Analysis. Current State of the Nigeria Air Force.

WAR IS TERRIBLE

To a fortunate many Nigerians not living in the North East , Nigeria’s decade long war against Boko Haram is an abstraction and the suffering it brings, though easy to understand, is hard to truly imagine.In the last decade the Nigerian government failed to appreciate history., they quickly forgot that Nigeria came to the brink of war with Cameroon, and by extension France in the last fifteen years.

They quickly forgot that the Nigerian Army was forced to drive out an invading  Army, driving them deep into Chadian until they were less than 12 kilometres from N’Djamena. There are only two countries Nigeria has had to contend militarily, and the source of friction has been over Nigeria’s resources.

Yet the systematic decimation of the Nigerian military by successive administrations continued unabated for years. They failed to think long term, and its costs us seriously, in that today, the weakness and shortcomings of the Nigerian Army has been exploited by Nigeria’s strategic foes – Chad, Cameroon, France.

The last five years has been open on Nigeria, a global free for all.  We lost Bakassi, Boko Haram has unleashed an death and destruction on Nigeria’s North East on an unprecedented scale. We’ve had Chadian troops brazenly cross into Nigerian territory to conduct military operations on Nigerian territory without bothering to notify or seek permission from the Nigerian government.
We’ve witnessed Cameroon unleash death and destruction on Nigeria in an apocalyptic scale by releasing a large volume of water from the Lado Dam in Cameroon. Killing hundreds and submerging 250 villages and displacing 50,000 Nigerians. For the sake of alibi the Cameroonian government gave Nigeria a 5 day warning of its intentions, which frankly does not give the Nigeria government  enough time to communicate with people to vacate the flood prone area. An action that is akin to a declaration of war. Despite the unbelievable damage the Cameroonian government defiantly refuses to compensate the victims.

On the military aspect we’ve seen  Yaounde turn down Nigeria’s request to pursue and attack Boko Haram fighters retreating into Cameroon, yet on multiple occasions Cameroonian BIR have crossed into territory,kill hundreds of civilians and burning entire villages in a show of bravado, before retreating back across the border. All without prior notification and approval. Needless to say these events are as a direct consequence of Nigeria’s failure to invest on its military.

The only way to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past is to have a robost deterrence, a guarantee of assured economic and military reprisals of greater ferosity, the kind Nigeria had in the eighties and ninties.

TURNING POINT.

The turning point of the Nigerian Army came with The election of former Army General and military head of state -Muhammadu Buhari.

The Boko Haram menace may have diminished somewhat, brewing tensions in the Lake Chad basin at escalate into armed clashes,  yet another threat at Nigeria’ doorstep. Against this backdrop it is prudent to identify and analyse potential conflict scenarios. They bring these concept into binding focus and deny us the luxury of looking away.

In this pictorial dramatization we examine the man responsible reforming the Nigerian armed forces, the anti corruption crackdown , its modernization efforts and its current capacity to defend against external aggression.

Persistence they say pays. After three previous failed attempts former Army General Muhammadu Buhari is elected President. 

Muhammadu Buhari waves to a crowd of cheering supporters after taking the oath of office at the Eagle Square in Abuja
President Buhari summons Nigeria’s Chief of Army, Navy and Air Force Staff Service.
President Buhari pulls a Trump on the incompetent and corrupt Service Chiefs. He fires them.
The disgraced Service Chiefs who between them misappropriated $7 billion of money meant for weapons procurement over a five year period are ushered out of the premises and ordered to tender their passports pending an anti corruption investigation.

NEW SERVICE CHIEFS.

Shortly after officially moving into the Presidential Villa, the President appoints new Service Chiefs in a swearing in ceremony at the Presidential Villa. In his words :

“I want to reiterate that your appointments and subsequent elevation to these ranks are based on your pedigree as first class senior officers who identify sterling leadership qualities. Therefore I have no doubt in my mind that all of you are equal to the task ahead of you. You must acquaint yourselves and justify the honour done to you.”

Lt Gen Tukur Buratai is sworn as the Army Chief of Staff.

TRANSFORMATION : Three part series.

AIR FORCE

ARMY

NAVY

In a directive delivered by Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, the Service Chiefs, are given seven days to submit their plans for the defeat of Boko Haram.

NIGERIAN AIR FORCE. 

Nigeria’s President Buhari orders the relocation of the Operational Command and Control Headquaters of the war against Boko Haram from  airconditoned offices in Abuja to the frontlines in Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram and the epicenter of the eight year military campaigne against Boko Haram.

Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Tukur Buratai salutes the President after personally receiving orders to relocate the operational headquarters of the war against Boko Haram from Abuja to Maiduguri.
In a symbolic gesture to President donated two of his Presidential helicopters to the war against Boko Haram.
In accordance with the Presidents directive, the Chief of Army Staff maps out plans for the establishment of a new Command and Control Centre (MCC) in Maiduguri, Borno State.
NAF Chief Abubakar Sadique overseas the deployment of strike aircrafts to Maiduguri.
NAF Chief Abubakar Sadique overseas the deployment of strike aircrafts to Maiduguri.
A C-130 Hercules assigned to the NAF Logistics Wing, Laden with personnel and equipment takes off for Maiduguri.

Preceding the arrival of the Service Chiefs are Flight officers and administrative personnel .
Air force Special Forces Personnel arrive at their new home base.
NAF personnel in high spirit.
Service Chiefs arrive Maiduguri in accordance with the Presidents directive.
F-7Ni interceptor deploys chutes upon
F-7Ni interceptors and Alpha light attack jets.
MI-24 helicopter gunship.
NAF fighter pilots.
 Mi-35 Hind helicopter gunship, Alpha jets and F-7Ni interceptors.

WHAT ROLE DOES THIS AIR BASE PLAY IN THE EVENT OF HOSTILITIES?

Proximity.

The fighter wing of the Tactical Air Command in Maiduguri is home to the bulk of Nigeria’s strike assets.

F-7N Air Guard.

Alpha light ground attack jet.

Mi-24 and Mi-35 helicopters.

Mil-Mi-17sh  helicopters.

JF-17 Multirole fighter.

The propensity for conflict in the Lake Chad basin lies within four African States. Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad.

The Lake Chad basin shares similarities with the situation in the South China Sea. History has shown us that when multiple countries are competing for scarce natural resources, and where there is ambiguity about who controls or have legitimate claims over the resources, the friction between vying States may escalate into violent conflict. Of the four States vying for control, three of them are all Francophone economic and military allies. If violent conflict ensues (and it might), it will be a war between Nigeria on one hand and Chad, Niger and Cameroon on the other hand. One of them have a Defence treaty with France. This might invariably draw France into the conflict because of its treaty obligations.

The Lake Chad has been a source of diplomatic and military friction between Nigeria and Chad for two decades, culminating in the Chadian invasion in 83 and the Nigerian repulsion and subsequent invadion of Chadian territory

The distance between Maiduguri and N’djamena is 126 kilometres.  The flight time for an F-7N fighter on full afterburners is roughly 16 minutes depending on the weather. Likewise a Chadian Mi-29 can cover that distance in the same time frame. The advantage goes to who strike first.

Air Capabilities of Belingerates.

NIGERIA

No other country in West/Central Africa can match Nigeria when it comes to military spending and aerial projection of power. Baring the consequence, should war between the contesting States becomes inevitable beyond any reasonable doubt, the temptation of Nigeria to carry out pre-emptive strike against Chadian military bases before the arrival of the French support will be hard to resist.

Should Abuja decide to carry out military strike against Chad, even a limited one, the impact will be devastating to N’djamena. When considering military action however, its important to acknowledge the variables and the presence of French and American reconnaissance bases in Chad and Cameroon that may complicate Nigeria’s ability to strike preemptively.

It is important to consider outside factors, but in this case we are basing our assumptions on a scenario in which Nigeria conducts a limited, stealthy attack using a number of specialised platforms. In a surprise attack scenario, the primary tools for the task would be its fleet of F-7N fighters  firing the Chinese made PLC-9 missiles and its new JF-17 fighter bombers. The Nigerian Air Force acquire 12 JF-17 fighters in 2016 but with an initial delivery of just three.

A Nigerian Air Force F-7N fighter jet with its panoply of weapons.
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The 75 Strike Group Yola is home to 13 F-7Ni interceptors.

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The new JF-17N Thunder will replace the F-7N a the backbone of the Nigerian Air Force.

 

The NAF recently acquired a full squadron (twelve) of the JF-17 Multi-role fighter from Pakistan to replace its fleet of 13 obsolete F-7 N interceptor.

The JF-17 features a Glass cockpit and fly by wire controls
The single engine supersonic JF-17 will replace the F-7N as the backbone of the NAF strike capability with an anitial delivery if only 3 aircraft. The remaining 10 aircraft will be delivered to the NAF sometime in 2018.

In addition to strike aircafts, Nigeria can rely on its fleet of five CH-3 Rainbow attack drones to fly in on the heels of Nigerian jets to act as spotters or carry out strikes itself.  The NAF can surreptitiously have its ATR-42 surveillance plane and King Air 350i radar planes othe airborne near the target area.  Together these aircrafts can act as spotters for Nigerian Strike planes by scanning the area for threats and vectoring them towards lightly defended targets.

