MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
After more than a year of planning, the 23d Wing recently executed Mosaic Tiger 21-1 – their first agile combat employment exercise.
During the weeklong exercise, Moody functioned as the lead wing for approximately 800 Airmen from across seven wings in four major commands to create a baseline for lead wing operations in preparation for future ACE exercises, to shift change in the wing’s deployment culture, and to message lessons learned to other lead wings and higher headquarters.
“The whole point of Mosaic Tiger was to see how well the 23d Wing could accomplish agile combat employment, or ACE,” said Lt. Col. Edward Balzer, 23d Wing Plans and Programs chief. “ACE is one way we’re getting after the [Air Force chief of staff’s] direction to ‘accelerate change or lose’ and it involves using multi-capable Airmen and staging operations out of multiple austere locations instead of large permanent bases – as we were able to do for many years in, for example, Afghanistan."
“[Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.] has been very clear about the threats we face … and the fact that we need to have a sense of urgency about preparing for that fight,” added Balzer. “[Air Combat Command] and 15th Air Force have the same vision, and Mosaic Tiger was meant to help us ‘accelerate change.’ We don’t have time to wait to be told exactly what to do; we need to rely on the ability of our Airmen to identify the challenges – and develop the solutions – in the changing fight.”
For this exercise, Moody leadership teams provided the command and control function by implementing an A-Staff responsible for making operational decisions directly impacting the generation of sorties and movement of logistics and personnel.
“It really was, in that sense, an experiment,” said Balzer. “We needed to see where our strengths and weaknesses are. Mosaic Tiger was fundamentally different from other exercises we’re used to in several ways, but most significantly, because agile combat employment is an emerging capability, the exercise wasn’t ‘pass or fail.’ The wing is helping to develop what ACE should and can look like, or ‘building the plane as we’re flying it.’ We asked a lot of every group and they crushed it. Because of the amount of unknowns, everyone had to be creative and find a way to get the mission done.”
Mosaic Tiger 21-1 was Moody’s first attempt at executing agile combat employment at the wing level, implementing ACC's Lead Wing draft concept of operations while also leveraging lessons learned from the 23d Wing’s MCA course and feedback from the Mission Generation Squadron and A-Staff working groups.
The generation of the organic MCA program is another example of how this exercise was a culmination of a year’s worth of research, working groups and training. Multi-capable Airmen teams from a variety of Team Moody units deployed to forward operating bases and contingency locations throughout Florida to ensure a lighter, leaner footprint and execute integrated combat turns to refuel and rearm aircraft in a contested environment.
“The MCA, or multi-capable Airmen, are an absolutely critical piece of the ‘agile’ in agile combat employment,” said Balzer. “In order to be agile, we need to keep the footprint, or number of personnel, at any location to an absolute minimum. That means we won’t be able to have as many of any given [Air Force specialty code] as we’d like. The solution is to train Airmen to help perform other jobs along with their core skills. For example, a crew chief is trained to assist with perimeter security, and their security forces counterpart is trained to help refuel and reload an [aircraft].”
The MCA program was overseen by the wing integration and training office, an office created in July, 2020, for the purpose of informing key stakeholders on all levels surrounding the ACE, MCA and Lead Wing initiatives.
“I think the wing leadership heard Air Force leadership loud and clear and started to take risks where they could,” said Maj. Will Piepenbring, 23d Wing Integration and Training Office director and lead planner for MT21-1. “The internal change started with the creation of the wing integration and training office. We went from taking nine airmen from their tactical units to focus and coordinate these new initiatives across the wing to the planning and execution of Mosaic Tiger, tying all the pieces and parts of a lead wing together for an experimental exercise.
Piepenbring added, Gen. Brown recently said someone once told him, "if you don’t want to do something you just keep studying the issue." At Moody, we felt like we could do both. We’re experimenting and studying with the intent to inform down and in and up and out to those who are stakeholders in this potential transformation. We want to move fast, fail fast, and learn fast, and make this an iterative process as we continue to refine what capability we need to provide to combatant commanders.”
Both Balzer and Piepenbring agree that all participants performed extraordinarily well given the unknowns surrounding this first-of-its-kind exercise.
“My scale for that is attitude-based and everyone was aggressive where they could be and showed initiative,” said Piepenbring. “We lack the measures of performance and measures of effectiveness to truly grade our execution, but that’s OK for now because, through Mosaic Tiger and other experimental ACE/LW exercises, we’re helping inform the conversation. I would expect to have grading criteria to come in the near future."
“I think Sean Bond of Elbit Systems of America said it best: ‘anything can be a buzzword, the question is, what are we going to do about it and how do we create it into something that is a reality,’” added Piepenbring. “We’re looking to continue to build upon the program with lessons learned across the force as well as guidance received from higher as Moody spins up for Agile Flag in the spring of 2022.”