Upcoming symposium to address air domain, safety

“We must invest in the future of Africa,” says Major General Ronald Ladnier Jr., commander of U.S. Air Forces Africa, also known as the 17th Air Force.
The general spoke during a visit to Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama March 9, 2009 about the increasingly focused role the United States is taking to bolster Africa’s air capabilities.

The general’s comments came on the same day an African Union cargo plane on a peacekeeping mission crashed in Uganda’s Lake Victoria, killing 11 people on board.

Africa claims about 25 percent of air accidents in the world, while its flights account for only 4.5 percent of the world’s air traffic, the general said. This challenge to Africa’s air domain is indicative of much larger problems that plague the continent, from poverty and disease to continual infighting and even genocide.

The general’s numbered Air Force component is one of the newest pieces in what was formerly a jigsaw puzzle of U.S. military involvement across the 11 million square-mile continent. A relatively new U.S. military regional headquarters, U.S. Africa Command, or U.S. Africom, began in 2007 to consolidate all U.S. military efforts for Africa.

The 17th Air Force, located at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, is part of U.S. Africa Command, which is headquartered about 200 kilometers away at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany.

U.S. Africa Command is now the touch point for the entire Department of Defense. It is also working to coordinate with other U.S. government entities in order to help achieve a more secure environment for the continent’s estimated 900 million people. Before the unified command was formed in 2007, U.S. military involvement in the continent was divided among three different U.S. military headquarters, including U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command and U.S. Pacific Command.

But unlike traditional unified commands, this one is not focused on warfighting. Rather, U.S. Africa Command “intends to work with African nations and African organizations to build regional security and crisis-response capacity in support of U.S. government efforts in Africa,” according to a statement from the command.

By offering, among other things, training, aircraft maintenance advice and humanitarian aid airlift, the Air Force’s component in U.S. Africa Command will help strengthen these relationships throughout the continent and offer a helping hand to build up what is currently a disparate and desperate air domain.

The continent’s minimal integration and lack of key infrastructure such as radar, air traffic control and maintenance capability are just some of the challenges to be overcome, the general said, adding that efforts to prevail over these deficiencies will help usher in a stronger economy and a better future for the continent.
“Better air travel in Africa will do, in a similar way, what the transcontinental railroad did for the United States,” the general said. But the path to change on the continent, especially in this arena, is proverbially uncharted territory.

In an effort to get a better handle on how to proceed most effectively, the 17th Air Force and its parent organization, U.S. Africa Command, are partnering with Air University to hold a symposium March 31 through April 2 at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

In think-tank style, the summit will be an interactive dialogue among experts in various fields, with their goal being the creation of a set of proposals and policy recommendations for U.S. Africa Command and the 17th Air Force.

“Attendees’ participation will help in the development of U.S. Africa Command and Air Force policies and programs dealing with Africa,” said Dr. Stephen Burgess, one of the symposium’s track leaders and associate professor for the Department of International Security at Air University’s Air War College.

Dr. Burgess will be leading a workshop track dubbed “Air Domain Safety and Security in Africa,” one of four tracks available.
“We want to work with some of the best minds in these fields,” Ladnier said, echoing the symposium’s stated goal to bring together a wide variety of participants from throughout the military, the U.S. government, business, civil society and academia.

But the inference should not be made that the formation of U.S. Africa Command, the 17th Air Force, or the upcoming symposium are indicative of a “sudden interest” in the region, the general said.

On the contrary, “[the United States] has been helping Africa for quite some time,” he emphasized. “We’re just interested in working better to help them help themselves.”

Registration for the symposium will remain open until March 15, and corporate sponsorships are available, according to the event’s Web site.

More information about the upcoming symposium and the 17th Air Force can be found at www.au.af.mil/awc/africom and www.17af.usafe.af.mil, respectively.