The Nigerian Air Force is the largest and most powerful in West and Central Africa. Numerically it has more aircraft than the next 16 ECOWAS countries, including Chad and Cameroon combined, and its the only Air Force in the region with a dedicated ground combat unit.
But that’s where the good stuff ends. Relative to its size and available resources the Nigerian Air Force is hopelessly obselete. Here’s why.
As of this writing (until/if the JF-17 Thunder is delivered) the most potent and only supersonic aircraft in the Nigerian Air Force inventory is the Chinese built Chengdu F-7N Airguard. Itself a clone of the Russian MiG-21 fighter built five years after the end of World War Two.
In 2005 Nigeria spent a quarter of a billion dollars ($350 billion) to aquire 15 F-7N interceptors as a stop gap measure as it retires its fleet of MiG-21’s. Twelve years later three pilots are dead, spares parts are hard to come by as no sane country uses a post WW2 era aircraft as its frontline strike aircraft. Of the original 15 jets, only 6 are operational.
Chengdu F-7Ni Airguard.
Now the antiquated F-7N is not entirely obselete. There are at least a dozen air forces in the world that still have the F-7N in their fleet. Morroco, Pakistan and Indonisia all operate the F-7N, but they use it as a force multiplier by having them in large quantities. Morroco operates nearly 100 F-7N’s even though they have the Flankers and Fukcrums. Egypt has 120 of the obselete fighters but also flies the F-16 and of recent the French built Rafale. China is reported to have close to 200 of these antiques.
Countries who operate 1950 era jets have them in large numbers. Nigeria however is the exception. The NAF has just 6 of these jets airworthy to defend Nigeria’s airspace.
Dassault Donnier Alpha Jet.
The Alpha Jet is hopelessly obsolete. Acquired by the Air Force in the eighties as a trainer aircraft to train pilots, the Alpha Jet today is the workhorse of the Nigerian Air Force. If anything, the proliferation of surface to air missile sites in Chad and Niger should be a key impetus for Nigeria to modernise its aircrafts, but the reverse is the case.
If for example war breaks out between Nigeria and Chad, and these antiquated subsonic airplane were to cross into Chadian airspace in an attempt to attack ground targets there will be no need to vector MiG-29’s or SU-25’s. Chad has a battery of SA-3 surface to air missiles and Stinger MANPADS in active service. So long as they are detected on time the 600km per hour Alpha Jets will be blotted out of the sky before they reach their targets.
It’s time for Nigeria’s military leaders to realise that Nigeria is in TROUBLE. In modern warfare the Air Force plays a vital role. In today’s battlefield you cannot isolate land forces from air support. When air superiority is lost the land battle becomes worthless . NAF MiG-21’s played a pivotal role when the Nigerian Army routed and pushed back the invading Chadian forces in the eighties.
Despite that victory the need for a powerful airforce to deter future aggression promted the NAF’s acquisition of a squadron of 4th Gen BAE’s Jaguar jets from Britannia. At a time when the closest foe to the NAF was Chads fleet of 5 Alpha Jets, Nigeria enjoyed decades of unchallenged air superiority.
For example, in the 1980’s the Nigerian Air Force fleet of one squadron (twelve) of BAE’s 4th Gen Jaguar and two squadrons (24) of MiG 21’s was vastly superior in numerical and qualitative terms. However, French military aid and cooperation with all of Nigeria’s peripherial neighbors in recent years has considerably narrowed the gap to the point where the Chadian Air Force is now roughly comparable to the Nigerian Air Force in qualitative terms, and is virtually the only country in WEST/CENTRAL Africa that fields 4th Gen fighter jets.
Misappropriation of funds.
In late 2016 the Nigerian Air Force placed an order for 12 Embrae Super Tucano aircraft for a staggering $600 million. This has to be a joke. If you are spending two times the amount of the entire defense budget of Chad, then we ought to make sure it counts. We are repeating the mistakes of 2005 when the NAF spent a quarter of a billion dollars ($350 million), the entire budget of Chad on 15 widow maker antiquated aircrafts called the Chengdu F-7N interceptor. $600 million if put to good use will transform the Nigerian Air Force, putting it on par with the South African Air Defence Force, SAADF.
Those who support this unbelievably senseless move, or make an argument on “priority, what is needed now, we must focus on the BOKO HARAM threat bladabladabla….. ” fail to realise we are currently suffering from the mistakes of 2005.
There is never a RIGHT TIME to modernise the capability of a nation’s fighting force. If 18 Alpha Jets, 15 L-39’s, 40 Mi-24 and Mi-35 helicopter gunships, 9 Mi-17sh and five CH-3 Rainbow combat UAV (One lost to attrition) is not enough to pummel Boko Haram back to the days of Salladin, then we have no business having a air force.
A stunning 99% of our entire strike aircraft fleet is 30 years old and can only be used in less contested enviroment where the Air Force has a margin of air superiority. Boko Haram is a spent force, it does not have an airforce.
A nation with obsolete and outdated air force assets will be exposed to aerial threats from a potential enemy. It is prudent for the Nigerian Air Force to gradually transit from Counter Insurgency operations to conventional operations. The procurement programmes for the Nigerian Air Force is nothing short of a complete joke and an embarrassment.
Spending twice the entire defence budget of Chad on 12 subsonic turbo prop aircrafts amidst threats arising from Franco Chadian and Cameroonian growing aggressive stance on issues over disputed territory is almost beyond belief.
Ours already struggling Air Force is shrinking before our eyes. The Nigerian Air Force is the smallest and oldest since the end of the civil war.
If those guys at Aso-Rock step back and look at the collective impact of patch patch acquisitions and capability cuts due to refusal to modernise, they will find out that there is virtually no slack left in Nigeria’s air power to protect Nigeria’s airspace, much less meet regional peacekeeping demands. The acquisition of 10 Super Muchank trainers and two VIP helicopters is emblematic of a country driving its air force to extinction.