The Nigerian Air Force is making efforts to become an efficient modern air arm in the face if constant terrorist threats and sectarian violence. In the first of a two-part study, M Mazumdar unravels some of the confusion and secrecy sorrounding the Nigerian Air Force.
Africa’s most populous and richest country in terms of gross domestic product, Nigeria is plagued by serious socio- economic and security problems, despite ongoing attempts by its military and security forces to counter and defeat them.
The resurgent Nigerian Air Force (NAF), which celebrated its 53rd anniversary in April, is in the thick of multiple counter-insurgency (COIN) and internal security (IS) operations, supporting the army, navy, police and security forces on many fronts. Last year, for example, it was simultaneously engaged in five combat operations.
Among these, the well-publicised Operation Lafiya Dole against Boko Haram included the accidental bombing of a refugee camp at Rann, which killed a large number of civilians on January 17 this year. The NAF leadership ascribed the tragedy to a ‘communications gap’ in the operational chain.
Meanwhile, Lafiya Dole continues unabated as Boko Haram regroups after each offensive and continues to attack Nigerian and Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) forces. Despite repeated official announcements about the group’s degraded capability and imminent demise, the stark reality is that Boko Haram remains a serious threat, the solution to which requires more than military engagement.
As the leading nation in West Africa, Nigeria’s air force also maintains commitments to international peace support, deploying transport and combat aircraft under the African Union- led African International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) in 2013 – and to Senegal and Gambia in January and February this year, under the Economic Community of West African States Mission In The Gambia (ECOMIG) operation.
This was mounted to restore democracy in Gambia by forcing the departure of Yahya Jammeh, who had refused to step down from the presidency after losing the popular vote.
Air Marshal Sadique B Abubakar, the current Chief of Air Staff (CAS), commands from Headquarters NAF (HQ NAF) at Abuja. The Office of the Chief of Air Staff administers a Projects Implementation and Monitoring Team (PIMT), Secretariat of Air Expo and International Liaison (AEILS) and ten staff branches, including the newly established Communications Branch which was spun off from the former Logistics and Communications Branch. Each staff branch, headed by an air vice-marshal, has a number of subordinate directorates and departments. Through its staff branches and their subordinate directorates, HQ NAF exercises control over six operational commands.
They are Tactical Air Command (TAC), headquartered at Makurdi; a nascent Special Operations Command (SOC), established in 2016 with its HQ at Bauchi; Mobility Command (MC), with its HQ at Yenagoa; two new training commands derived from the now defunct Kaduna-basedTraining Command – the Air Training Command (ATC) with its HQ at Kaduna and the Ground Training Command (GTC) with its HQ at Enugu; and the Lagos- based Logistics Command.
Every command has several subordinate groups, each of which has at least one wing each wing includes one or more squadrons. Wings are not always co-located with their parent unit, and while the numerical designations of some flying wings are known, information on current flying squadrons is not openly available.
For administrative purposes, each group is located at a fixed base. A flying group and its subordinate flying wing typically operate a single aircraft type, although recent deployment patterns suggest the NAF is moving towards composite groups using detachments of various aircraft types on combat operations.
For example, 103 Strike Group (103 STG, formerly designated 79 STG) and 105 Composite Group (105 CG, ex-79 CG), at Yola and Maiduguri respectively – which are frontline bases in the thick of operations against Boko Haram – operate mixed formations of fighters and fixed- wing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and combat, transport and utility helicopters.
Since early last year, the NAF has been working through one of its periodic exercises in reorganisation. Typically occurring every five years or so, they reflect evolving operational needs. The two most obvious changes this time include the establishment of Special Operations Command in 2016 and the splitting up of the Training Command into the Air Training Command and the Ground Training Command – plus the renumbering of all NAF commands and subordinate units.
Under the new scheme, NAF HQ direct-reporting units fall into a new 0XX series (formerly 100 series), TAC units take 100-series numbers (formerly two-digit series), SOC units fall into a 200 series, MC takes 300-series (previously 200-series) numbers, Training Command 400 series (formerly 300 series) and Logistics Command 500 series (ex-400 series).
Direct Reporting Units
NAF HQ administers various direct reporting units (DRUs). They include 011 (ex-101) Presidential Air Fleet (011 PAF), based at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja; 013 Quick Response Force (013 QRF) at Minna; 015 Strategic Intelligence Group (015 SIG); 041 (ex-105) Communications Depot at Shasha in Lagos; 051 Personnel Management Group (051 PMG); 053 NAF Camp Abuja; 055 NAF Camp Lagos; 061 Aeromedical Centre (061 AMC); NAF Hospital Abuja (063 NAFH); and 081 Pay and Accounting Group (081 PAG).
