Minihan: Mobility Guardian 23 Will Test Airmen in New Ways

AURORA, Colo.—The head of Air Mobility Command is eager to find out how his Airmen handle the combined challenges of long distances, open ocean, and integration with other services at a major exercise scheduled this summer over the Pacific Ocean.

“Operation Mobility Guardian … normally just happens over the [continental United States] and we moved that into the theater that matters,” Gen. Mike Minihan said March 7 at the AFA Warfare Symposium. “We are going to understand intimately what the tyranny of distance is and what the tyranny of water is.”

Mobility Guardian is the largest full-spectrum readiness exercise Air Mobility Command conducts. Past iterations of the exercise have seen a wide range of refueling and transport aircraft work with thousands of service members and international partners to practice airlift, air refueling, aeromedical evacuation, and other mobility exercises under “degraded and operationally-limited environments,” according to a press release about the 2019 edition.

Mobility Guardian 2023 will likely be even bigger. A five-day planning conference for the event that took place in February involved about 180 representatives from seven countries, the Air Force, the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the U.S. Department of State. The exercise, which will span an area of more than 3,000 miles, is part of a series of training programs scheduled to take place under U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s authority this summer.

“Mobility Guardian is the cohesive glue that enables Indo-Pacific Command’s Large Scale Global Exercise this summer,” Lt. Col. Jacob Parker, the director of Mobility Guardian 23, said in an Air Force press release. “We’re providing the meaningful maneuver for the combined Joint and Coalition forces exercising together in theater.”

For Minihan, the exercise is a chance to find out whether the changes he has pushed since he took the command in October 2021 have borne fruit. At the AFA Air Space & Cyber conference last September, the general laid out four gaps that his troops need to address to be ready to fight China—command and control, navigation, tempo, and “maneuver under fire,” Minihan’s term for the maintenance, logistics, fueling and other ground-based work that makes flying military aircraft possible.

These gaps need to be closed quickly, Minihan said, or Air Mobility Command might not be ready to move troops and supplies across the vast reaches of the Pacific fast enough to defeat China in a potential conflict.

“Can we operate at the tempo required to win? Can we operate at the tempo greater than our potential adversaries?” Minihan asked March 7. “These gaps require integration. … You cannot have integrated operations if you do not have integrated planning in advance.”

The general said his troops have been working with the other services to make that integration happen, which helps give him “an enormous amount of confidence” that they can deliver when called upon. But Mobility Guardian 2023 will show how well that integration works in reality.

“We are going to understand that, as the joint force maneuver, we have to service everybody,” Minihan said. “We are going to have a chance to do that in the theater: We are going to have a chance to work with all these entities and we’re going to test the planning integration to see if that really turns into operational integration in the theater.”

Minihan does not expect it to go perfectly.

“We’ll learn something,” he said. “Some things won’t go perfect and we’ll go back and we’ll work harder to get it and we’ll close gaps as quick as we can.”