Exercise Africa Endeavour strengthens military capabilities and communication

Almost 200 people from 26 countries and three international organizations came together in Gabon, September 29, 2009, to participate in Exercise Africa Endeavor, an annual US Africa Command-sponsored initiative to assist African militaries with improving their communications capabilities.
The exercise focuses on two important areas of military communications: data, which includes the hardware and software of computer networks, and radio, used to send voice and data transmissions. On October 1, Zambian service members joined with Marines from US Marine Forces Africa to practice their skills with a communication check.

Marine Sergeant Christian Valencia holds a cell phone to his ear while Zambian Warrant Officer 2 Lufuma Augustine punches a new frequency into a 400-watt high frequency radio.

On the other end of the line, Marines in Stuttgart, Germany listen for the Zambian radio checks.
“Nothing? Okay, tune to 19.630,” Valencia says.

As a small crowd of African communications officers and specialists begins to form around him, Augustine adjusts his radio and tries to raise the Marines once again.
“Uniform Sierra, Uniform Sierra, this is Zulu Mike Bravo: radio check, over,” Augustine says into the receiver.

After a moment, the stream of constant static from the radio’s speaker breaks, and the Marines on the other line respond from a distance of 5,396 km away.
“Zulu Mike Bravo, this is Uniform Sierra, have you low but readable…how you me,” the Marine says.

For Valencia, these few words are pretty special.
“That’s the longest HF shot I’ve ever seen,” said Valencia, the Africa Endeavor 2009 US radio chief. “Considering the relatively low powered setup we have in Germany, it’s pretty amazing that we were able to make it happen.”

Coming Together

Marine Sergeant Zach D. Zapotoski, exercise data chief/lead planner, said the purpose of the exercise was to bring communicators from throughout the various economic regions of Africa to evaluate and standardize communication plans.
“We are testing to ensure that all of the different kinds of gear that each participant uses is compatible,” Zapotoski said “Through this process we are collecting data, identifying gaps and shortfalls, and then working to address the areas where those gaps occur.”

According to Marine Captain Dave Fuller, exercise technical director, the effort to standardize is one of the main goals of the exercise. “The first goal is to increase the interoperability with the countries that are going to be working with each other in the different African Standby Forces,” Fuller said.

Because each nation brings different capabilities, experience levels and operating methods, establishing standard operating procedures (SOPs) is key to future success, said Marine Sergeant Ryan Kish, exercise test network coordinator.
“The most important thing is that we are establishing SOPs,” Kish said. “It’s important because as the African nations work together in the future or when we work with them in the future, we can have that data to look at to see what worked and what needs a solution.”

In addition to the technical and professional aspects of the exercise, Fuller said another important goal is to build and strengthen relationships.
“Our second goal is to pair up these nations to not only build up partner relations between us, but also to create and bolster partnerships between the African countries as well,” Fuller said.

Establishing Interoperability

The exercise is broken down into phases in order to establish the SOPs and collect all of the necessary data.

Both the radio and data portions have three phases of execution throughout the exercise.

According to Valencia, in the first phase of the radio portion of the exercise, each nation uses internal testing to ensure that everyone’s equipment is compatible and functioning properly.
“Each nation generally has the same types of gear, but brands and capabilities vary,” Valencia said. “So, in this first phase we are ironing out compatibility issues to get the ball rolling for the next phase.”

During the first phase, Valencia said all of the internal testing happens between radios on the site here.

From the testing phase, the radio communicators move to phase two where they reach back to their home nation to establish communications.

During phase three, participants communicate from the host site to sites within other countries.
“We are taking the results of the various tests and compile them into a single package that can be used for future reference,” Valencia said.

Zapotoski said the phases for the data portion of the exercise run along similar lines as the radio portion. During the first phase, each nation partnered with one other nation and constructed and tested their network.

During the second phase, the nations are building and testing a series of interconnected computers that share data within their associated economic region.

In the last phase, the regional networks will be tied together to simulate a wide area network.
“Our goal is to be able to identify and configure a routing protocol that can be used to communicate on a basic level,” Zapotoski said.

Building Strong Relationships

A quick visit to one of the tents or buildings on the site reveals that the exercise involves even more than technical exploits and data gathering.

Fuller said the exercise has provided the US and African participants with an opportunity to build professional and personal relationships.
“It’s a rare opportunity to interact with military representatives from 25 different countries at one time,” Kish said. “So there have been plenty of chances to interact with each other and share in each other’s culture.”
“The whole experience has been tremendous,” Augustine said. “In the sense that we are all Africans and we each face similar problems, being able to cooperate and work together to solve some problems is very nice.”

According to Fuller, various events designed to increase interaction and cultural sharing are built into the exercise itself, including traditional meals, social gatherings, team sports and even the exercise’s location, which is held in a different country each year to promote cultural exchange.

For this year’s exercise, even the initial and mid planning conferences were held in different countries.
“That’s what this exercise is really all about,” Fuller said. “Getting on the same sheet of music, as far as communication is concerned, and building those relationships so that either these partner nations can work together in the future.”

Exercise Africa Endeavor 2009 runs from September 29 until October 8.