The 18th Air Force Prepares for the Road Ahead


As Air Mobility Command’s (AMC) sole numbered Air Force, the 18th Air Force ensures the readiness and sustainment of approximately 36,000 Active Duty, Reserve, and civilian Airmen. This readiness includes preparation for tomorrow’s fight, in which tactics are quickly evolving. With a shift in strategy from AMC and the overall Air Force, the 18th Air Force has been busy exploring and refining several concepts that may become crucial for carrying out AMC’s mission to provide rapid global mobility and sustainment for America’s Armed Forces. With changing adversaries and overall arenas, the 18th Air Force is pivoting away from large bases and keying in on the art of quick movement and dispersion.

Maj Gen Kenneth T. Bibb, the Commander of the 18th Air Force, discussed how Airmen are preparing for the high-end fight and aligning with the National Defense Strategy. According to Bibb, the 18th Air Force is focusing on two primary goals. The first is to restore our nation’s competitive edge by blocking adversaries such as Russia and China. The second is to keep these rivals from throwing the international crime order out of balance.

The 18th Air Force aligns under AMC’s strategies of advancing fighting capabilities, protecting the Force, and improving strategic deterrence to achieve these goals. An experimental approach is being embraced across the board to improve their expertise in these areas.

“It’s clear that we need strong mobility capabilities to test new environments,” Bibb shared. “That is involved across the full spectrum. AMC and the 18th Air Force are doing that all the way up to the high end of the spectrum with our nuclear forces.”

By testing new concepts and technologies, the 18th Air Force is accelerating positive changes. Bibb credits this innovative shift to the Airmen. “I think that our strength really comes in empowering our Airmen who are on their toes and want to lead,” Bibb said. “AMC and the Air Force in general have always been good about empowering every level by giving Airmen a task and then watching them carry it out.”

This proficiency has been exemplified through extensive training exercises, such as Mobility Guardian, which have been vital in preparing for the road ahead. Now, with more Airmen available, the Air Force has placed a stronger focus on training. “We’ve always placed a high value on training, but because of real-world missions, we haven’t been able to participate in the level we would like to,” Bibb explained.

Training exercises allow Airmen to take risks in a practice environment. Mobility Guardian and similar events have given Airmen the space to experiment and to be able to train using new Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs).

One increasingly popular TTP is Agile Combat Employment (ACE). In recent years, the Air Force has been incorporating this concept, which focuses on rapid movement. With highly capable adversaries in mind, setting up quickly in austere, fragmented environments can be advantageous. ACE encompasses numerous TTPs and has been a driver of many Airmen’s efforts.

“What’s exciting to me is the enthusiasm I see from our Airmen,” Bibb said.

“We see our Airmen focused on innovation and experimentation. We see Airmen willing to take risks like never before. We see our Airmen and our planners focusing on mobility and our desired learning objectives more so than we’ve ever done.”

Bibb said ACE had forced them to “think outside the box.” For example, the 18th Air Force has developed new methods for expanding fueling operations. These methods include wet wing refueling and hot pit refueling processes in which ground crew Airmen refuel an aircraft while one or more engines are still running. Although these procedures have been done for years, ACE has enabled a stronger focus on testing survivability in different environments and streamlined improvement.

Another TTP similar to ACE is Multicapable Airmen (MCA). MCA equips Airmen to be proficient in the multiple skills necessary to support air operations and provides the training needed for diverse positions and expanding roles. Bibb says it is exciting to see this program implemented in Mobility Forces.

A third TTP, Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), provides the Services the opportunity to join forces to implement and test joint operation concepts. JADC2 involves network-friendly forces, accelerated operations, and overwhelming adversaries with simultaneous challenges from every domain. It has been tested in aircraft such as C-17s and KC-10s to ensure all Airmen are digitally adept.

The 18th Air Force recognizes that technology is a key component for growth. Bibb quickly recalled several examples of technological achievements. For example, Airmen coded an app that enabled them to communicate with each other in remote environments. This app aids Airmen in receiving critical orders that can be essential to a mission. Project Mercury, which helped optimize scheduling, is another technological success story of the 18th Air Force, which has its software factory at its headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, IL.

There have been many examples of innovation and improvement in the past year, and Bibb recognizes that everything starts with the talented Airmen. “I couldn’t be prouder of our Airmen,” Bibb said. “When I’m out with our 36,000 Airmen, I think, ‘Hey, I wish you could see yourself through my eyes.’ It is amazing to see what our team does on a day-to-day basis.”