ALPENA COMBAT READINESS TRAINING CENTER, Mich. -- Airmen were challenged to execute Mission Type Orders for the first time at a large force exercise during Exercise Mobility Guardian 2021, May 15 – 27, accelerating the mission despite degraded communication capabilities in contested environments.
MTOs demonstrate the Air Force principle of centralized control and decentralized execution, ultimately empowering Airmen at all levels of leadership to make mission-critical decisions in line with the commander’s strategic intent.
“A big part of developing our force is giving them experience in making decisions with limited and degraded communications,” said Maj. Christopher Ansel, C-130 lead planner for Mobility Guardian 2021. “Our Airmen’s ability to execute mission type orders with only their commander’s intent is an asymmetric advantage our adversaries simply cannot achieve because of their need to control their forces.”
In contrast to air tasking orders, which include details on how the mission must be accomplished, MTOs focus on the purpose of an operation--the why--rather than the details of how to accomplish it.
“We basically execute to the best of our ability what we think the commander’s priorities are,” said Capt. Carlen Vician, deputy lead intel planner for Mobility Guardian 2021. “We connect to whatever we can in the intelligence enterprise and we supply our own fighters and tankers--our own airlift--with that intel, and we execute the mission as best as possible.”
The lifespan of MTOs extends to meet operational needs, rather than adhering to the predictable 72-hour generation schedule of ATOs, which direct units to airfields at certain times and may include flight restrictions or other directive orders.
During the exercise scenario, the wing commander must manage his personnel and coordinate with other unit commanders to determine the number of assets available for the mission, including pilots, crews, munitions, fuel and cargo capacity.
Airmen are expected to fulfill various job positions to execute MTOs, essentially setting up a smaller version of an air operations center with a condensed chain of command.
“People will do jobs they don’t normally do and with limited training, but the mission has to be accomplished,” Vician said.
Developing Multi-Capable Airmen requires pushing Airmen out of their comfort zone, challenging them to focus on the big picture rather than specific orders on how to meet mission requirements.
“The biggest change is that [MTOs] will push decisions to lower levels. Aircraft commanders are making decisions that squadron commanders or wing commanders would make,” Vician said. “That will flow all the way down to where an Airman First Class will have to make decisions that a Staff Sergeant would make.”
Based on anticipated threats to AMC assets in future conflicts, Mobility Airmen must effectively operate in contested and operationally-limited environments, driving the need to practice in real-world scenarios during training exercises like Mobility Guardian.
“Mobility Guardian challenges Airmen with a difficult, realistic and detailed training,” said Capt. Alexander Hutcheson, lead air planner for Exercise Mobility Guardian 2021. “The goal is for participants to return to their units with realistic experience on the nature of future conflicts and with lessons learned on how we might best employ new tactics, techniques and procedures to counter any adversary.”
Executing MTO is an efficient way to continue making strategic decisions despite disruption from adversaries or natural causes, such as geographical location or a natural disaster.
An adversary attempting to sever contact between command and control and those who operate the aircraft is fruitless when Multi-Capable Airmen are empowered and equipped to “execute the mission with limited guidance,” said Capt. Alex Clawson, lead intel planner for Mobility Guardian 2021. “The whole point of this exercise is to find our breaking points and then work to fix those as best we can.”