By MS. KATHY ALWARD, STAFF WRITER
Air Mobility Command (AMC) recently conducted a large, full-spectrum readiness exercise: Mobility Guardian 2023 (MG23), in the Indo-Pacific region with seven participating countries: Australia, France, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the United States. MG23 had two main themes this year, according to Lt Col Jacob Parker, MG23 exercise director.
Readiness was one of the main themes of MG23, according to Parker, who said that this exercise demonstrated not only the readiness of Air Mobility Command and Mobility Air Forces that were participating in the exercise but also the readiness of coalition partners that were taking part in the exercise.
Interoperability with coalition forces was the other theme, according to Parker. “And the way we did that is we broke [it] up into different phases for the exercise. So, Phase 1 was the ability to rapidly get into theater. Phase 2 was setting up the operations and executing the operations out of centralized locations. And then Phase 3 was the ability to move out to dispersed locations and execute operations out of those dispersed locations,” Parker stated.
Parker said there were also unexpected themes, emphasizing that these exercises focused on the interoperability with coalition forces that were co-located to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. “So initially, whenever we were going through the planning, we had different locations set up for our coalition forces. And at the mid-planning conference, about six months prior to execution, we decided to bring all of the coalition together at Andersen Air Force Base, which really increased the interoperability across the coalition forces because we were all there doing the same mission, working together to focus efforts to ensure that we’re achieving the objectives of that interoperability for Mobility Guardian,” said Parker.
Parker stated it proved useful, as he gave the example of the typhoon that hit Andersen Air Force Base about three weeks prior to going into the Mobility Guardian 2023 execution. The typhoon drastically affected the number of combat air forces, limiting their ability to truly test Agile Combat Employment (ACE) at the scale they were hoping to achieve, according to Parker. There were still forces that they were able to test and validate for some of the ACE concepts that they had discussed during the past couple of years. “And we took away a lot of very good lessons learned for how we support and enable those ACE concepts for not only the fighters but also for the joint force,” Parker said.
According to Parker, this year’s exercise enhanced AMC’s capabilities and readiness by supporting recent initiatives such as the Air Force Force Generation Model (AFFORGEN). They were able to validate the concept of expeditionary air bases (XAB) and take away lessons learned that they can carry forward into the future, according to Parker. “AFFORGEN is a new concept that Headquarters Air Force came up with as far as presenting Force packages to be able to deploy anywhere around the world. And so, Mobility Guardian provided us the opportunity to … present forces in that manner, so we rapidly deployed the mission generation force elements across all of our different mission sets within the Mobility Air Forces. But it also presented us the opportunity to stand up the expeditionary air base concept—it’s also known as XAB—that is a part of this AFFORGEN model. And so, for the first time ever, we were able to push out this XAB concept into not only Andersen Air Force Base, which is where all of the coalition forces were at, but we also pushed an XAB down to Darwin,” Parker explained.
There were many unique challenges presented to mobility operations in the Indo-Pacific theater, Parker stated. “If we look at the INDOPACOM [Indo-Pacific Command] theater in its entirety, and you look at the map of the INDOPACOM theater, you’ll see that 90 percent of it is water. And even then you start looking at locations that we can use in the INDOPACOM theater, and they’re separated by nearly 3,000 miles,” said Parker, who emphasized the importance of understanding the challenges that exist with limited basing options and the tyranny of distance that comes with this theater.
The mobility air forces encounter those same problem sets, Parker emphasized, so the airlift capabilities and the ability to rapidly maneuver the joint force around the theater is extremely important. According to Parker, no one else in the world can do that at the same speed and scale. The sheer air fueling capabilities provided by the mobility air forces quickly overcome the tyranny of distance and the lack of basing problem sets that the Indo-Pacific presents, stated Parker.
Safety is paramount in everything the flying community does, Parker emphasized. “What we were doing in Mobility Guardian is we assess the risk ahead of time, and we put proper mechanisms in place to ensure that we are buying down the risk ahead of time through different training criteria, or outfitting our crew force to ensure that they have the capabilities that they need to execute the mission prior to getting into the exercise scenario. And so, I think when we look at operating safely, it’s kind of a different way of ensuring that you’re buying down risk, is by assessing that risk ahead of time in a peacetime environment to ensure that you are able to execute in whatever the future may present,” said Parker.
According to the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing (AMOW), “Mobility Guardian 2023 was a huge success for the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing and was a showcase for their forward-looking ‘NextGen AMOW’ contingency response options. Expanding upon the successes and lessons learned from the internal Nodal Lightning series of exercises, MG23 put the unit’s rapid global mobility to the test. An Air Mobility Team [AMT] comprised of Airmen from across the wing was dispatched more than 8,000 miles to provide command and control, aerial port, and aircraft maintenance capabilities to U.S. and mission partner forces in a completely separate theater of operations. The exercise sharpened 521 AMOW Airmen, helped codify AMT procedures, and provided AMC with additional information on the employment capabilities of AMTs to be utilized for future contingencies.”