Defining AFRICOM's Mission
Command to enhance African sovereignty through information sharing.
A key goal for the new U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) is to facilitate information sharing between the continent’s militaries and governments. The command seeks to ensure the interoperability of national communications systems, such as this Ugandan officer’s radio, with other nations’ equipment for humanitarian, peacekeeping and disaster relief operations.
Combatant commands are vital to the protection and preservation of
As the newest combatant command (COCOM), U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) must be able to define its mission. This main theme has run through national media articles, the March 2008 Congressional Research Service report on AFRICOM, and the congressional testimony of various experts offering insight into the challenges and opportunities facing the command. A central line of questioning running through all of this dialogue centers on what AFRICOM’s mission is and therefore its “product.” While the primary product of other COCOMs historically has been war plans, AFRICOM might consider an alternate approach. Instead of extending
This approach allows AFRICOM to develop the sovereignty of African nations by enabling governments and other leadership entities to provide services to their people and, by doing so, to strengthen their societies. While not a direct military role, the benefits of taking on such a responsibility could foster even greater regional security and stability by exhibiting a large-scale show of force.
Perhaps AFRICOM’s initial thrust should be to enhance African national information gathering, analysis and sharing, as well as its planning and execution capabilities—because without information, there can be no knowledge, and without knowledge, there can be no real sovereignty. Without sovereignty, there is no core of responsibility for the host of challenges that face national populations. In this scenario, AFRICOM does not provide information—rather, it assumes the role of enhancing the collection, sharing and use of the data already resident within a society. This is where the information to fight the Global War on Terrorism resides. As the late Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill, once said, “All politics is local.” The same is true for the Global War on Terrorism because “all terror is local.” Those who are terrorized must define the nature of the threat, and the way to fight it must be defined by those doing the fighting.
AFRICOM can lead in helping sovereign nations defend themselves by increasing their ability to collect information from disparate open sources and by analyzing the data for meaning in context to providing services. This capability includes security from terror and rampant criminality. The COCOM also can help nations share this information both internally and to a wider audience when appropriate, as well as help transform the data into plans and operations.
The creation of such a capability will allow African decision makers to query databases, gain situational awareness, understand the environment, develop plans to affect that environment and then administer activities to support those plans. It is possible to envision a proactive decision maker applying this system to counter terrorism and criminal activity, but also using it to counter the spread of HIV-AIDS or even to develop and administer a multiyear agricultural project.
While it may be argued that African nations are too suspicious to share information, failure to develop the capability will doom the region to a dangerous ignorance. AFRICOM’s regional predecessor, the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), was a noble provider of services and support to much of
|AFRICOM may develop information-sharing networks that would enable African nations to share unclassified data. One area that would benefit from such a system is maritime security because it would allow nations to operate in regional coalitions, such as this exercise off of Equatorial Guinea, to combat pirates, terrorists, smugglers and human traffickers.|
A central piece of the African vision is to provide stability to the continent by using regional standby brigades. Each of the five African regions is responsible for developing the capability whereby nations pledge forces, and a central, regional headquarters plans operations to provide a range of services across the region. However, none of the regions has the ability to identify and characterize the readiness of pledged forces, let alone plan and actually conduct operations with them.
This envisioned information-sharing system would be designed to allow
In essence, this system would be a communications portal based on the open-source server, Web services and other common Internet applications that can process and disseminate information across everything from fiber optic connections to the slowest cell-phone data networks. Such flexibility is important in
These scenarios are becoming more commonplace as the Global War on Terrorism requires more
For issues where remote operations are preventing forward-deployed assets from downloading large amounts of data before timing out, administrators should consider implementing policies and practices to move data along, such as using compression software on Web service call payloads or transport-level compression (for example, GZIP over hypertext transfer protocol), re-examining the system’s communication infrastructure and generally reducing the amount of messages that are sent, and batching information together where possible to reduce call overhead. Other solutions to low bandwidth include using longitudinal communication encoding—never sending the same full message twice—and designing the system to be event-based with server push, rather than client polling, to eliminate update detection traffic.
To better serve end users operating in locations with unstable or unreliable power and Internet access, agencies may want to employ tactics such as using a graphical user interface client package with Web service calls to service-enabled back ends, designing both client and server to be event-oriented and evaluating using an overall event-driven architecture for proper fit.
Additional solutions for circumventing intermittent connectivity include designing both the client and server to be asynchronous message-based rather than using synchronous Web service calls, thus preventing either side from hanging up when a connection is impossible; pushing as much intelligence as possible into the client (making it a “smart” client), because it is closer to the user and will retain functionality even if the connection drops; and understanding the issues with cache coherency and reconciling differences once the connection is regained.
Rear Adm. Hamlin Tallent, USN (Ret.), is the vice president of C4ISR systems at Sentek Consulting and former director of operations for