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Mobility Guardian enhances US partnerships, interoperability with international allies

  • Published
  • By Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
  • Air Mobility Command Public Affairs

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 United States' international partners.

Exercise Mobility Guardian integrated U.S. forces with more than 1,500 personnel from 26 international allied countries and partners to train on mobility operations at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, Sept. 8-28. This robust team flew 388 missions, transported 987 passengers, delivered 46,074 pounds of cargo and offloaded 644,000 pounds of fuel.

Seven additional NATO allies were represented through participation of the NATO Strategic Airlift Capability – Heavy Airlift Wing’s C-17 Globemaster III participation.

“Mobility Airmen train like we fight; as a joint force alongside our coalition partners,” Lt. Col. Joseph Monaco, Mobility Guardian exercise director said. “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 mobility liaison officers 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,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Magill, International Coordination Cell director said. “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 air crews, international aircraft formations or mixed aeromedical evacuation crews.

Exercise integration leads to partner interoperability
One example of internationally-integrated training was Mobility Guardian’s joint forcible entry scenario involving the U.S., four international partners and the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

Working together alongside the 82nd Airborne Division throughout the exercise, 25 participants from six partner nations rigged 305 container delivery system bundles and 35 heavy-equipment platforms under common standards.

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 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,” Brady Cummins, Wing Commander, Royal Australian Air Force and AFIC representative at Mobility Guardian said. “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 learned 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,” Cummins said, 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 (Atlas) aircraft, testing of aeromedical evacuation equipment, tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as improved loading and unloading of cargo aircraft.”

AFIC 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,” Lt. Gen. Jon Thomas, Air Mobility Command deputy commander said. “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
The interoperability developed during the exercise is 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 that allows Airmen from either country to conduct and certify maintenance on both nations’ C-17s.

The arrangement increases the C-17’s strategic readiness, which is 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 U.S. Air Force C-17A is no different from a Royal Australian Air Force 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 U.S. Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force 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.