Nodal Lightning enhances rapid global mobility

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Hunter Ware, 5th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-17 Globemaster III aircraft integrated flight control systems technician, scans the area for simulated unexploded ordnances during Exercise Nodal Lightning 20-2 at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, Oct. 19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kenneth Boyton)

The 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing conducted its second iteration of exercise Nodal Lightning at Ramstein Air Base and several geographically separated units from Oct. 19-24.

Exercises such as Nodal Lightning enable the 521st AMOW to test future operating concepts and clearly define assets and manpower that can be transported quickly and efficiently for contingency missions, which helps to strengthen their priorities of full spectrum readiness and mobility operations in a contested environment.

“Nodal Lightning is the AMOW’s full spectrum readiness exercise that tests the entirety of the eastern route, across 15 countries and two areas of responsibility, in an integrated peer threat scenario,” said Col. Adrienne Williams, 521st AMOW commander. “The exercise tested our ability to perform our core operations under contested and limited conditions. It also tested the ability to execute the en route mission set at any permissive operating location, all while sustaining rapid global mobility at our current nodal locations.”

The exercise’s number one priority was to strengthen a multi-capable Airmen concept called “lift-and-shift” throughout the 521st AMOW. A lift-and-shift is a quick relocation for airlift in the event primary runways are unusable.

“Our multi-capable Airmen are the platform that enables agile employment capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Kelley, 521st AMOW inspector general. “During this exercise, we wanted to test the en route functions in a small footprint package, while maneuvering within existing infrastructure where established en route capabilities were not already in place.”

During a lift-and-shift mission, the 521st AMOW can use a small specialized team of approximately 25 Airmen who can perform multiple tasks needed to move assets quickly.

Airmen with the 724th Air Mobility Squadron tend to a simulated injury during an exercise at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Oct. 21. Nodal Lightning was a week-long readiness exercise for air mobility units around U.S. Air Forces in Europe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas S. Keisler IV)

“We are training, testing and shaping how 521st AMOW Airmen can fill each other’s roles, so we can send a package of Airmen to different runways and have a team set to support incoming aircraft,” Kelley said. “It allows us the platform to further hone and refine how we support rapid global mobility.”

Exercise Nodal Lightning’s goal was to demonstrate that the 521st AMOW, and its tenant units located in U.S. European Command and U.S. Central Command, have the ability to operate in a contested, degraded or operationally limited environment during contingency operations.

The exercise, and the multi-capable Airmen concept, support and test other evolving operational concepts within the U.S. Air Force, including Agile Combat Employment. The ACE concept is intended to ensure U.S. Air Forces in Europe are ready for potential contingencies by enabling forces to operate from locations with varying levels of capacity and support. It is a major focus area for U.S. Air Force senior leaders in the European and the Pacific areas of responsibility as threats and operational environments rapidly evolve. The 521st AMOW is on the leading edge of testing the concept within Air Mobility Command.

“Nodal Lightning is part of a greater proof of concept,” Williams said. “We are refining how we support rapid global mobility and accelerating change to ensure global reach.”