U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) hosted its second annual C4ISR Senior Leaders Conference February 2-4, 2011 at Caserma Ederle, headquarters of U.S. Army Africa, in Vicenza, Italy.
The communications and intelligence community event, hosted by Brigadier General Robert Ferrell, AFRICOM C4 director, drew approximately 80 senior leaders from diverse U.S. military and government branches and agencies, as well as representatives of African nations and the African Union.
The conference is a combination of our U.S. AFRICOM C4 systems and intel directorate," said Ferrell. "We come together annually to bring the team together to work on common goals to work on throughout the year. The team consists of our coalition partners as well as our inter-agency partners, as well as our components and U.S. AFRICOM staff."
The conference focused on updates from participants, and on assessing the present state and goals of coalition partners in Africa, he said.
"The theme for our conference is 'Delivering Capabilities to a Joint Information Environment,' and we see it as a joint and combined team … working together, side by side, to promote peace and stability there on the African continent," Ferrell said.
Three goals of this year's conference were to strengthen the team, assess priorities across the board, and get a better fix on the impact that the establishment of the U.S. Cyber Command will have on all members' efforts in the future, he said.
"With the stand-up of U.S. Cyber Command, it brings a lot of unique challenges that we as a team need to talk through to ensure that our information is protected at all times," Ferrell said.
African Union (AU) representatives from four broad geographic regions of Africa attended, which generated a holistic perspective on needs and requirements from across the continent, he said.
"We have members from the African Union headquarters that is located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; we have members that are from Uganda; from Zambia; from Ghana; and also from the Congo. What are the gaps, what are the things that we kind of need to assist with as we move forward on our engagements on the African continent?" Ferrell said.
U.S. Army Africa Commander, Major General David R. Hogg, welcomed participants as the conference got under way.
"We're absolutely delighted to be the host for this conference, and we hope that this week you get a whole lot out of it," said Hogg.
He took the opportunity to address the participants not only as their host, but from the perspective of a customer whose missions depend on the results of their efforts to support commanders in the field.
"When we're talking about this group of folks that are here -- from the joint side, from our African partners, from State, all those folks -- it's about partnership and interoperability. And every commander who's ever had to fight in a combined environment understands that interoperability is the thing that absolutely slaps you upside the head," Hogg said.
"We're in the early stages of the process here of working with the African Union and the other partners, and you have an opportunity to design this from the end state, versus just building a bunch of 'gunkulators.' And so, the message is: think about what the end state is supposed to look like and construct the strategy to support the end state.
"Look at where we want to be at and design it that way," Hogg said.
He also admonished participants to consider the second- and third-order effects of their choices in designing networks.
"With that said, over the next four days, I hope this conference works very well for you. If there's anything we can do to make your stay better, please let us know," Hogg said.
Over the following three days, participants engaged in a steady stream of briefings and presentations focused on systems, missions and updates from the field.
Colonel Joseph W. Angyal, director of U.S. Army Africa G-6, gave an overview of operations and issues that focused on fundamentals, the emergence of regional accords as a way forward, and the evolution of a joint network enterprise that would serve all interested parties.
"What we're trying to do is to work regionally. That's frankly a challenge, but as we stand up the capability, really for the U.S. government, and work through that, we hope to become more regionally focused," he said.
He referred to Africa Endeavor, an annual, multi-nation communications exercise, as a test bed for the current state of affairs on the continent, and an aid in itself to future development.
"In order to conduct those exercises, to conduct those security and cooperation events, and to meet contingency missions, we really, from the C4ISR perspective, have five big challenges," Angyal said.
"You heard General Hogg this morning talk about 'think about the customer' -- you've got to allow me to be able to get access to our data; I've got to be able to get to the data where and when I need it; you've got to be able to protect it; I have to be able to share it; and then finally, the systems have to be able to work together in order to build that coalition.
"One of the reasons General Ferrell is setting up this joint information enterprise, this joint network enterprise . . . it's almost like trying to bring together disparate companies or corporations: everyone has their own system, they've paid for their own infrastructure, and they have their own policy, even though they support the same major company.
"Now multiply that when you bring in different services, multiply that when you bring in different U.S. government agencies, and then put a layer on top of that with the international partners, and there are lots of policies that are standing in our way."
The main issue is not a question of technology, he said.
"The boxes are the same -- a Cisco router is a Cisco router; Microsoft Exchange server is the same all over the world -- but it's the way that we employ them, and it's the policies that we apply to it, that really stops us from interoperating, and that's the challenge we hope to work through with the joint network enterprise.
"And I think that through things like Africa Endeavor and through the joint enterprise network, we're looking at knocking down some of those policy walls, but at the end of the day they are ours to knock down. Bill Gates did not design a system to work only for the Army or for the Navy -- it works for everyone," Angyal said.
