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Air Mobility Command looks to expand beyond tanking and airlift missions

The new KC-46's communications capabilities far exceed those of the KC-135s, and Block 1 upgrades are set to connect the tanker to yet more networks. Eventually the tankers may double as battle management nodes. (Senior Airman Kimberly Barrera)

General Mike Minihan, commander of the US Air Force's Air Mobility Command (AMC), intends to rapidly move the unit beyond traditional airlift and air-to-air tanking missions, he told reporters on 14 February at an Air Force Association conference.

Gen Minihan told reporters that turning airlifters and tankers into communications nodes is his highest priority, with the goal of adding communications and command-and-control equipment on 25% of the AMC fleet by 2025, an initiative he calls “25 by 25”.

“What we discovered … is that when we have the connectivity, we are a game changer for the entire joint force,” Gen Minihan said, discussing AMC's performance in the recent ‘Bamboo Eagle' and ‘Mobility Guardian 2023' large-scale exercises. “It's not just about situational awareness for my crews … it has a high correlation to [an airlift crew's] survivability, but it also has an enormous correlation to the success of the joint force.”

“Every penny that I have that's discretionary is going to go towards ‘25 by 25,'” Gen Minihan continued. “Roll-on/roll off, line-of-sight, beyond-line-of-sight, secure communications both in the classified and the unclassified [realms] ... I'll take anything from a static satcom link, to a Starlink, to an HF [high frequency] radio, UHF [ultra-high frequency], VHF [very high frequency] – you name all the radios, I'll take all [of] that.”

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