By Senior Airman Lawrence Sena, Air Mobility Command
/ Published May 24, 2021
Airmen assigned to the 437th Airlift Wing depart a C-17 Globemaster III at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Mich., May 16, 2021 during exercise Mobility Guardian 21. The annual training accelerates change for the Air Force and Air Mobility Command by developing the force and advancing warfighting capabilities to enhance our ability to project the Joint Force and ensure strategic deterrence. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Pick)
A KC-46 Pegasus taxis prior to takeoff during exercise Mobility Guardian 2021 at Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport, Oscoda, Mich., May 18, 2021. This marks the first integration of the KC-46 into Air Mobility Command’s premier mobility exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lawrence Sena)
A KC-46 Pegasus taxis prior to takeoff during exercise Mobility Guardian 2021 at Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport, Oscoda, Mich., May 18, 2021. Mobility Guardian is the Air Force’s largest and longest exercise ensuring readiness to move military personnel and equipment in combat operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lawrence Sena)
A KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-10 Extender taxi prior to takeoff during exercise Mobility Guardian 2021 at Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport, Oscoda, Mich., May 18, 2021. Mobility Guardian is the Air Force’s largest and longest exercise ensuring readiness to move military personnel and equipment in combat operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lawrence Sena)
Airmen and tankers from across Air Mobility Command participated in exercise Mobility Guardian 2021 to test cutting-edge tactics and concepts at Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport, May 15-27.
Aircrew and mission planners operating KC-135 Stratotankers, KC-10 Extenders and the KC-46 Pegasus came together for AMC’s premier readiness exercise to test specialized computers and communication systems that enable rapid data sharing as a means of ensuring strategic deterrence.
“What we're able to do here is innovate ourselves, think our way through problems as we're actually being presented with them,” said Lt. Col. Benjamin Davidson, 54th Air Refueling Squadron director of operations and 28th Mission Generation Squadron commander. “We've got young crews out here that think in new ways, think outside the box and come up with some things others might not have thought of.”
Training exercises like Mobility Guardian provide AMC’s tanker force the opportunity to sharpen their readiness, ensure strategic deterrence and enable nuclear capabilities for the nation in any environment with minimal resources.
“We're focused on training at a higher level than we would be able to achieve at home station, which allows us to better integrate with other platforms, from mission planning through to execution,” said Maj. Patrick McGrew, AMC KC-135 Stratotanker command evaluator pilot and KC-135 lead planner. “Which is important when you start looking at potential theaters of operation, where we need to be able to operate and integrate more than we have in the past.”
For the first time in almost 30 years, Air Force tankers returned to what was once Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, but this time with a focus on the Advanced Battle Management System using Tactical Data Link to accelerate data-driven decision-making. Additionally, this will be the first integration of the KC-46 into AMC’s flagship exercise.
“Since we are able to be airborne for long periods of time and we start to bring these systems online, the data link capability on our legacy tankers and the KC-46 is going to be a game changer,” said Maj. Thomas Gorry, 22nd Operations Group chief of training and KC-46 lead planner. “Not only can we be a force extender, a force multiplier, but we can also be that data bridge to help complete that common operating picture for mobility assets, Air Force assets and also to our joint services partners.”
Mobility Guardian is a challenging exercise that simulates combat against a highly capable adversary in degraded and operationally limited environments. Tanker aircrews and contingency response Airmen worked together to quickly establish a forward operating base capable of supporting the strategic deterrence mission anywhere, anytime.
“Traditionally, tankers are at a more built-up base with a lot of support,” Gorry said. “We don't often interact with the contingency response elements and teams, so working with them and seeing the equipment they provide that enables us to be more mobile and operate in more austere locations is extremely beneficial.”
It is imperative that tanker Airmen are prepared for current and future conflicts. They must remain flexible and capable of operating in contested environments. Tankers are integral to enabling a nuclear response capability, extending the reach of not only strategic bombers, but also airborne national command centers.
“We have the most robust tanker fleet of any nation in the entire world, and we have to utilize it in a way that will remain competitive in the high-end fight,” Davidson said. “We're not just fueling the fight with fuel. We're fueling it with data and can do it anywhere, anytime.”
Through training exercises like Mobility Guardian, AMC’s tanker aircrews can continue to sustain and ensure strategic deterrence at a moment’s notice.