Others include the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) at Kaduna; Aeronautical Engineering and Technical Services Ltd (AETSL), which operates aircraft maintenance centres; and the International Helicopter Flying School (IHFS) at Enugu, operating under a public-private partnership between the Nigerian Air Force Holding Company (NAFHC) and Triax Aviation.
Another direct reporting unit, the National Air Defence Corps (NADC), is still inchoate several decades since its formation – with unknown (and probably very limited) air defence capabilities. Among the DRUs, 011 PAF is a flying unit, while 013 QRF at Minna is a special forces unit training in hostage rescue and counter-terrorist operations; part of its instruction is being delivered by the Royal Air Force Regiment under the auspices of British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT) Nigeria.
The PAF, which operated 14 to 16 aircraft in 2014-15, has been downsizing to cut costs, either through the transfer of aircraft to other units or aircraft sales. In December 2015, it comprised ten aircraft: single examples of the Boeing 737BBJ (NAF 001 ‘Eagle One’), Gulfstream GVSP and GV, two Dassault Falcon 7Xs and a Hawker 4000 plus two AgustaWestland AW139s and a pair of AW101s.
The AW101s transferred to the NAF in October 2016, while Falcon 7X 5N-FGU and Hawker 4000 5N-FGX were put up for sale in December. In March this year the PAF fleet was thought to comprise the two AW139s, the BBJ, a Falcon 7X, a GVSP and a GV.
Tactical Air Command
Administering all the NAF’s fighting units and air base support formations (known as Base Services Groups or BSGs), TAC is tasked with the training and provision of all the operational elements required to fulfil the air force’s combat mission.
Under recent organisational changes, several TAC units were upgraded to group status, while other new units were established – along with several forward operating bases (FOBs) which include 119 (ex-55) FOB at Mabera (Sokoto) airport, 65 FOB at Badagry and 67 FOB at Gombe.
Another is planned for Akwa Ibom Airport by 2017. Other FOBs, on army bases at Mubi, Bama and Monguno in the northeast, are dedicated helicopter facilities supporting operations against Boko Haram.
In February this year, the then Chief of Training and Operations, Air Vice-Marshal Abdullahi Iya, announced the facilities at Monguno were being upgraded to accommodate combat helicopters deployed for counter- insurgency (COIN) operations. TAC meanwhile also operates the NAF air-to-ground range at Kwenev, near Makurdi.
Special Operations Command
Air Marshal Abubakar revealed Special Operations Command’s existence in January last year. It became operational on September 23, with its headquarters at 251 NAF Base, Bauchi. According to the CAS, its task is to facilitate “the development of the NAF’s response capability in both internal and external security operations”. SOC will also become responsible for base defence and force protection of NAF assets.
At least 6,000 NAF Regiment troopers are required to man these units, according to NAF sources. Consequently, there’s been a major increase in annual recruit intake – typically about 500 in the past – since 2015. On February 14 this year, the CAS noted that the NAF had inducted ‘over’ 2,000 recruits in 2016, and plans call for the intake of 5,000 more in two batches for 2017.
In July 2017, 1,928 recruits – the largest number to date – successfully completed their six- month Basic Military Training Course (BMTC) at the NAF’s Military Training Centre, Kaduna with “many” of them slated for deployment on base protection and combat duties. According to the NAF, 4,163 recruits completed basic training in the two-year period between July 2015 and July 2017 – a new record for the NAF.
The next intake of recruits slated for the BMTC numbers 3,000. According to NAF officials, SOC comprises nine units located across the country at bases including Bauchi, Daura, Gusau, Ipetu-Ijesha, Jos, Owerri and Yola.
A planned air element, with 201 (ex-89) Composite Group (CG) at Bauchi, will include combat and logistics aircraft; it currently fields several Quick Response Groups (QRGs) and QR Wings (QRWs) manned by NAF Regiment troopers. The SOC is also understood to include 013 Quick Reaction Force at Minna, although as a DRU it may have a dual reporting structure.
Known SOC units include 201 CG (currently without aircraft) at Bauchi; a QRW at Daura; 205 Combat Search And Rescue Group at Kerang, near Jos; 207 QRG at Gusau; 209 QRG at Ipetu-Ijesha; 211 Regt Group (RG) at Owerri; and the 213 Forward Operating Base in Katsina (with airfield facilities).
