Acting Director of Weather, memorandum, subject: A3W Gram 21-32, 10 August 2021.

3. Air Force Weather, “Change the Culture; Change the Outcome” (pamphlet presented at the Weather Executive Council, Alexandria, VA, December 2021), 1.

4. Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization (New York: Doubleday, 2006), 285.

5. “First Principles: The Building Blocks of True Knowledge,” Farnam Street, accessed 19 April 2022,

6. David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 101.

7. “Watching the Sun for Space Weather.” National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), 10 August 2018.

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