Gen Maryanne Miller Discusses a Changing World: How Mobility Airmen Must Adapt

As I traveled the globe visiting Mobility Airmen in their ‘foxholes’ over the past year, I emphasized how the changing global security environment signifies challenges across every operating domain. The way we have conducted operations for the past 18 years is no longer sufficient to meet the challenges of the contested domains of the future. To be successful in this new environment, every individual Airman must shift their mindset and commit to developing new skillsets to recognize, understand, and overcome these operational challenges.

Although large-scale changes take time, some challenges can be confronted immediately. First, each of us must take stock of how we think about our daily jobs and reorient our mindset. Sun Tzu counsels us, “If you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

We have become accustomed to conducting our business without contest. The threat rings have historically shown us the airspace to avoid, but these rings have expanded. They still exist on the two-dimensional chart, but they have become unbounded as the cyber and space domains draw additional threat rings around the entire globe in every dimension. We can no longer afford the luxury of projecting airpower from outside these domains. We need to operate within them.

Our current thoughts about basing must also change. Air Force strategy documents emphasize that bases are no longer sanctuaries from which to project power, but positions from which to engage the fight. Our future operational presence must evolve beyond historic basing models in order to achieve the operational agility needed for this environment.1 No base is exempt. Even the homeland is not beyond the reach of space and cyber effects.

Every wing, group, and squadron, down to the individual Airman, must exercise their Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) loop. Following Sun Tzu’s advice, we must ready our minds to run toward the sound of guns. We must be ready to fight our way in, complete our mission, and then fight our way back out of the battle.

Second, we will need to acquire new skills to win. This necessity is true institutionally and individually. The 2018 National Defense Strategy identifies strategic mobility as a core component of a Global Operating Model. For Air Mobility Command (AMC), global operations are not new; they are business as normal. What is new is the manner by which we will dynamically employ our assets to increase operational agility across the entire joint force. This pivot will drive a parallel need for dynamic command and control (C2).

Competition in cyber and space means we must be prepared to continue the fight even if C2 is challenged. The development of mission-type orders is a new skillset we must acquire as an institution. This challenge represents a mentality shift for both commanders and Airmen, because we have grown familiar with a highly centralized C2 model. This past spring, I asked wing commanders from across the Mobility Air Force—active, reserve, and guard—to examine what mission command looks like for our core missions sets. The way forward is under development, but it is clear that maintaining operational agility necessitates new C2 skillsets.

As I alluded to previously, the threat rings have grown. Although most of the contested environment for mobility looks like degradations in cyber and space, it will also look like conducting the mission very close to kinetic threat ranges. Combining the skills needed to mitigate physical, cyber, and space effects is a daunting task. This summer we released new training guidance as part of the Ready Aircrew Program (RAP), which defines training standards for crewmembers across the airlift, tanker, and aeromedical evacuation mission areas.

Crafted through the lens of Full Spectrum Readiness, these requirements are the direct result of lessons learned during Exercise MOBILITY GUARDIAN 2017. In a few short weeks, MOBILITY GUARDIAN ‘19 will test our progress and make us even better. Contested Domain Operations (CDO) are baked into each scenario and touch each mission area. This exercise is our command’s premier opportunity to cultivate new skillsets and build muscle around areas where we may be weak, both as an institution and as individuals.

The command is working hard. Across each wing and staff directorate, we have begun to shift our focus in the direction needed for our future. We will continue to leverage the stalwart tools of the command—PHOENIX Rally, MAF WEPTAC, PHOENIX Spark, MOBILITY GUARDIAN—to adapt at the institutional level. It must go beyond this commitment, however. We need saturation at the individual level.

The challenges our adversaries pose are significant and we will aggressively continue to overcome them. I am confident we will not lack adequate preparation. As long as we each reorient our thinking to align with the challenges we face, and pursue the skills we need, we will assure future preparedness. It is up to each of us. It is up to all of us.

Let’s get after it!

1See Air Force Future Operating Concept 2015 and Air Force Strategic Master Plan for more on these concepts.