Mosaic Tiger 24-1 demonstrates mission command concepts

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Rachel Coates
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs

The Air Force continues to strengthen its agile-combat-employment capabilities every day to defend the nation and its allies in any future fights.

Airmen of today’s Air Force must have the skills to rapidly deploy to a contingency location, work with a host-nation to set up an air base, use or upgrade the existing infrastructure, generate airpower to destroy targets, and then pick up and rapidly deploy to a new location.

This creates a small, yet lethal, footprint anywhere in the world.

This doesn’t happen through sheer willpower alone, so the Air Force has placed the onus on commanders to ensure their Airmen are ready for the challenge. That includes creating a force that can learn and merge different career skillsets into the Multi-Capable Airman of the future.

It also includes explaining and adopting the concept of mission command at every level of war.

“It’s the ability for leaders to provide command and control of all their elements in (the playing field) particularly when you’re looking at centralized command and decentralized execution,” said Capt. Michael Rehme, 23rd Wing A-Staff director of plans and requirements. “They’re giving their intent and priorities to their lower leadership to go and execute the mission. That means empowering their lower leaders in absence of communication to follow guidance, make decisions and check off boxes along the way.”

This concept was tested during the readiness exercise Mosaic Tiger 24-1 from Nov. 13-17, 2023. Airmen from Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, deployed to Avon Park Air Force Range, Florida, to set up a forward operating site, putting mission command into practice by distributing control to commanders in the field.

There were planned interruptions in communication and exercise injects designed to rattle all the players. However, in total between the main operating base at Moody and the contingency location, Airmen successfully practiced their chemical defense, generated 60 sorties and conducted multiple integrated combat turns, rapid munitions reloads on A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft.

This gave the 23rd Wing a glimpse into the future of what mission command looks like in austere locations.

“The air tasking orders were driving what we needed to do,” said Maj. Christopher Valencia, 23rd Civil Engineer Squadron operations flight commander. “From the main operating base to the forward operating site here at Avon, we’re getting the taskings on what we need to do but not necessarily how we need to complete them.

“Things are not always going to be comfortable,” Valencia continued about the uncertainty of what each day’s issues would bring. “During day one of the exercise, we had some set-backs - some things were delayed, generators weren’t starting, but we just stepped back and asked ourselves what we needed to do. Sometimes you just need to roll with the punches and have a backup to a backup.”

While contingency plans are important to create and maintain during any tasking, applying that next level of forward thinking is critical to the high-level employment of air assets.

“In absence of a follow-on air tasking order, it’s on the (decentralized) leaders to make decisions based on what the commander’s intent is at each respective level,” Rehme said about the possibility of not receiving a targeting list after the initial one. “When new variables pop up, even as the flight is executing, they make a real-time decision – they asses their operational risk management and ask themselves what risk they’re taking by engaging a potentially new target based on what the previous priorities are and making the real-time decisions to execute based on intent.”

While mission command doesn’t grant subordinates authority to execute missions or make decisions outside of their commander’s legal authorities, it provides a level of trust in Airmen who know their left and right boundaries to execute the mission without having to ask for permission at each step.

The problem-solving Airmen of the 74th Fighter Generation Squadron during Mosaic Tiger were a clear example of those Airmen of the future.

“I need my Airmen to be empowered, to be creative and to make bold decisions,” said Col. Bobby Buckner, 23rd Maintenance Group commander, about how Airmen should approach maintenance during a real-world conflict. “My senior (non-commissioned officers) know that, and know the decisions that will possibly damage or crash an aircraft or the right risks to accept to be able to fly the aircraft for an extended amount of time.”

Buckner’s Airmen are the ones who work long hours each day to ensure Moody’s fleet of A-10s, HH-60W Jolly Green IIs, and HC-130J Combat King IIs are ready to fly. They painstakingly follow technical orders and, over time, learn all the ins and outs of taking care of an aircraft. Big or small, each decision a maintenance Airman makes is vital to ensuring that aircraft can complete its sorties.

And while manning and experience play a factor in how well Airmen may perform while in a contested environment, Bucker reiterated that his intent remains the same: train and retain critical thinkers who have the right authority and responsibility of performing key tasks in a remote environment with little required oversight.

“The good news is that I have very talented maintainers and we have a lot of good tech data and guidance on how to perform aircraft maintenance,” Buckner said. “When we get into that mission command mindset, I need you to be empowered, be creative and make those bold decisions to keep those aircraft flying.”

So, the Air Force continues to use exercises like Mosaic Tiger 24-1 to deliberately develop a future force that is lethal, sustainable, resilient, survivable, agile and responsive. That version of the military is one full of Airmen who know their commander’s intent and who feel confident in their ability and trust to make decisions in the absence of guidance.

It’s comprehensive action to enact a culture shift to the leadership philosophy of mission command.