Assessed in July this year, most of these SOC units appeared to exist only in skeletal form while their facilities and cadre were being gradually built up – with some units being formally commissioned, such as the QRW at Daura and 213 FOB, as of late July.
Created out of Military Airlift Command in February 2011, Mobility Command is headquartered at Yenagoa, where it sits alongside 235 BSG (its new 300-series number is not yet known), which provides support. Curiously, Yenagoa has no airfield, although a facility is under construction at nearby Ammasoka.
Other static units include 351 BSG at Minna and 371 FOB at Warri. Mobility Command flying units include 301 (ex-201) ‘Buffaloes’ Heavy Airlift Group (HAG), with 221 Flying Wing at Ikeja (Murtala Muhammed International Airport, MMIP), operating three airworthy C-130H/H-30 Hercules
(out of eight airframes); and 303 (ex-203) Medium Airlift Group (MAG), whose 227 Flying Wing nominally operates between one and three G222 transports (out of six airframes) at Ilorin, although these ‘operational’ aircraft appeared to be grounded for maintenance at Ikeja in early 2017.
Other MC units are 305 (ex-207) Special Mobility Group at Calabar (its planned complement of Mi-17/171s has yet to be assigned) and 209 Executive Airlift Group (EAG) at Abuja, with around four King Air 350i turboprops and a handful of executive transports, including a Falcon.
The EAG may have been renumbered as 310 EAG, but this can’t be confirmed; neither can a scheduled move to Minna. Meanwhile it’s unclear if 205 Rotary Group, with one or two Super Pumas at Ikeja, is still active. If so, its new numerical designation is unconfirmed.
In mid-July this year, as part of its restructuring exercise the NAF announced it had split its long-standing Kaduna- based Training Command into two distinct entities – an Air Training Command (ATC), headquartered in Kaduna, and the Ground Training Command (GTC), headquartered in Enugu.
No more information has been released other than the planned establishment of a Central Flying School in Katsina, according to Air Marshal Abubakar. After a decade of sporadic flying training activities, the NAF has now resumed regular programmes. Primary flying training is normally conducted at 401 (ex-301) Flying Training School (FTS) at Kaduna, relocating to Makurdi when seasonal weather conditions preclude flying.
The unit also delivers conversion training on the Do 228, while its UAV Wing, in conjunctionwith the Air Force Research and Development Centre (AFRDC), trains drone operators. By July this year, UAV operations had resumed after a break of seven months and two grounded training UAVs – Chinese-built Mugin 300 series vehicles – had been reactivated by the AFRDC in Kaduna.
The NAF says that since the commencement of in-house UAV flying training, nine officers have been trained and subsequently deployed for operational duties, although a news report from July 13 says 13 officers have been trained as UAV operators. On December 5 last year, 401 FTS began conversion to the Pakistani-built Super Mushshak (SMK) aircraft, which it operates alongside five DA40 NGs (and a simulator).
These SMKs entered service in batches from March 2015 into 2016. Four Super Mushshaks on loan from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) are in use at Kaduna pending the assembly and commissioning of new-build aircraft whose deliveries began in July.
With its aerobatic capability and electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) cockpit, the SMK was ultimately meant to replace the DA40, although there are recent indications that the NAF may “buy more”, according to the local dealer for the type. This suggests a rethink about the DA40, which may complement the Super Mushshaks.
It seems the large fleet of locally assembled Van’s RV-6/6As, known as ABT-18 Air Beetles, is no longer in service. The first batch of four SMK instructor pilots (IPs), trained under PAF tutelage, graduated from 401 FTS on March 2.
The NAF simultaneously announced that the graduation marked the type’s final handover, since Nigerian pilots could now deliver ab initio training on the aircraft, and early in March, 30 students, including 18 in a first batch, had been selected to begin training with the new IPs.
On completion of primary instruction, pilots destined for further training locally go on to basic flying training on the L-39ZA with 403 FTS at Kano. Between 1987 and 2006, the school ran three IP courses, producing 14 graduates. Since then, two further courses have created 21 more IPs, the most recent, in 2016, training a squadron leader and three flight lieutenants. Each new IP averaged 113 hours of course flying on the L-39ZA through front-seat conversion, rear-seat proficiency and instructional phases.
