Common interests, challenges discussed at African Air Chiefs Conference

U.S. Air Force graphic

U.S. Air Force graphic

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Shared interests and common challenges topped discussions between African Air Chiefs and their U.S. counterparts during the 2011 African Air Chiefs Conference, held April 26-28 in what was the largest meeting of such a group to date with 24 African nations in attendance.

Aimed at fostering communication and dialogue between regional and multilateral partner nations facing common challenges, topics of security, partnership programs, and improving air safety across Africa took center stage during the event, co-hosted by Air Forces Africa (17th Air Force) and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and the service's top enlisted leader, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy, spoke during the conference, both noting the importance of discussing issues that affect both U.S. and African air forces, and how cooperation between nations can benefit everyone.

"The future holds for us threats that have yet to be revealed, requirements and challenges that have yet to materialize, and capabilities that have yet to be developed," General Schwartz said. "For those who embrace the spirit of cooperation and advancement, it also holds opportunities that are to be explored and shared.

"As airmen, we share a storied heritage and boldness that resulted in humankind taking to the skies, and throwing the door wide open to possibilities, bounded only by sky itself."
The African air chiefs in attendance identified common challenges such as lack of resources and insufficient training in many of the highly technical fields related to air safety and security. AFAFRICA commander, Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, discussed ways of better leveraging existing resources through partnership with the U.S. Air Force as well as with each other.

"I think it's interesting to note that these themes, the themes we hear from you, are identical to the issues you would hear from the United States Air Force as well," said General Woodward. "Like every region of the world, Africa faces security challenges that are both unique to the continent ... and shared globally. We believe that our only chance at truly confronting these challenges successfully is in partnership with you."

One word that kept coming up during the conference was "trust." The venue provided an opportunity to build relationships and establish trust between counterparts, not only from neighboring countries but within and across regions.

One way the U.S. works with African nations is through state-partnership programs. The program links U.S. Guard or Reserve units to a partner African nation, and together the partner units will conduct a range of activities that may include bilateral familiarization, medical training exercises and leadership visits.

General Woodward said Air Forces Africa, the air component command for U.S. Africa Command, seeks to partner with African nations to reach three common objectives: 1) to contribute when asked, such as offering assistance for humanitarian missions; 2) to foster strategic relationships that strengthen stability and promote interoperability between militaries; and 3) to provide the ability to respond to a crisis of any kind.

"The bottom line is that these objectives help us focus on areas that provide the greatest opportunity to strengthen security force cooperation between our militaries," she said. "Like AFRICOM, we listen and learn from you and your perspectives. We recognize what works in one country may not work in another, and we tailor our engagements and operations according to your requirements."

More than 150 military and civilian aviation specialists attended, representing more than 20 African air forces, as well as military and civilian aviation agencies and organizations.