The Nigerian Air Force became obsessed with ISTAR/Network centric warfare when with the help of sensor/ISTAR capable planes like the ATR-42 surveillance plane and the KingAir 350i, the NAF achieved stunning success in decimating the ranks of Boko Haram insurgents, targeting and destroying Boko Harams logistical/fuel dumps, and inflicted unbearing casualties,killing a third of its commanders…all with unprecedented precision.

The quest for consolidating and bolstering Nigeria’s ISTAR capability in today’s battlefield has driven the Nigerian Air Force innevitably in the direction of long range UAV’s, attack drones, surveillance aircrafts and AWAC capable planes. Nigeria’s four civilian satellites in Space (one of them remote sensing) provides for a secondary dual use  capability to support the Nigerian military’s C4ISR needs. Excluding Egypt and Algeria ,Nigeria is years ahead of the rest of Africa in this regard.

While much of Nigeria’s ISR/satelite reconnaissance capability remains opaque, what is abundantly clear is that Nigerian armed forces, especially its Air Force,now  has a acute understanding of the value of C4ISR in todays battlefields and is investing heavily in this area, emulating specific capabilities and doctrines developed by the U.S military in its war on terror.

While comparative air forces has focused on expending huge amounts of money for 4th Gen combat aircrafts, the Nigerian Air Force has chosen to invest heavily in Information Warfare domain, with ISTAR/ISRm UAV’s and sensor fusion platforms, at least on the short term. With target vectoring by the King Air surveillance plane, 3rd Gen jets like the F-7Ni AIRGUARD interceptor and Alpha  jets have been able to hit ground targets with near accuracy.

KING AIR 350I

The NAF KincAid 350i can track ground targets at over 100 km. These Hunter aircrafts can relay target coordinates to airborne strike aircrafts within seconds.

 

ATR-42 Surveillance plane.

The AWACs capable Allenia ATR-42 surveillance plane represents Nigeria’s new attempt at modernising its forces to face the security challenges oftoday’s modern battlefield.  The ATR-42 can track air and ground targets by switching between air to air and air to ground mode. It can track targets in excess of 400km with electronic and jamming mode configuration.

Numerous instances demonstrates Nigeria’s robust indigenous capability to develop key ISR systems and apply them in unique and original ways. If the observed trends in Nigeria’s new found addiction for ISIR doctrines nd technological capabilities continue unabated, the Nigerian military will have a world class ISR/ISTAR/C4ISR capability in place by 2020.

In August 2016, spurredby the desire for the Nigerian Air Force to domesticate technologies fir UAE production and operations, the Air Force Research Development Centre (AFRDC) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Training School was inaugurated, with greater impetus given to the production of the Operational version of the Gulma and Amebo UAE.

An Israeli made Aerostar UAV acquired by the NAF during the Yar’adua administration to money oil pipelines in the Niger Delta.
A hand launched helicopter UAV under development at the NAF Institute of Technology.

Export version of the GULMA TACTICAL DRONE. Built by the Air Force Insitute of Technology 

Nothing exemplifies the Nigerian Air Force new doctrines and emphasis on netwok centric warfare and technology against assymetric targets than its fleet of five CH-3 Rainbow attack drone. Nigeria acquired six missile firing attack drones from China, one is believed to have crashed or was shot down by Boko Haram, depending on who you ask. The remaining five have together flown over 600 sorties since 2016, a quater of them strike missions.

Nigeria is the only country to have ever carried out drone strikes in Africa.  In January 2016 Nigeria joined the dubious international clique of countries with attack drones when it bombed a logistics base uses by Boko Haram, killing 6 Boko Haram commanders and dozens more.

In a conflict scenario with Chad, the size and high operational ceilng means the NAF can carry out selected strikes with little probability of being detected. More impressive, the CH-3 attack drone can relay target imagery to to ground stations, allowing mission commanders to watch the attack in real time, with the option of vectoring it to another target, vectoring manned fighters at its heels or taken down the target with its Chinese variant of the Hell fire missiles.

The 73 Strike Group, Yola is home to the NAF 9th Reconnaissance Squadron and its fleet of attack drones.

Nigeria has Africa’s most extensive fleet of attack drones.

BASE PROTECTION.

In November 2010 the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, in a multi billion dollar contract with Thales completed a total radar coverage of Nigeria’s airspace. In May 2012 the Nigerian military keyed into NAMA’s radar system for defence of the country’s airspace.

