USAFE-AFAFRICA commander emphasizes five focus areas during AFA Warfare Symposium

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  • By 1st Lt. Joseph Hark

U.S. Air Force Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa and NATO Allied Air Command, provided updates on USAFE-AFAFRICA’s priorities during multiple engagements at the Air and Space Forces Association Warfare Symposium, Feb. 12-14, 2024. 

During a media roundtable, Hecker spoke with reporters to emphasize the unwavering commitment USAFE-AFAFRICA shares with allies and partners.

“We're stronger than ever. We have 31 [NATO] nations, soon to be 32 we hope not in the too distant future,” said Hecker. “Everything that we do within NATO, as well as USAFE-AFAFRICA, is to deter our competitors [from engaging in acts of aggression].”

Gen. Hecker also articulated the command’s five operational focus areas, aimed at ensuring USAFE-AFAFRICA forces are able to achieve air superiority, on demand, alongside Allies and partners. The five focus areas include: countering an adversary’s anti-access area-denial capabilities, integrated air and missile defense, intelligence and information sharing, command and control, and agile combat employment.

“I came up with five priorities about six months after I took command, and those haven't changed,” said Hecker, who uses the same focus areas in his responsibilities as the NATO Allied Air Command commander. “I think all countries realize you can't go about this on your own. We're much better working with partners and allies. This doesn't matter if it's over in the European theater or in Africa.” 

The integration of missile defense systems amongst NATO members remains a top priority for the U.S. Air Force and USAFE-AFAFRICA. An integrated missile defense system enhances collective defense measures while reinforcing the NATO Alliance’s commitment to leveraging top-tier military capabilities for regional security and deterrence. 

“My second operational focus area is the need for a very sophisticated integrated air and missile defense system,” stated Hecker. “Integrated air and missile defense is something that we are always interested in.”

During the roundtable, Hecker also addressed questions on lessons he has seen from the war in Ukraine. In his response, he highlighted various innovative tactical methods employed by the Ukrainian Military such as the use of low-cost, acoustic detection systems and how the Ukrainian military has been innovative in developing and employing unmanned aerial systems.

In addition to the media roundtable, Hecker participated in a panel on the rising intensity of competition and conflict alongside U.S. Air Force Generals Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command, Mike Minihan, commander of Air Mobility Command and Kevin Schneider, commander of Pacific Air Forces.

In his panel comments, Hecker continued to emphasize the strategic importance of a robust NATO Alliance, ready to fight and win when called upon to do so.

“We need to move with a sense of urgency so we can deter threats,” said Hecker. “If that fails, we need to be ready to defeat aggression. That's my message not only to the NATO Air Chiefs, but any partner as well.”