Brigadier General Joseph Searyoh, director general of Defense Information Communication Systems, General Headquarters, Ghana Armed Forces, agreed that coordinating policy is fundamental to improving communications with all its implications for a host of operations and missions.
"One would expect that in these modern times there is some kind of mutual engagement, and to build that engagement to be strong, there must be some kind of element of trust. ... We have to build some kind of trust to be able to move forward," said Searyoh.
"Some people may be living in silos of the past, but in the current engagement we need to tell people that we are there with no hidden agenda, no negative hidden agenda, but for the common good of all of us.
"We say that we are in the information age, and I've been saying something: that our response should not be optional, but it must be a must, because if you don't join now, you are going to be left behind.
"So what do we do? We have to get our house in order.
"Why do I say so? We used to operate like this before the information age; now in the information age, how do we operate?
"So, we have to get our house in order and see whether we are aligning ourselves with way things should work now. So, our challenge is to come up with a strategy, see how best we can reorganize our structures, to be able to deliver communications-information systems support for the Ghana Armed Forces," he said.
Searyoh related that his organization has already accomplished one part of erecting the necessary foundation by establishing an appropriate policy structure.
"What is required now is the implementing level. Currently we have communications on one side, and computers on one side. The lines are blurred -- you cannot operate like that, you've got to bring them together," he said.
Building that merged entity to support deployed forces is what he sees as the primary challenge at present.
"Once you get that done you can talk about equipment, you can talk about resources," Searyoh said. "I look at the current collaboration between the U.S. and the coalition partners taking a new level."
"The immediate challenges that we have is the interoperability, which I think is one of the things we are also discussing here, interoperability and integration," said Lieutenant Colonel Kelvin Silomba, African Union-Zambia, Information Technology expert for the Africa Stand-by Force.
"You know that we've got five regions in Africa. All these regions, we need to integrate them and bring them together, so the challenge of interoperability in terms of equipment, you know, different tactical equipment that we use, and also in terms of the language barrier - you know, all these regions in Africa you find that they speak different languages -- so to bring them together we need to come up with one standard that will make everybody on board and make everybody able to talk to each other," he said.
"So we have all these challenges. Other than that also, stemming from the background of these African countries, based on the colonization: some of them were French colonized, some of them were British colonized and so on, so you find that when they come up now we've adopted some of the procedures based on our former colonial masters, so that is another challenge that is coming on board."
The partnership with brother African states, with the U.S. government and its military branches, and with other interested collaborators has had a positive influence, said Silomba.
"Oh, it's great. From the time that I got engaged with U.S. AFRICOM - I started with Africa Endeavor, before I even came to the AU - it is my experience that it is something very, very good.
"I would encourage - I know that there are some member states - I would encourage that all those member states they come on board, all of these regional organizations, that they come on board and support the AFRICOM lead. It is something that is very, very good.
"As for example, the African Union has a lot of support that's been coming in, technical as well as in terms of knowledge and equipment. So it's great; it's good and it's great," said Salimba.
Other participant responses to the conference were positive as well.
"The feedback I've gotten from every member is that they now know what the red carpet treatment looks like, because USARAF has gone over and above board to make sure the environment, the atmosphere and the actual engagements ... are executed to perfection," said Ferrell. "It's been very good from a team-building aspect.
"We've had very good discussions from members of the African Union, who gave us a very good understanding of the operations that are taking place in the area of Somalia, the challenges with communications, and laid out the gaps and desires of where they see that the U.S. and other coalition partners can kind of improve the capacity there in that area of responsibility.
"We also talked about the AU, as they are expanding their reach to all of the five regions, of how can they have that interoperability and connectivity to each of the regions," Ferrell said.
"(It's been) a wealth of knowledge and experts that are here to share in terms of how we can move forward with building capacities and capabilities. Not only for U.S. interests, but more importantly from my perspective, in building capacities and capabilities for our African partners beginning with the Commission at the African Union itself," said Kevin Warthon, U.S. State Department, peace and security adviser to the African Union.
"I think that General Ferrell has done an absolutely wonderful thing by inviting key African partners to participate in this event so they can share their personal experience from a national, regional and continental perspective," he said.
Warthon related from his personal experience a vignette of African trust in Providence that he believed carries a pertinent metaphor and message to everyone attending the conference.
"We are not sure what we are going to do tomorrow, but the one thing that I am sure of is that we are able to do something. Don't know when, don't know how, but as long as our focus is on our ability to assist and to help to progress a people, that's really what counts more than anything else," he said.
"Don't worry about the timetable; just focus on your ability to make a difference and that's what that really is all about.
"I see venues such as this as opportunities to make what seems to be the impossible become possible. ... This is what this kind of venue does for our African partners.
"We're doing a wonderful job at building relationships, because that's where it begins - we have to build relationships to establish trust. That's why this is so important: building trust through relationships so that we can move forward in the future," Warthon said.
Conference members took a cultural tour of Venice and visited a traditional winery in the hills above Vicenza before adjourning.