Open Skies : Nigeria’s Desperate Need For a Comprehensive Air Defence System.

12 October 2017

As the economic downturn fuels unrests in the streets of N’Djamena, and the internal power struggles in the desperately poor country of Chad escalates, incidences of unauthorized cross border raids by Chadian forces on Nigerian soil spikes. No surprise around the oil rich Lake Chad Basin.

Irritated by the intransigencies of the Derby regime, the Buhari administration finally deploys forces to the border region to stop further unauthorized incursions. The Nigerian army Aviation Corp has become more active in that area and Mi-35 attack helicopters harass Chadian ground units operating in the area, and clashes with Chadian forces on multiple occasions.

In one such incident an overzealous army pilot mistakenly straffs a number of Chadian soldiers, killing 17 and injuring dozens more.
In response, Chadian commanders have ordered a limited strike against the two airfields that Nigerian attacker helicopters have staged from.

Despite the size and resources available to the Nigerian military, the early warning radar coverage is near non-existent.

Mission Objective

To take out known military communications sites, the 21 Amoured Brigade and the Tactical Air Command.

How does the tiny Chadian military find and take out targets with airstrikes deep inside Nigeria? Fairly easy.

Unlike decades ago, technology now allows The military to transmit information almost instantaneously from a reconnaissance aircraft to intelligence analysts, and then to an aircraft, the military now can conduct airstrikes within minutes of spitting a targetm rather than hours or days.

A Reaper drone flying 50,000 ft undetected over a Nigerian air base, providing and updating information about the movement of aircrafts and other military activities.

16 October 2017

Based on the information provided by drones, Chadian military commanders must make a decision to determine which aircraft will strike the target and with what weapon. The type of aircraft and weapon employed is decided.

For the mission, four SU-22 Frogfooth, and two Mirage 2000’s are selected. The attacking planes will have to fly low, and the Nigerians have the vaunted quad barrelled ZSU Shilka radar guided anti aircraft gun system in almost every military unit. The Shilka packs a punch. The SU-22 Frogfoot was designed specifically to absorb and survive enemy gun fire wile carrying out its mission.

A Nigerian Army quald-barreled ZSU-23-4 Shilka.
Two Chadian Air Force SU-22 Frogfoot getting prepped for flight on the runway.

16 October 21:00 hours.

The order is given.

The attack.

The most direct route would have been the obvious choice, but Nigeria patrol planes, deployed in the area against Boko Haram could detect unexpected aerial activity even over such long distances. Because of the high mobility and effectiveness of the ATR-42 patrol plane and SuperKing 350i radar plane, this plane is scrapped.

A second, extremely risky option is to weave a curve through Cameroons airspace without notifying the Cameroonian government to keep the mission secret. The Chadians decide to go with this bold plan.

Before the raid, mercenary pilots studies their targets concentrating on the position of the shelters that housed Nigeria’s tanks and aircraft hangers.

After 80 minutes in the air, the strike force approached its targets and prepared to strike.

Two Mirage 2000’s peel off to give fighter cover should it be needed.

Three French Air Force Mirage 2000’s. France mantains a squadron of Mirage 2000’s in N’Djamena.

The SU-22’s climes, before diving for the attack.

The first plane bombs found their mark, the others followed. In less than two minutes the Chadian planes destroy the base of the 62 Strike Group Yola.

Having dropped their bombs, the planes took a direct high speed course back home.

Chad is reported to have used the French made Durandail bomb to destroy the base and accused France of complicity. But Chad insists it only used conventional 2000 pound iron bomb, and that the incredible precision of the attack was due to the skill of the pilot.

Thankfully this is just a scenario, but not fiction. This is possible. If a hostile nation decide to launch ait strikes against targets, there is virtually Nigeria can do to stop it.

There is no doubt about it, Nigeria has left itself vulnerable by letting its air defense capabilities wither into extinction. It seems as if Nigeria’s superiority in numbers and amour combined with foreign peacekeeping and COIN operations just didnt require much in turn of ground forces being able to defend themselves from aerial attack, especially while on the move.

A decade of war in permissive aerial enviroment – Niger Delta and Boko Haram didn’t help the air defense cause either, nor did the criminal military leaders of the past decade. But the tactical realities of the modern battlefield have changed and in turns out that the Nigerian Army, and the entire armed services for that matter do need air defence capability, and we need it bad.

As the Boko Haram conflict gradually fades in the rear view mirror, Nigeria’s combat doctrine must should morph into one operating in a contested environment where air superiority is not guaranteed.

Nigeria’s once large air superiority margin has eroded to a shameful state unbefiting of the richest and one of the most powerful and influential country in Africa. Gone as the days when the prospect of facing Nigerian military made neighbouring countries shit their pants.

West Africa today is so complex and crowded with competing forces many of which have different agendas. France and the United States now maintains a permanent military presence in the region. Morocco is on the path to become an ECOWAS member. Tunisia might be next, as it submitted a request to join the ECOWAS regional bloc in December.

Finally, and most importantly, the risk posed by the presence of weaponised unmanned aircraft has exploded. Nigeria’s monopoly in the use of armed drones lasted less than two years. As of this writing there are four French and American Reaper Drone bases spread between Niamey Niger and Garoua Cameroon. The threat posed by the most advanced drones for nefarious purposes was clear in Pakistan and A-STAN. It’s frightening having Nigeria blanketed by these systems when Nigeria does not have a comprehensive detection system of its own.

The quiet denial that there is a real possibility Nigerian forces on the ground could face an aerial attack in the near term shows at best the lack of imagination on the part of the Military. It shows that those in charge of the Nigerian armed forces in Abuja are willing to take on the risk posed by a hostile state actor against Nigeria for a period of time, in hopes that the threat would not actually metastasize.

That gamble has fails miserably.

Dangers that require air defense systems are not just about enemy fighter jets or bombers, they are also about armed drones or even cruise missiles. Reaper drones in particular pose a serious danger because they can be anonymous.  These drones have beyond line of sight control capabilities and can drop or fire theor own guided weapins at troops, vehicles and material below.

Nigeria could technically compensate for this deficiency by keeping combat air patrols overhead at all times in high threat areas to respond to marauding drones, but with what? Traditional threats like low flying fighter aircrafts and helicopters are also making a tactical resurgence. The Malian Air Force just took delivery of its first A-29 Super Tucanoe and new Mi-35 helicopter gunships, the Chadian Air Force is next in line.

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While these resource poor countries are investments in their aerial capabilities, the erosion of Nigeria’s ability to guarantee air suoeriority, especially over vast areas puts the country in a very vulnerable position.

If the Nigerian Army were to execute the classic pincer tactical attack like it did susecssfully against Chad in 1983, in a contested and large combat environment like the Lake Chad basin, this will entail thrusting Nigerian troops into the enemy backyard, to areas where air superiority will not have been achieved and where sitting still on the ground for more than a few hours could result in loss of entire combat units.

In other words, the air superiority Nigeria had and wielded effevtively against the Chadian invaders in 1983 no longer exists. Today, Nigerian troops will have to be able to defend themselves from an aerial onslaught on multiple levels, at least sporadically—and do so on the move. There are simply not enough ROLAND SAM Systems to compensate for this capability gap. It is a frightening prospect, the capability gap needs to be fixed.


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