The Cameroonian Armed Forces generally has been an apolitical force dominated by civilian control. Traditional dependence on the French defense capability, although reduced, continues to be the case as French military advisers remain closely involved in preparing the Cameroonian forces for deployment to the contested Bakassi Peninsula.
The Cameroon Army, Air Force and Navy (including the Naval Infantry), the National Gendarmerie, and the Presidential Guard make up the Cameroonian Armed Forces. It numbers around 38,000 - 40,000 personell in land, air and sea.
The Cameroonian armed forces have training grounds all over the country. Notable Air Force bases are located in Garoua, Yaoundé, Douala and Bamenda. It has been said that China has an ongoing military-military relationship with Cameroon, which includes training for Cameroonian military students each year. There are also technical advisors to assist in repairing Cameroonian military vehicles and naval vessels, and Chinese military sales.
With a total of 20,000 men, 10 per cent being female, the Army remain one of the most important assets to the nation. The Army is under the responsibility of the Chief of Staff, Nkoa Atenga, the General of Division (Général de division), whose staff is in Yaoundé. Currently the organization dates from 2001 with distribution in several types of units: combat units, response units, support units and finally special reserve units as part of three joint military regions and the ten military land sectors.
Each unit is trained and equipped to fight in swampy coastal terrain as demonstrated in their training grounds in Bakassi peninsula. Though adequately trained, the Cameroon Army does not have operational experience against other forces; therefore, it is not possible to assess its ability to respond to changing threats and opposing tactics.
The General Headquarter Brigade: Currently located in Yaoundé, this brigade is tasked with protection of the capital city and its supporting institutions. No one therefore has the power to deploy troupes from here to other posts except on the authority of The President of the Republic.
The Rapid Intervention Brigade: This group currently has no general staff and it’s made up of three rapid intervention battalions, stationed at Doula, Tiko and Koutaba. These three battalions are the Bataillon Special Amphibie (BSA), the Bataillon des Troupes Aeroportees (BTAP) and the Bataillon Blinde de Reconnaissance (BBR) respectively.
The BSA is inspired by the French Special Forces. Thus, this brigade is a tactical battle unit under the authority of the Chief of Staff of the armed forces. This group can only be engaged on the approval of the President when deemed necessary. Of the three battalions, only the BTAP is operational.
The Five motorised infantry brigades: This group is supposed to be stationed in one military sector where they can be engaged without any regard to the territorial division of the country. These brigades currently do not have a general staff. In theory, they should consist of 11 motorised infantry battalions; 5 support battalions and 3 backing battalions. However, the motorised battalions are in reality not operational due to lack of staff, equipment and vehicles.
Three rapid intervention battalions are those in the group called BIR for short.
Founded in 1960, the year of independence from France, there are about 600 troops in the air force which has bases across the country in areas such as Garoua, Koutaba, Yaoundé, Douala and Bamenda. The Cameroon Air Force (Armée de l'Air du Cameroun) theoretically possesses a fairly balanced force of relatively unsophisticated aircraft, although many of these are now getting old and require high level of servicing.
Emphasis is placed on transport and utility operations in support of ground forces. Combat capability is modest and restricted to a few armed trainers that can be used for ground attack, coin (counter insurgery) and close air support roles. Six Atlas Impala jet trainers purchased from South Africa in 1997 had a lengthy gestation period before becoming operational and did not enter service until late 1998. None of the Impalas are currently in service apart from a few ultra light aircraft, which are the most recent additions to the inventory.
Cameroon’s air arms lack training aircrafts and has also experienced a significant decline in transport assets, most recently involving the 2001 grounding of the remaining three DHC-5D Buffalo aircraft. As with other regional air forces, few aircraft have been procured since the end of the oil boom in the early 1980s and the burden is beginning to show on equipment that have been in the system for at least two decades.
The Cameroon Air Force was established in August 1960. The French supplied the first batch of equipment to the Cameroon Air Force. Later, orders from France included the Alouette II, Alouette III and Gazelle helicopters, and Fouga Magister and Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet, jet trainers etc In 1977, two Lockheed C-130 Hercules were installed into service. Following that, four turboprop de Havilland Canada DHC-5 Buffalos were ordered in 1981.
In 1982, three twin turboprop Dornier Do 128s entered service for the maritime patrol role. The air force includes three main aerial bases, in Yaoundé, Douala, and Garoua. The air force staff is divided between these three bases, within each military region.
The Yaoundé base is a helicopter and liaison platform; the Douala base is a logistical and tactical transport platform; the Garoua base is an attack and training platform. The first two bases are overworked due to frequent use over a long period of time. There are no stopping systems, no radio-navigation installations, and no lighting apparatus. No major investment has been made here for a long time now.
The Garoua base is the more modern and the best equipped and “conforms” to NATO standards having been built by the Germans, following an invitation to tender. The PANVR (Pole Aeronautique National a Vocation Regionale) is located on this base. Large aeroplanes can land easily on this base however; the site is not well maintained.
The Koutaba aerodrome is home to the Bataillon des Troupes Aeroportees (BTAP). Finally, the Bamenda aerodrome could become a fourth aerial base, with the stationing of the airborne rifle commandos (fusiliers commando de l’air – BAFUSCO AIR): currently 60 people under the command of a lieutenant colonel are assisted by eight officers to work at the site.
Currently, the air force has 6 Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jets (2 are currently inoperable) as attack aircraft; 3 Lockheed, C-130 Hercules and 1 Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma transport aircraft, 1 Piper PA-23, 1 Aérospatiale Alouette II, 2 Joker 300, 7 Humbert Tétras for training and 2 Bell 206 as observation and liaison aircrafts. The independently operated Presidential aerial squadron has 1 Grumman Gulfstream III, 1 Aérospatiale Dauphin and 1 Aérospatiale Super Puma, which are not part of air force equipment. Maintenance of aircraft of this squadron is better than those of the air force.
Basic training for airmen is carried out at Koutaba. Non-commissioned officers, warrant officers and general officers undergo training at the PANVR, which is also a regional school where pilots from other African countries train. The purpose of the school is to prepare them for the examination for the French air school (CSEA) in ‘Salon-de-Provence’ (A place in France). However, Cameroonian pilot officers also undergo training in other countries such as Morocco and the USA.
The Cameroon Air Force has the following rank structure:
• General, General d' Armee Aerienne
• Lieutenant General, General de Corps D'Armee Aerienne
• Major General, General de Division Aerienne
• Brigadier General, General de Brigade Aerienne
• Colonel, Colonel
• Lieutenant Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel
• Major, Commandant
• Captain, Capitaine
• 1st Lieutenant, Lieutenant
• 2nd Lieutenant, Sous-lieutenant
There are about 1,100 troops in the navy including naval infantry. Cameroon's Marine Nationale République modernised and increased its capabilities during 2000 with the acquisition of a number of small Rodman patrol craft and the retirement of some small older craft.