Cover: Strategic Airlift in Africa

Strategic Airlift in Africa

Understanding Challenges and Opportunities for the Movement Coordination Centre Europe

Published Jul 22, 2021

by Ben Caves, Pauline Paillé, James Black

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Research Questions

  1. What is the current landscape of strategic airlift in Africa?
  2. What are the unique challenges for the coordination of airlift in Africa?
  3. Which other modes of transport should be considered as part of a multi-modal solution?
  4. What are the transferrable lessons from other campaigns?

The African theatre has long been viewed as logistically challenging to operate in; its geography is characterised by its sheer size and scale, and a diversity of different terrains. Many of the Movement Coordination Centre Europe (MCCE)’s 28 Member Nations currently have military forces deployed across Africa as part of a variety of national and multinational missions, with concentrations in the Sahel and Horn of Africa.

While a significant number of these deployments are relatively small and with a light footprint, interest in the African theatre of operations is growing and the logistics effort required to support future deployments is only likely to increase. Physical barriers to logistics support solutions in Africa are compounded by the lack of regional hubs or forward bases, meaning that there is an over-reliance on inter-theatre and strategic airlift direct to the point of requirement. Strategic airlift assets are overstretched and in short supply globally.

Against this backdrop, RAND Europe was commissioned by the MCCE to carry out a scoping study into the challenges associated with coordination of strategic lift in and around Africa. While this study focuses primarily on airlift, it also considers other modes of transport (e.g. road, rail, sea) as part of possible multi-modal solutions. The aim was to identify any potential transferrable lessons from other campaigns, along with areas that would merit further detailed investigation.

Key Findings

  • Based on literature review and interviews, the study identified a range of challenges affecting the MCCE's efforts to promote more efficient coordination of strategic lift in Africa.

Generic or global challenges affecting the MCCE's overall mission:

  • These challenges include: competing priorities and the reliance on Member Nations' goodwill to share national assets; different approaches to and capabilities for burden sharing, for example between small and large Member Nations; information-sharing deficits, whether due to political sensitivities or bureaucratic and technical barriers; planning and timing issues that limit the use and benefits of multi-modal solutions such as road or sealift, with use of expensive air assets often left as the only possible 'last minute' solution; and gaps and overlaps between the responsibilities of multiple organisations, such as the US Africa Command, the MCCE, or the European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or United Nations.

Challenges specific to the African theatre of operations:

  • These challenges include: the light footprint of most forces deployed in Africa and the limited assets available to support them; the physical geography of the African theatre of operations, which involves large distances and support to austere, remote bases; the complex political landscape and variable diplomatic relations with African host nations, affecting timelines for securing access, basing or overflight permissions; the prevalence of national missions with bespoke logistic support solutions, often with a focus in one country or region (e.g. France in the Sahel); and the limited complementarity with United Nations missions and capabilities.


  • Four priority areas should be considered for action: promoting greater information sharing and transparency on national taskings in Africa, encouraging the use of common information architecture to increase interoperability, identifying and exploring pooling and sharing opportunities to fulfil shared goals, and leveraging contacts between Member Nations and African host nations.
  • The following three potential areas have been identified for long-term investigation: encouraging and enabling multinational use of national contracts with commercial operators, promoting the use of common platforms to develop long-term synergies, and expanding the use of the ATARES mechanism to increase exchange of services between participating nations.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was commissioned by the Movement Coordination Centre Europe (MCCE) and conducted by RAND Europe.

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