Source: US Africom
AFRICA ENDEAVOR 2011 NIGERIA
According to the scenario of a pan-African military communications exercise, a major earthquake has struck near the fictitious nation-state of Carana earlier today, causing extensive damage to coastal cities, especially the capital Galasi. The incident further exacerbates an already existing humanitarian emergency situation where up to 12,000 refugees are struggling after nearly 20 years of internal strife, tribal conflict and armed clashes between the military and rebels. Aggravating the situation, there exists no strong communications network outside metropolitan areas. Despite basic foodstuffs being available in markets, a majority of the population is incapable of providing the necessary food to meet subsistence level nutritional needs for their families.
The above scenario isn’t real, and the nation of Carana doesn’t exist. But the story provides the backdrop as exercise Africa Endeavor 2011 (AE 11) enters its operational phase July 18, 2011.
Africa Endeavor is an annual multilateral communications exercise focusing on technical and human interoperability and information sharing among African militaries. AE 11 is being conducted with more than 30 African nations, as well as representatives from North America, Europe, and five international organizations. Representatives from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union’s regional Africa Standby Force, and other organizations, will participate in a humanitarian disaster relief operation scenario from stations in The Gambia, Nigeria, and Ethiopia.
Africa Endeavor, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (U.S. AFRICOM), has enjoyed growing participation as many African nations have come to appreciate the need to communicate effectively with their neighbors, especially in times of strife. More than half the continent’s countries are now participating alongside international agencies from around the world.
This year’s exercise is occurring simultaneously in three different locations: Banjul, The Gambia, is the main site, while ECOWAS in Abuja, Nigeria, and the African Union in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, are "remote site" locations. Most of the participating nations currently have representation in Banjul.
ECOWAS’ participation is unique as a "remote site" location whose participants are from the ECOWAS Combat Forces Signal Squadron.
Lance Corporal Adeoye Omidiji, Corporal Mohammed Chindo and Sergeant Benibo Onimite, all from Lagos, Nigeria, are members of the ECOWAS Standby Force (ESF). This unit falls under the purview of ECOWAS’ Commission for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, and these soldiers have a responsibility not only to learn about the new equipment and procedures that they are working with during the exercise but also to go back and train members of their unit.
The ESF is exactly that, a standby force. The personnel who fill the ranks of this force are pulled from supporting member states militaries; they are not a customary "reaction force" organized and standing ready for a potential mission. When the need arises, they are an organization of professionals who come together much like a U.S. Department of Defense Joint Task Force. For this reason, solid training and sustained engagement become critical to continued forward development.
ECOWAS, as a leader among West African states, didn’t initially have a peace and security section, rather it was added later when the need was recognized. According to ECOWAS Brigadier General Mahamane Toure, commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Stability, ECOWAS leadership acknowledges that, "There is no way you can achieve economic development, prosperity if you don’t have military stability."
"We wanted to expand opportunities," said U.S. Brigadier General Robert Ferrell, director of U.S. Africa Command’s J6 (C4 Systems) directorate, discussing the ECOWAS role in this year’s Africa Endeavor exercise. "The opportunity last year was getting the African Union involved. They played a very big part last year. … This year we wanted to expand it to include a regional headquarters."
ECOWAS is made up of 15 West African States including: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. According to its website, ECOWAS was founded in 1975 and its mission is to promote economic integration in "all fields of economic activity, particularly industry, transport, telecommunications, energy, agriculture, natural resources, commerce, monetary and financial questions, social and cultural matters." The organization’s military arm falls under their Office of the Commissioner Political Affairs, Peace and Security. Throughout the past decade, ECOWAS has played a significant leadership role in regional peacekeeping.
The organization’s diverse mission necessitates ECOWAS develop processes and procedures requisite to communicate both in times of peace and crisis with member states, the African Union and other regional and international actors.
During a visit to Abuja, Ferrell said he sees this year’s exercise as different from previous. "It gets at interoperability, how to work through the interoperability within the regions. How to standardize the way to communicate from lower [command levels] to higher and what types of equipment" participants are using. This year’s exercise allows participants to communicate through a regional headquarters to the African Union using standardized message formats developed by the AU.
