Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of Air Mobility Command, at the Air and Space Forces Association's Air, Space & Cyber conference, Sept. 13, 2023.

Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of Air Mobility Command, at the Air and Space Forces Association's Air, Space & Cyber conference, Sept. 13, 2023. U.S. Air Force / Rachel Sansano

Air Force general defends incendiary memo but says ‘war is not inevitable’

Minihan says a mindset of urgency helped produce three “game-changing” concepts in a recent exercise.

A contentious memo penned by Gen. Mike Minihan was intended to create a sense of urgency for his troops, the Air Mobility Command leader said, adding that this mindset delivered “success” in the organization’s recent exercise.

Minihan’s memo, which circulated earlier this year, predicted war with China by 2025 and instructed AMC commanders to report all major efforts to prepare for “the China fight.” After the memo drew criticism, Pentagon officials distanced themselves from its remarks.  

Asked last week whether he still thinks the U.S. will fight in the Pacific within two years, Minihan said, “My assessment is that war is not inevitable, but the readiness I’m driving with that timeline is absolutely essential to deterrence and absolutely essential to the decisive victory.”

“There needs to be tension on readiness, more than just ‘be ready tonight.’ You need to have readiness that drives urgency. The urgency and the action are paramount,” Minihan told Defense One last week on the sidelines of the Air & Space Forces Association’s annual Air, Space & Cyber conference. 

Minihan also emphasized that the memo, which said, “My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” began with “I hope I am wrong.”

The memo, which was dated February 1 but started circling on social media several days earlier, instructed AMC airmen to “fire a clip into a 7-meter target with the full understanding that unrepentant lethality matters most. Aim for the head.” 

Since that memo, Minihan said, he has sent “seven or eight more” to his airmen. 

“All of the actions I described in that memo, those are actually the actions that got us Mobility Guardian and the success and will be the actions that get us through the next year on securing the irreversible momentum too,” he said.  

The memo also directed his command’s KC-135 units to send him, by March, a “conceptual means” to deliver a hundred “off-the-shelf size and type” drones from a single aircraft.

Minihan said the Air Force is “still driving towards” that concept and that he hopes to see this idea realized during his remaining time at AMC.

These “little drones” could have many roles, including surveying a runway before a plane lands, flying a life vest or radio to a downed pilot, or searching for an enemy force. The drones could also “simply fly down and go to sleep and be there available for when you want to wake it up,” the general told reporters at the AFA conference. 

This effort isn’t expensive, and the technology is already there, Minihan said. It’s more about getting operational practice with these systems, he added.

The general also outlined three “mobility game changers” following Mobility Guardian 2023, a massive two-week exercise that ended in July where the Air Force practiced tactics for operating across vast distances during a conflict.

The first concept is “max endurance operations,” essentially staying on a mission for longer, and AMC demonstrated this throughout the exercise, Minihan said. 

“We're normally limited to about a 24-hour crew day, but we were in the lower 30s to lower 40s in crew days that we experimented with and we did all the proper risk mitigation,” he said.

Another is “palletized effects,” or a program called Rapid Dragon, which delivers long-range munitions from typically unarmed aircraft. The Air Force fired a Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range, JASSM-ER, from a C-17 cargo plane during the exercise. 

The concept isn't just for munitions, Minihan said: AMC “could deploy a decoy, we could put out a jamming sensor, we could put out a sensor that could find a radio and provide search and rescue.”

The third important concept, Minihan said, is “distributed battle management” or “mobility battle management”: AMC’s effort to modernize its communications systems and provide situational awareness to the force.

This would enable AMC to “not just pass gas but pass situational awareness. If you put the right person on board, you can affect more than that plane, more than that formation, more than that mission you have an ability to really just exponential effects across the entire battlespace if we get that right,” he said.