AMC Deputy Commander, Lt Gen Brian Robinson: How MAF Projects the Power of the Joint Force Forward

By Ms. Allison Elliot, Staff Writer

With 85 percent of the joint force assigned to the continental United States, the Mobility Air Forces (MAF) has had to evolve its warfighting capabilities to project the power of the joint force forward. According to Lt Gen Brian Robinson, Deputy Commander of Air Mobility Command (AMC), Scott Air Force Base, IL, projecting that power forward has involved a degree of modernization.

“We are on a path to advance our technologies and capabilities to allow us to advance our decision-making in the role that we will play for projecting power for the joint force,” Robinson said. “The ability to do that while being fully aligned with JADC2 [Joint All-Domain Command and Control] and projecting that power to the time and place of our nation’s choosing is going to be key.”

It has been important for MAF to be involved in the development of JADC2—the link connecting the joint forces, command, and control— because of platform size, electrical power, and presence.

“There are some unique reliances, operationally and tactically, that our partners will have on us because of the size of our platforms and the power they can generate. Those factors allow the ability to carry some of our capabilities plus our ubiquitous presence around the world at any one time,” Robinson said.

The features of the MAF platform allow the Air Force and joint force flexibility and options to engage the enemy, wherever they may present themselves in the world.

“Where we are going with JADC2, every platform—before it is considered for its true capabilities—is a node in a network architecture, and if we are part of that architecture with our ubiquitous presence and power, we offer alternative paths to that global network should the adversary decide to contest us in a particular geographic region or particular domain,” said Robinson.

The tankers are vital to AMC’s role in competition and future high-end fights for moving forces to wherever they need to be.

“The tankers are going to be the key to getting that force into the position it needs to be in for its assigned objectives quickly. They are going to be the key to establishing that air bridge—the ability to stay connected on behalf of the joint partners as we are dragging the fighters across the ocean or refueling the bombers as they are making their way to the objective area,” Robinson said.

“It is about expediting decision-making for the next best move to stay on top of or out in front of the adversary in a position of advantage.”

The role of tankers and airlifters in day-to-day operations and competition—not just high-end fights—is one that Robinson feels is “under-represented and appreciated.” Specifically, he notes the ability to be in sync with allies while being out of sync with adversaries.

“Take a look at open-source reporting on some of the bomber task force missions and the dynamic force employment approach. Those activities go on every day, and the idea is for us to be strategically predictable to ourselves but unpredictable to the adversary that the particular operation is aligned against. It is the same roles that tankers and airlifters will play, but in daily competition, as opposed to just high-end conflicts,” Robinson said.

AMC learned a significant amount of information from the first four experiments or exercises it conducted on the capacity of the KC-46 Pegasus tanker and the role of the C-17 Globemaster III transport. The challenges the team faced included combining the existing systems and hardware with potential future systems.

“The first four, I think what we learned is, it is okay and necessary to fail. We went into some of those on-ramp experiments with expectations with how a certain system design or architectural approach would work, and sometimes it worked but sometimes not as well—and sometimes not at all,” Robinson said.

Additional experiments are planned, and Robinson states they will happen as long as progress is shown with the experiments.

These experiments are all part of an evolution to developing JADC2. The key, once again, is adaptation.

“We have to learn to adapt our acquisition process and thinking about how we have to go after future capabilities rather quickly because there is a terminal point where the game ends and there is a winner and a loser, and everyone is jockeying for position in the competition infinitely. We have to adapt,” Robinson said.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has a “significant” role in modernizing AMC for its part in JADC2. The future for this technology in aircraft operations applications is bright, as seen in the private sector.

“Today, it is all done fairly manually when an aircraft, if you will, comes into a particular operating site. [That] is when we get the best visibility on it or the status of the airplane or crew or lots of other factors. So there is a lot of distance to make up for AI and machine learning from that perspective. We see corporate aviation entities have sort of blazed the trail already…, and we can certainly learn from it,” Robinson said.

Robinson notes, however, that AI experts state that machine learning cannot make up for human decision-making. They can help with a decision or even make a minor decision, but pressing the button should fall to a person.
“Humans learn from machines and machines learn from humans, so you can work that back into machines, but if the consequences are ‘should we go to war or not,’ you may not want to let the machine make that call,” Robinson said. “But if the decision is ‘what is the most important thing out the door,’ then a machine can make that decision or at least a recommendation to the decision-maker.”

The Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) focuses on technological solutions as opposed to JADC2, which focuses on intangible operational elements of the mission. The experiments are centered on the ABMS component.
“The experiments are going after some material solutions. The material solutions are more about the ABMS side of it, what hardware is necessary to move the data across. JADC2 tends to be more about tactics, techniques, and procedures— the non-material solutions about what you are going to do with that hardware,” Robinson said.

Developing and modernizing AMC’s platform for its role in JADC2 is not about learning more about the adversary, Robinson explained, but more about ourselves: our capabilities, capacity, and disposition. These experiments and AI technologies are to further our decision-making capabilities to better respond to adversarial advances.

“It is about expediting decision-making for the next best move to stay on top of or out in front of the adversary in a position of advantage. TRANSCOM [Transportation Command] calls it ‘advancing decision-making.’ That is why their strategic principles are what our combatant command is aligned under, but it is similar with the effort from the Air Force with JADC2, same outcome. Sensing, aligning, orienting, and making decisions very quickly in a battle and the operational space we know will be rapidly changing,” Robinson said.