13th African Air Chiefs Symposium kindles an operationalized future

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jesenia Landaverde
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Public Affairs

The 13th African Air Chiefs Symposium was hosted by the Tunisian Air Force with U.S. Air Forces Africa in Tunis, Feb. 26 to March 1.

The symposium was attended by about 250 participants to include air chiefs, liaison officers, officials addressing Women, Peace and Security initiatives, and senior enlisted representatives from 36 African nations.

Tunisian Air Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hajem, Association of African Air Forces chairman, delivered opening remarks to kick off the event.

“We can strive to reach common ground and innovate all of our air forces,” Hajem said. “We can assist one another by working together to advance air cooperation in Africa. Education is the strongest weapon to inspire change, which is the heart of our African Air Chiefs Symposium.”

This year’s theme, “Pan-African Education and Training Opportunities,” is centered on sharing training and education opportunities to address challenges faced by African air forces.

Gen. James B. Hecker, U.S. Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa commander and AAAF co-chairman, said the symposium brings air chiefs together to discuss timely, pressing issues.

“The African Air Chiefs Symposium provides air chiefs on the continent an opportunity to come together and develop authentic, meaningful relationships,” Hecker said. “During the symposium, air chiefs learn each other's first names, they learn their cultures, their problems and how their air forces deal with challenges.”

The symposium was orchestrated by AAAF, a voluntary, non-political organization focused on collaborative, multilateral engagements to promote African-led air power solutions among 29 African member nations and the U.S.

The strategic conversations held during previous symposia led to the concept of operationalization of the association.

“Operationalization is the mechanism by which AAAF will implement its short- and long-term goals, via a three-year exercise cycle,” said Ọláyanjú Andrew Pópóọlá, AAAF permanent secretariat director.

During the symposium, AAAF members deliberated on and passed nine proposals, including an operationalization road map, enabled by the U.S. Air Force.

Reaffirming the U.S. commitment to African partners, Maj. Gen. Kenneth P. Ekman, U.S. Africa Command, strategy, engagement and programs director, said “for Africa, diplomacy leads, development follows.”

One of the key proposals successfully passed this year was to integrate WPS initiatives into the association, based on a proposal created in 2023.

The WPS initiatives are based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which addresses the importance of women’s full and equal participation in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction.

“It is important for us to undertake the necessary advocacy, for the decision-makers to be convinced of the relevance of having women at the epicenter of everything we do,” said Gen. Birame Diop, United Nations Department of Peace Operations military adviser. “Participating in the promotion of gender mainstreaming and the implementation of WPS requires particular skills, and skills do not appear out of nowhere. Skills are developed with training and education.”

Additionally, African senior enlisted representatives worked together during the Senior Enlisted Forum to refine a unified set of noncommissioned officer guidelines. The goal is to use the document to develop the next generation of competent and committed NCOs in their respective air forces.

Through a shared understanding of NCO and senior noncommissioned officer roles and responsibilities African air forces plan to increase interoperability and collective capability. The SEF plans on presenting their proposal during next year’s symposium.

“As enlisted members, we make up the larger portion of military service members,” said Chief Master Sgt. Randy Kwiatkowski, U.S. Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa command chief. “While we must always stand beside our commissioned officers, we must be developed, and seek to develop ourselves to best serve them, and our nations. This is not a need unique to the U.S., but one shared by all military forces, and so it’s important to discuss development at every possible opportunity.”

U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David W. Allvin delivered recorded remarks thanking air chiefs for their commitment to the future of African airpower.

“I want to thank all the air force chiefs and air force representatives who are attending this event,” Allvin said. “Your presence here matters to Africa's future. The United States is committed to African-born, African-led, U.S.-enabled air power, and I'm very excited about the direction that we are headed together.”

To actualize the operationalization of the association, there are plans for a tabletop exercise in 2025 to solidify strategies, followed by a field training exercise in 2026. These exercises will primarily revolve around discussing and simulating response in a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief scenario.

The Zambian Air Force volunteered to host AACS 2025.