FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Air Mobility Command’s premier, large scale exercise designed to validate readiness would not be nearly as robust without participation of partners from the international community.
More importantly, providing Rapid Global Mobility would not be possible without the support of the U.S.’s international partners.
At Mobility Guardian from Sept. 8-28, U.S. forces integrated with more than 1,500 personnel from 26 international Allies and partners at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, to train on mobility operations. This robust team flew 388 missions, transported 987 passengers, cared for more than 1,600 patients, delivered 3,921 short tons of cargo and offloaded 644,000 pounds of fuel. Furthermore, the team airdropped 472 paratroopers, 306 container delivery systems and 37 heavy equipment platforms.
NATO Allies plus seven additional European Partners for Peace were represented through participation of the Strategic Airlift Capability – Heavy Airlift Wing’s C-17, aircrew and support personnel.
“Mobility Airmen train like we fight; as a Joint force alongside our Coalition partners,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Monaco, Mobility Guardian exercise director. “Our goals for Mobility Guardian included building partnership capacity with our Allies and partners, and ensuring the interoperability of our weapons systems and tactics, techniques and procedures through the Five Eyes Air Force Interoperability Council.”
To test and evaluate interoperability, representatives from AFIC, a Pentagon-based organization comprised of Airmen from the U.S., Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and New Zealand, participated in Mobility Guardian planning and execution.
Air advisors from the 621st Contingency Response Wing served as the Mobility Guardian International Coordination Cell, which helped facilitate integration of international partners in exercise design, planning and execution.
“Our Allies and partners participated in every core competency of air mobility in Mobility Guardian including airland, airdrop, air refueling and aeromedical evacuation,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Magill, International Coordination Cell director. “Overall, our partners flew more than 90 missions, and we were able to ramp up international sorties during the final phase of the exercise to maximize training for our partners who have traveled across the world to train with us.”
Of those 90 missions, most involved some form of international integration, including mixed aircrews, international aircraft formations or mixed aeromedical evacuation crews.
Exercise integration leads to partner interoperability
Working together alongside the 82nd Airborne Division throughout the exercise, 25 participants from 6 partner nations rigged 305 container delivery system bundles and 35 heavy equipment platforms under common standards.
One example of internationally-integrated training was Mobility Guardian’s joint forcible entry scenario involving the U.S., four partners and the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.
Airmen from the U.S., Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and New Zealand integrated to airdrop more than 470 paratroopers into an austere airfield held by a simulated enemy.
Shortly thereafter, a U.S., Australian and Canadian contingency response element took control of the airfield and rapidly assessed the airfield’s suitability for landing mobility aircraft like the C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules.
Within 12 hours of seizing the airfield, the international team paved the way for more than 25 international C-17 and C-130 missions landing at the airfield within 24 hours to open and sustain the air base for the remainder of the exercise.
Such interoperability, where U.S. and partner forces integrate and use each other’s tactics, techniques and procedures, was one of the primary focus areas for Mobility Guardian.
“As partners, we want to be an integrated force operating together seamlessly in order to maximize efficiencies and capacities for effects in combat,” said Wing Commander Brady Cummins, Royal Australian Air Force and AFIC representative at Mobility Guardian. “The ultimate in interoperability is integration, when we use the same procedures and best practices, and Mobility Guardian is vital to identifying and implementing those.”
Mobility Guardian 2019 built upon achievements and lessons realized at the first iteration of the biannual exercise in 2017.
“Our focus at Mobility Guardian 2019 is sustaining our air mobility interoperability gains realized in 2017,” said Cummins, who chairs two of the eight AFIC interoperability working groups; Air Mobility and Agile Combat Support. “For example, 2017 saw advances in interoperability of aerial delivery of container delivery systems on the Five Eyes nations’ C-17s, C-130s and A400 aircraft, testing of aeromedical evacuation equipment, tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as improved loading and unloading of cargo aircraft.”
AFIC Mobility Guardian representatives confirmed interoperability of multiple procedures or systems including partner nations’ aeromedical evacuation procedures, standards for rigging and inspection of airborne container delivery systems and helped develop a new AFIC air standard for rigging and inspection of heavy equipment airdrop loads.
Additionally, the Royal Canadian Air Force tested operability of an airfield ground lighting system at austere training locations, made possible by a temporary loan from the Royal Australian Air Force.
“These partnerships are vital to achieving Rapid Global Mobility and this exercise focuses on honing the skills and interoperability needed to defend the homeland and face near-peer threats,” said Lt. Gen. Jon Thomas, deputy commander of Air Mobility Command. “The training Mobility Guardian offers prepares our coalition Airmen for operating in contested, degraded and operationally-limited environments testing our common procedures to accelerate the speed of operations.”
Real-world interoperability already occurring
While Mobility Guardian helps validate interoperability and test new concepts, it’s already playing out in real-world operations between the U.S. and Australia.
In May 2019, the U.S. and Australian Air Forces implemented a maintenance cross-servicing agreement for C-17 Globemasters that allows Airmen from either country to conduct and certify maintenance on both the nations’ C-17s.
The arrangement increases the C-17’s strategic readiness, vital to executing the global mobility mission and absolutely critical in the vast Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Strategic airlift assets like the C-17 are vital to ensuring the U.S. can operate rapidly in and overcome the challenges associated with operating in a region known for its “tyranny of distance.”
“Our C-17A workforce regularly shares a tarmac with American C-17As, whether we are on exercise together at home, or deployed across the globe,” Air Vice-Marshal Steve Roberton, Air Commander Australia, said in a June 2019 AMC news article. “Whilst a USAF C-17A is no different from a RAAF C-17A, our air forces have different maintenance workforce structures, which is what makes an arrangement like this essential. By making it easier to help one another, this arrangement provides flexibility and mission assuredness for USAF and RAAF C-17A missions.”
The C-17 maintenance agreement between the U.S. and Australia is projected to be the first of its kind between the nations, and could serve as a template for agreements between the U.S. and other countries.