A U.S. Air Force mobility fleet Commander said that even with the Russia-Ukraine war going on, his military forces are focused on China.
Breaking Defense reported, the Air Mobility Command is dealing with two major tasks this year: evacuating 124,000 civilians from Afghanistan and deploying U.S. troops and weapons to Eastern Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Yet, Air Mobility Command Head, General Mike Minihan said that his eyes remain on China.
The work that his mobility forces are conducting now in Eastern Europe is to prevent Russian escalation that would cause a war with NATO allies.
The Commander said, “We have to demonstrate a resolve as a country and as an alliance that prevents the worst-case scenario from happening, or nobody’s going to care how much [readiness] I preserved for the future.”
“Besides, [if] we handle this,” Minihan said, pointing to Russia on a world map, “we are deterring them,” he said, pointing to China.
Minihan assumed his current position last October. Before that, he served in a lot of roles in the Asia-Pacific for 8 years. His latest role is the deputy commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command from 2019 to 2021.
He said that, in case tensions with China explode into a full-blown war, his Air Mobility Command will face a few difficulties.
Firstly, the U.S. Air Force will have to find a way to transport its aerial refueling tankers and aircraft from the U.S. west coast to the Indo-Pacific, with communications, space and cyber capabilities all becoming more degraded the closer those platforms get to China.
Secondly, mobility planes are big, slow and have fewer defensive systems than fighters and bombers, making them vulnerable to the combat aircraft and surface-to-air missiles that will become more plentiful as U.S. mobility forces move towards China.
In some respects, there are more World War II-type problems, such as the need to travel long distances and communication lines will likely be under attack from electronic warfare and the new threat of cyber attacks. In addition, the degraded command and control will make it more difficult for the commander to transmit signals to operators.
The Air Force general continued, “That’s something that we haven’t had to do in a long time. That’s what our grandparents did. If [China] can act in a manner that quickly gains a foothold on Taiwan, then it’s all in jeopardy.”
However, Minihan noted that China is not an invincible enemy despite all of these potential dilemmas.
He said, “We’ve got to quit kind of looking at [China] as a 10-foot-tall problem set. We will be doing everything to them that they’re doing to us.”
He laid down four areas of focus:
Command and control: How can the Air Force make sure its mobility forces are connected to each other and to the joint force at large? And how can mobility forces conduct missions if communication lines are obstructed or otherwise down?
Navigation: How can crews run missions when China disrupts GPS or other critical position, navigation and timing systems?
Enroute: If major air bases are under attack, how can air mobility forces operate from economical locations?
Tempo: How can air mobility forces maintain operations and move at the speeds needed to be relevant, even as they suffer attrition or changes occur on the ground?
The Commander said that once Air Mobility Command identifies the greatest risk, it can either develop new tactics or procedures to relieve it, buy something off the shelf to fill the gap or establish a requirement for a future program.