But NAMA’s radar lacks a secondary backup system. To compensate for this the Nigerian Air Force relies on several 36D6 TIN SHIELD mobile radar system to protect its air bases. This Russian system is designed to detect air targets as well as friend-or-foe identification. The system is also able to provide targeting and bearing for interceptor aircrafts and guidance for Roland anti aircraft missile systems.

Anti Aircraft Defense. 

To defend against air attack the NAF relies on the following :
Strela-2 Surface to air missile.

Roland to air missile.

Blow pipe surface to air missile. 

ZSU-24 Self propelled anti aircraft gun.

STRELA-2

Also known as the SA-7 Grail, the Strela-2 is a shoulder fired low altitude surface to air missile system. It has a high explosive warhead, a passive infrared homing guidance and a maximum firing range of 4200 metres.

Roland Surface to air missile system. 

The Roland SAM system Nigeria’s primary mobile short-range surface to air system, The system is deployed to Nigerian Air Force bases and Army amoured fighting units for protection against low flying aircraft and helicopter.

In the event Nigeria is forced to defend its territory against invading enemy amoured vehicle it can call on its fleet of flying tanks- Mi-24 and Mi- 35 Hind hellicopter gunships.

In battlefield support of ground forces Nigeria relies on its flying tank – the Mil Mi-24/35 helicopter. The Nigerian Air Force operates the largest attack helicopter  fleet in the region with 40 in service. In 2016 the NAF reached w deal the Russian manufacturer for an additonal 12 of the more modetn Mi-35 variant. So far three has been delivered to the NAF with the remaining 10 scheduled for delivery sometime in 2018. The Mi-35 is  combination of an amoured gunship and troop transport helicopter and has been the main workhorse of Nigeria’s air attack platform in the campaign against Boko Haram.

The helicopter gunship features night vision night vision and hermal imaging system, and excellent protection to pilots. It features  a titanuim amoured tub that can withstand 12.7 mm projectiles and a ballistic resistant windscreen, allowing pilots to confidentlt swoop as low as tree top level to launch attacks.

Should the need arise the NAF can augment the MI-24/35 with its dual purpose MI-17SH and weaponised Superpuma helicopters.

…and of course we cannot talk about the Nigerian Air Force with the Alpha Jet.

Originally acquired for training pilots, the Alpha Jet has been the workhorse of the Nigerian Air Force for over two decades.  It has seen service in S-Leone, Liberia,  the Niger Delta and has been used most extensively in Nigeria’s North East. Nigeria’s fleet of Alpha jets has been modified to carry bombs, rockets and cluster munitions. Some have been adapted for ISR missions and fitted with FLARE pods.

One often overlooked aspect when measuring Air combat capability is the availability of trained pilots. The backbone of every Air Force is not combat aircrafts in itself but the availability and training availabity of qualified pilots. No other Air Force in the region comes close to the NAF in this regard. The quality and potency of an aircraft is only as good as the pilot. The NAF enjoys a near %70 service availability of pilots, and the quality of her airmen is never in doubt as Nigerian pilots are sent to flight schools innthe United States, Pakistan, Russia and South Africa.

A Nigerian pilot at a flight training school in the United States.

Service availability entails what percentage of aircraft pilots is available at every given time. If a country has a squadron of 12 aircrafts and a service ability of just %50. It means only 6 fighter jets are available for combat operations at any given moment. Lacking in capacity and the necessary institutional framework countries like Chad hire Bulgarian and Belarusian pilots as mercenaries to fly its combat aircraft.

Contrast that with the  Nigerian air force which not only have more qualified pilots than there are combat planes,but has a dedicated fighter pilot training school. This gives the Nigerian Air Force a near unassailable advantage in any conflict scenario against its neighbours.

An F-7Ni fighter pilot over the skies of Nigeria’s North East.
NAF pilots assigned to the strike wing of the 73 Strike Group on Adamawa State.
Fighter pilot welcomes DH dignitaries.

NAF PILOT TRAINING INSTITUTE. 

SPECIAL FORCES REGIMENT. 

In August 2013, three hundred Boko Haram militants stormed a Nigerian Air Force Borno State at around 3:am in the morning. They quickly overwhelmed whatever semblance of security the base had and destroyed three decommissioned MIG-21 on the tarmac,  two Mi-24 attack helicopters and kidnapped over a dozen women at the base. It was the most brazen attacked carried out by the militants as at then, and led to the creation of an Air Force Special Forces Regiment.

The Special Forces Regiment should not be linked to the Air Force Quick Response Squad, which in itself is a pre-existing unit tasked with Search, Rescue, and Recovery operations. Trained by Russian Spetnaz, the AFSF, together with the Navy SBS (special boat service) are reputed to be the most feared fighting unit in the Nigerian military, understandably to the chagrin of the Nigerian Army.


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