Air Expeditionary Access: The African Connection

Article excerpt

Editorial Abstract: Nearly a decade of increasing globalization has reached Africa in fits and starts, leaving a legacy of social tensions, poverty, disease, and conflict. US national-security strategy hinges on dealing with such conditions in an appropriate manner. For air and space power, a comprehensive access plan becomes a critical component for success.

We cannot predict where the next Desert Shield will occur. It could easily be in a place where we have no troops and no infrastructure-no bases or support systems in place. We will have to take with us everything that we need, including shelter, maintenance facilities, hospitals, and food and water.

-Lt Gen Michael A. Nelson, USAF

"Aerospace Forces and Power Projection"

IS THE STRATEGIC access the United States attained in Africa during the 1980s possible today after more than a decade of foreign-policy neglect? Access remains somewhat constant or is increasing on four of the world's five major continents. The one region at highest risk from reduced US engagement is sub-Saharan Africa.1 The United States has chosen to concentrate in other areas at Africa's expense. Not only was Operation Desert Shield successful and monumental at leveraging access in the Middle East, but also it validated US airpower doctrine and emerging joint-warfare concepts. Moreover, transformational concepts were reflected in the Air Force's new concept-of-operations initiative. The greatest lesson learned from Desert Shield is that no future crisis will be handled successfully without the continued access of the Air Force's expeditionary forces. The wide access enjoyed during that operation made possible the decisiveness of Operation Desert Storm. The Air Force has mastered most of the intricate facets of major expeditionary warfare; nevertheless, rapid-deployment operations in response to small-scale contingencies, humanitarian-assistance operations, and peace-support operations remain relatively ad hoc because they are more reactionary than deliberate. Much remains to be done to refine our nation's rapid-deployment capability in support of foreign-policy objectives.

According to The National Security Strategy (NSS) of 2002, "the presence of American forces overseas is one of the most profound symbols of the U.S. commitment to allies and friends."2 The NSS also emphasizes how US forces must prepare for more such deployments by developing assets and capabilities reflective of expeditionary forces. At the high end of conflict, regional combatant commanders will require forces to bring unique capabilities to the fight and will expect those forces to be combat ready upon arrival in-theater. Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) stands as an example of a nonstandard mix of air and ground assets joining the fight against terrorism without an abundance of doctrinal guidance-thus providing a lucid example of transformation. Henceforth, we will need this type of creativity and innovation to contend with strategic uncertainty and asymmetric engagement worldwide.

Africa may well serve as the proving ground for transformational concepts, methods, and capabilities. That continent provides a great challenge to the ability of the United States to project forces to a region often overlooked because of the magnitude of ongoing crises in the Balkans, Middle East, and Korean Peninsula. The American public has been subjected to unrelenting media attention towards those areas. But Africa has been overlooked as scarce national resources and advocacy were directed to areas of greater vital interest to the United States. Not until cataclysmic tragedy strikes, as occurred in Rwanda during the summer of 1994, does the US public turn its attention to Africa. Just one year earlier, the American media graphically filled television sets with the Somalia disaster, which undoubtedly reduced both subsequent coverage and US direct-assistance programs.

Over the last 10 years, experience has proven that air expeditionary deployment to Africa remains an immature science-one that follows a neglected foreign policy. …