The unit formally set up as 303 FTS in 1985, its initial L-29 Delfin equipment giving way to the L-39ZA from November 1986. Between 1985 and early 2016, it completed basic flying courses (BFCs) for 164 pilots, alongside the 21 NAF IPs and small numbers of others for the air forces of Ghana and Zimbabwe.
The school also delivers refresher training to NAF pilots and IPs. The last year for which training syllabus data is known is 2009. Then, student pilots were expected to undergo around 50 hours of ab initio training at 301 FTS before proceeding to 303 FTS for 120 or so hours of basic training on the L-39ZA.
Pilots in the transport stream then underwent a flying course on the Do 228, while those destined for fighters went to the 99 Air Weapons School – now known as 407 (ex-117) Air Combat Training Group (ACTG) at Kainji – for at least 50 hours of tactical training on the Alpha Jet, followed by FT-7NI flying with the operational conversion unit (OCU) at Makurdi.
Pilots destined for helicopters first complete their primary flying training at 401 FTS, but the NAF’s initial attempt to deliver helicopter pilot training through the now defunct 305 FTS at Enugu was fraught with difficulty.
The school graduated a first batch of 11 pilots (from an intake of 17 students) between 1986 and 1994, using the Hughes 300C, while a second batch of six emerged between 2000 and 2003 using the Mi-34S – before the Russian helicopters were withdrawn after early gearbox failures. According to senior NAF officials, the quality of training provided was poor.
Since early 2012, the NAF-run International Helicopter Flying School (IHFS) at Enugu has been training rotary-wing pilots, the facility gaining Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority certification as an Approved Training Organisation by August 2013. Well staffed with IPs (unlike 305 FTS, which had only one or two), IHFS trains civilian and military pilots on a fleet of at least four Robinson R66 helicopters.
Some pilots also receive instruction overseas. After passing their primary course at 401 FTS, student pilots proceed to advanced flying training at the International Aviation College in Ilorin, for their commercial pilot’s licence (CPL) or to one of various countries including Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, South Africa, the UK, the US and others in Eastern Europe.
On gaining their licence, they take conversion and captaincy training on the AW109 LUH with 405 (ex-1130 Helicopter Combat Training Group (HCTG) at Enugu, followed by type conversion onto specific helicopters, with various operational units like 115 SOG at Port Harcourt for training on the Mi-24/35 and presumably the EC135. Kaduna is a hub for NAF training and research and development (R&D) activities.
Its units include the Ground Training Group; Regimental Training Centre; Air Force Institute of Technology; and the Air Force Research and Development Centre (AFRDC), set up in 2015 after the NAF formulated its R&D policy in 2012.
Earlier this year the NAF Institute of Safety (NAFIS) was in the process of moving from Ipetu- Ijesha to Kaduna. Meanwhile, other training school units are based at 451 NAF Station, Jos.
There’s been a sharper focus on training in recent years, both locally delivered (known as ‘lotrac’) and overseas. In 2016, the NAF trained 869 personnel abroad, including 101 pilots and 357 engineers, while 4,868 were trained locally – among them 131 pilots and 643 engineers.
In April a batch of pilots returned after completing tactical combat training with the Egyptian Air Force. Another 29 are training in South Africa, while around ten more are at civilian schools in the UK and in Jordan at the King Hussein Air College.
On April 23, NAF Day, six pilots received their wings – among them four helicopter pilots from the IHFS at Enugu and two from the King Hussein Air College. Since then, ten pilots were ‘winged’ in June after gaining their CPLs from Westline Aviation in South Africa while two more combat pilots were winged in early July after completion of their 18-month Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training with the US Air Force at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas.
Headquartered at Ikeja in Lagos, Logistics Command procures equipment and maintains it in a state of operational readiness. Units include 531 (ex-401)
Aircraft Maintenance Depot at MMIP, Ikeja; 403 Electronics Maintenance Depot at Shasha; 405 Central Armament Depot in Makurdi; 407 Equipment Supply Depot and 551 (ex-435) Base Services Group at Ikeja; and 561 (ex-445) NAF Hospital also at Ikeja. The 500-series designations of most of these units have not yet been disclosed.
Aircraft Maintenance Depot
The NAF has been slowly growing its operational fast jet fleet since around 2013, a March 2017 estimate putting its number at around 20 aircraft. They include some eight Alpha Jets, six or seven F-7NIs and a single FT-7NI, plus, since late last year, at least four L-39ZAs weaponised with UB-16 rocket and GSh-23 cannon pods.
Chengdu F-7N Fighter.