"We are looking to consolidate what the member states have done, to move it to regional and then to continental, which is a wonderful move," Toure said. "We are trying to discuss with the continental organization, the member states, where are they, what are their needs and trying to identify needs assessments before drafting programs for the continent." Toure expressed his appreciation of the partnership enjoyed between ECOWAS and U.S. AFRICOM, citing how AFRICOM endeavors to help develop capacity with a focus on the African nations eventually taking ownership of exercises and programs.
ECOWAS has already acquired some communications equipment, but according to Toure, ECOWAS members want to determine how they can best "avoid duplication and try to merge or create some link between some of the tools which are being put on the ground, which is important." He continued, "We feel like [Africa] Endeavor is trying to create the environment whereby you need some interconnectivity even if equipment is not the same."
The 15 member states of ECOWAS all have a host of different equipment from distributors from around the world. Africa Endeavor provides the bedrock from which to build interoperable tactics, techniques and procedures while representing the critical balance between the AU and its African Standby Force and the regional economic communities.
ECOWAS, serving as a regional headquarters, is a focal point for this exercise. Once this exercise is complete, participants will have established the base-line communications needs to allow them to effectively respond to challenges in their region and then to quickly and effectively communicate with the AU. There are many regional threats which may be addressed using this network, include but not limited to pandemic disease outbreaks, drought and famine, or even manmade threats.
The equipment that is being employed to facilitate this communications linkage includes both satellite and high frequency radios. A small man-portable Broadband Global Area Network system provides ECOWAS an easily deployable satellite communications system that would be used in times of need to quickly establish some level of communication from the epicenter of an event back to ECOWAS headquarters.
From there, a CODAN high-frequency MRX-Interoperability system will be used to relay information back to the AU.
"The MRX is a transit-case based system. It starts with building blocks," said John Eschenfelder, program manager for CODAN US Inc. The MRX system includes two such building blocks in the form of CODAN NGT radios. One is a 1KW high-frequency system which will reach from ECOWAS headquarters in Nigeria to the AU headquarters in Ethiopia, a distance of more than 2,000 miles (3,000 kilometers). A smaller 125W high frequency radio will facilitate regional communications between ECOWAS and member states.
Eschenfelder says that the MRX system’s other use is as an interface between existing legacy systems from different vendors and as a platform for future communications integration. This system meets the immediate challenge of correcting incompatibility issues ECOWAS currently suffers and also allows for future systems integration as other member states either upgrade or change their communications equipment and as external actors join the network during times of need.
As the participants in the exercise develop their capacity to effectively communicate, to scale and overcome the challenges of differing equipment and capabilities, the end will be a collaborative plan, or means of operating, which will support future African peacekeeping operations and provide regional stability in the greater security efforts.
Exercises such as these allow headquarters at many levels to determine the best ways to respond to these sorts of disasters. ECOWAS and AFRICOM are working together, developing relationships and a means through which ECOWAS, as a regional headquarters, might best be capable of connecting with member states and the AU with reliable primary and secondary communications equipment. This connection and coordination would not require U.S. participation or U.S. equipment.
ECOWAS has already demonstrated the capacity to move forward internally. For example, the organization is in the planning phase of a Command Post Exercise, tentatively scheduled for later this year. If approved, the exercise might create another venue through which U.S. AFRICOM and ECOWAS could partner on communications interoperability efforts.
In the end, there is a strong desire within the Commission of Political Affairs, Peace and Security, to appropriately plan, to conduct thorough assessments of their member states resources and capabilities, and then to design training and support plans to continue this forward momentum.
Ferrell sees Africa Endeavor as continuing to build partnership with ECOWAS. "One of the main reasons why I am here, and why the team is here, is to figure out how we can develop a long term working relationship together. It is one of the main goals, because from Stuttgart [U.S. Africa Command's headquarters] we don’t know what you need or what your requirements are."
These sustained engagements, coupled with the close rapport developed through such exercises, help African nations to better cooperate and coordinate with each other and with international partners as they seek African solutions to African security challenges.
At the continental level, Ferrell said he would like to see the Africa Endeavor communications exercise continue to grow and expand as other nations join ranks with current participants and the AU, to develop a truly effective means to communication during a regional emergency.
By Lieutenant Colonel Steven Lamb
U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs