Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti – Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA)’s mission is to conduct operations to enhance partner nation capacity, promote regional stability, dissuade conflict, and protect U.S. and Partner interests. This mission might seem straightforward on the surface, but the execution can be complex with the many different services and nations involved. Airpower is critical to meeting this objective, even more so with all the different services and nations working together.
Enter CJ-32 Air Ops, the joint team responsible for coordinating all air support operations, working closely with the 449th Air Expeditionary Group’s Joint Air Component Coordination Element, and providing an advisory role for senior leaders. On top of that, they support ad hoc logistical air support requirements and provide strategic-level weather forecasting. This is a lot of ground to cover across the eastern Africa area of responsibility.
“The tyranny of distance is the most difficult aspect of air operations,” said Major Malcolm Strong, director of CJ-32 Air Ops. “This is not unique to east Africa, but the continent at large.”
A limited and dispersed presence on the continent makes mobility, medical support, and personnel recovery capabilities especially important to our mission. This leads to some unique challenges in a joint-ops environment, where different branches have to mesh together to achieve their goals.
“Command relationships drive a lot of how CJTF-HOA operates within our area of responsibility…even how we are able to respond to crises continent wide” Strong said. “Due to the command relationship structure, it is a steep learning curve to understand the 'how' and 'why' behind the planning processes in place. It has been great learning and operating in the Joint environment”
A noticeable effect of working in such a joint environment is that it allows the different services to bring their unique strengths to the table to accomplish objectives they might have struggled with alone.
“No service can accomplish a complex task without the joint components due to resource constraints,” Strong said. “Due to the tyranny of distance, the U.S. can't easily move supplies without fixed wing support from either the Air Force or the Marine Corps. The latter's KC-130s are not tasked to be a logistics platform, driving further requirements for the Air Force to provide the fixed wing support to move large quantities of cargo.”
In addition to U.S. operations in theater, CJ-32 works with allies and partner nations such as the French forces stationed at Base aérienne 188 “Colonel Massart” in Djibouti.
“The French Mirage 2000s, in particular, provide support to naval forces transiting through high threat environments,” Strong said. “Just as the joint environment requires joint partnership, the US and allies leverage each other's capabilities to accomplish operations.”
This has all led to some great accomplishments for CJ-32 Air Ops, such as providing aviation expertise and coordination to a Department of State request for support. This resulted in cessation of hostilities in a specific region, allowing international humanitarian assistance to reach over 20 million at risk minorities in some of the hardest hit regions in over 20 years. Even further, they’ve increased the capabilities of CJTF-HOA to better respond to crisis events continent wide through forward arming and refueling point exercises of an MQ-9, and enabled intra-theater airlift for Africa Command.
“It was awesome to see the capabilities of each entity (Army, Air Force, Marines, Lockheed Martin), along with the unique skill sets of individuals and specific military jobs,” said Sergeant First Class Carissa Lombardo, senior enlisted leader for CJ-32 Air Ops. “To see them come together to accomplish a mission that will have far reaching impacts on not only the Horn of Africa, but the entire continent as well.”