Between four and six more L-39ZAs are believed to be operational with 403 FTS as basic trainers, with the potential for conversion to the light attack role. Actual holdings of combat- capable jets are much greater, and include around 12 Alpha Jets (of 27 acquired), 11 or 12 F-7NIs, including one remaining FT-7NI trainer (of 12 single-seaters and three trainers acquired), and perhaps as many as 21 surviving L-39ZA airframes (of 25 acquired).
Alpha light attack Jet.
Over the past two years,growing numbers of various helicopters have entered service,apparently with no attempt to restrict the number of types for ease of logistics and maintenance. The fleet includes an estimated 14 Mi-24V/35P/35M gunships, at least two Mi-17 armed transports, one or two Super Puma medium transports, an AW101 medium transport (a second is being repaired after an incident at Makurdi in November 2016) and between eight and 12 AW109 LUHs fitted with cabin- mounted machine guns.
Further capacity comes from two to three armed EC135s, including NAF 547 and 548, provided by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) in March last year and subsequently reactivated by the country’s Aero Contractors. In July, one of three Dauphins (NAF 527) also handed over by the NNPC in 2016 was seen in desert camouflage at Aero Contractor’s hangar in Port Harcourt undergoing repairs prior to entering service.
In addition, there are small numbers of other helicopters of doubtful operational capability, including around three Ecureuils and an EC120. Both types were first seen in a mix of military and civilian finishes inside a hangar in Yola in July 2015, but their provenance is unclear. Two new Bell 412EP aircraft, ordered under the previous Jonathan administration for the Rivers State government’s
security forces, were delivered to the NAF in February after the Nigerian Customs Service commandeered them. More helicopters began arriving last December, as deliveries of between six and 12 additional new-build, night- capable Mi-35M gunships and a similar number of armed Mi-17 or Mi-171 helicopters ordered from Russian Helicopters began.
The first two Mi-35Ms – NAF 559 and 560 – were inducted in April, seeing combat in May. Four more Mi-35Ms and a similar number of transports – most likely Mi-17s – are expected to enter service this year, with additional helicopters due in 2018, according to official statements from the NAF and Nigeria’s Ministry of Defence.
The NAF views its ISR aircraft as game-changing assets. The number of active platforms in service had risen from one in July 2015 to six by March this year as grounded aircraft were reactivated and others equipped with electro-optical (EO) kit. They comprise two ATR 42s (including NAF 931, reactivated after being grounded for almost two years at Yola), three King Air 350s (NAF 201, 202 and 204) and a DA42 MPP.
King Air 350 NAF 201 has had a sensor upgrade, while two more, including NAF 202, have been equipped with EO kit. An additional King Air, NAF 203, could also potentially be converted as an ISR platform. In addition to fixed-wing assets, at least one AW109 and a Mi-17 (NAF 270) have an EO fit, while the two newly inducted Mi-35Ms are similarly equipped.
The NAF sustains its operational logistics andtactical airlift commitments with only a handful of aircraft – C-130H NAF 913,two C-130H-30s (NAF 917 and918) and possibly up to three G222s, although these appear to be under depot maintenance at Lagos after heavy use in 2014-15 – and perhaps no more than five Do 228 light transports. In July, one of the ATR 42 maritime patrolaircraft was also being used a transport – possibly as a stopgap measure. :
Beechcraft King Air 350i
ATR-42 Maritime Patrol Plane.
They comprise two ATR 42s (including NAF 931, reactivated after being grounded for almost two years at Yola), three King Air 350s (NAF 201, 202 and 204) and a DA42 MPP. King Air 350 NAF 201 has had a sensor upgrade, while two more, including NAF 202, have been equipped with EO kit.
An additional King Air, NAF 203, could also potentially be converted as an ISR platform. In addition to fixed-wing assets, at least one AW109 and a Mi-17 (NAF 270) have an EO fit, while the two newly inducted Mi-35Ms are similarly equipped.
The NAF sustains its operational logistics andtactical airlift commitments with only a handful of aircraft – C-130H NAF 913,two C-130H-30s (NAF 917 and918) and possibly up to three G222s, although these appear to be under depot maintenance at Lagos after heavy use in 2014-15 – and perhaps no more than five Do 228 light transports. In July, one of the ATR 42 maritime patrolaircraft was also being used a transport – possibly as a stopgap measure. AFM
NOTE : The second part of this Force Report, in a forthcoming issue, will examine the NAF’s post-2014 combat operations, strategic goals and current inventory, including a full order of battle.
Credit : airforcemonthly.com