African air chiefs discuss cooperation, challenges

Capt. Joel Harper
U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs

Leaders from 14 African nations’ air forces gathered here this week to discuss cooperation and challenges affecting the African continent.

The African Air Chiefs Conference provided an opportunity for nations to come together and candidly discuss a wide array of important issues, said Brig. Gen. Michael Snodgrass, the director of plans, programs and analysis for U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

“The goal of this conference was to create a forum for air force chiefs in Africa to explore ways in which strategic partnerships and regional cooperation can improve air safety and security across the continent,” said Gen. Tom Hobbins, USAFE commander.

“The conference was a great success,” said General Snodgrass. “Issues that were discussed here will go a long way toward bringing more interoperability and cooperation among African nations.”

The openness and constructive debate was surprising, said General Snodgrass.

“For a first-of-its-kind conference, with countries who have not had a forum where they all could sit together and debate airman-to-airman issues, the amount of professional, vigorous debate was very exciting,” General Snodgrass said.

Some of the issues discussed included air security and surveillance, search and rescue capability, and airlift for peacekeeping operations, said Air Vice Marshall Julius O. Boateng, Ghana Air Force chief of staff. “Conferences like these allow us to share experiences, and for us to view the weaknesses and strengths that each country has.  By so doing we can leverage the strengths and then perhaps overcome some of our weaknesses.”

The conference gave an opportunity to better forge relationships between African nations, said Air Vice Marshall Boateng.

“You’d be surprised to realize that until I came here, only about two or three of my colleagues, I have met before,” he said. “Improving our networking can help us address some of the issues confronting us.”

Increasing training opportunities was one of the biggest interests of the African air chiefs, General Snodgrass said.

“They want to be as good as they can possibly be,” he said. “They recognize that the United States has a great breadth and depth of training capabilities, across the board, for their air forces.”

USAFE has taken feedback from participating countries to heart, General Snodgrass said. Suggestions and requests that came out of the conference will be evaluated on a country-to-country basis, and plans will be made to best assist in many ways, whether it is medical capability, logistics support, or specialized training, either locally or in the United States.

“We want to be involved and engaged to help Africans take care of African problems,” General Snodgrass said. “The potential for additional momentum in Africa is immense.”

The conference is the culmination of more than two years of planning and was co-sponsored by the African Center for Strategic Studies. The ACSS supports the Department of Defense and other U.S. agencies in assisting African nations to improve their security and strengthen their defense establishments by promoting good governance, security sector professionalism, and democratic civil-military relations.

USAFE hopes to make the conference a biannual event with African countries hosting regional conferences in the off years, General Snodgrass said.