The Nigerian Air Force : A Victim of Misguided Priorities?

This will be the 3rd topic in a month on the need to ressusitate Nigeria’s near extinct airforce. It underscores the urgency of Nigeria’s strategic air capability gap. The skies of Africa’s biggest economy is amongst the least defended in the world. Even though Nigeria today lacks a complete squadron of strike aircrafts, the Nigerian Air Force remains committed to reconfiguring trainer aircrafts to do the jib of defending Nigeria’s interest in the sky. Which is, i dare say ridiculous.

This self-inflicted warplanes shortage couldn’t come at a worse time. While the Nigerian air force slowly withers away, the air forces of our geo-political foes are not only growing stronger, they are in strategic partnership with the two most powerful air forces in the Western world , the United States and France.

These countries are run by oligarchs whose hold in power is dependent upon access to natural resources, and Nigeria happens to sit atop one if the largest oil reserves on the planet.

A large country like Nigeria that refuses to invest in strategic air defense missile systems should maintain at the very least, two squadrons of supersonic fighter jets. It’s easy to make excuses by drawing parallels with the air forces of our neighbors, but this can be misleading, and staking the defense of our skies based on that is irresponsible.

Our Francophone adversaries do not need an air force. There are Rafale fighter jets in Mali, Mirage 2000 fighters in Chad, Reaper drones in Niger and Cameroon. Nigeria has virtually nothing to match this force. Nothing even remotely close.

Now need not match these formidable assets with equally powerful 4th generation jets. That will be pointless. What i am clamouring for is a numeric improvement. It doesn’t matter if Nigeria, with all her wealth decide to buy MiG-21 fighters Just buy them in sufficient numbers.

To match those assets deployed around our perimeter in all three francophone countries, Nigeria must ensure that its number of frontline warplanes outnumber the aircrafts of our two biggest rivals.

As it stands the Air Force has insufficient number of attack aircrafts and interceptors to perform its mandated role of defending the nations airspace and strategic infrastructure and assets.

At the current resource level, projected aircraft service life far outpaces projected procurement. This simply means older planes will wear out before newer planes can replace them. The Air Force’s most significant acquisition program till date is the acquisition of three JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighters from Pakistan.

JUST THREE. Its bad enough the numbers, whats worse is that the negotiation for this procurement has been going on since 2015. Its been three years and there are still no indications that these aircrafts will be delivered soon.

Nigeria’s annual defence budget hovers between the $4 billion to $5 billion mark, substantially bigger in real terms than the combined budgets of our Chadian and Cameroonian rivals. Nigeria also has the advantage of not needed to spend its foreign reserves of dollars.

Indonesia recently signed a deal to buy eight Sukhoi-27 Flankers from Russia, but chose to pay not in cash but with crude oil. Nigeria could easily tow the same line. The capability of Nigeria to fund its armed forces is almost limitless.

But even this financial capacity has proven inadequate to force the government to replace almost all of its current fighters with newer planes and in greater numbers. Nigeria was set to address this capability gap by earmarking $500 million for new aircrafts. That’s more the annual defense budget of Cameroon.

Instead the Nigerian government ended up expanding that money in a propeller plane that is slower and less maneuverable than the Alpha jet.

In 2005 the Nigerian Air Force’s original goal was to retire its fleet of MiG-21’s, acquire 15 Chengdu F-7-Ni interceptor as a stop-gap measure, and within a year amp up to buying between 24 and 40 4th generation jets starting in 2007. Today between six and eight Chengdu F-7Ni interceptors is what stands between Nigeria and a hostile airpower.

The military’s new aviation plan assumes the Air Force will manage to buy 3 JF-17 multi-role fighters. How this can be called an ” Aviation Plan” is beyond me. The gap between expectation and reality helps explain why the Nigerian military’s flying branch is on war away from being wiped out completely.

In theory the Air Force could try to keep its existing fleet of jets in service longer and, in that way continue to meet Nigeria’s fighter jet requirement for low intensity conflict in an uncontested environment.

The problem is these aircrafts will be subject to wear and tear, in the event Nigeria finds itself in a conflict against an adversary that has an airforce, they will not be able to up a decent fight.

The sad thing is that $500 million would have been more than enough to revamp the Nigerian Air Force with two squadrons of 4th generation fighter jets. Sacrificing the recapitalization program to buy just 12 aircrafts.

But there is an alternative course. Reverse course on the $500 million deal for 12 Super Tucanos. Buy a complete squadrons of JF-17 Block 1 fighters to complement the 6 F-7Ni in service. At $25 million per unit, that’s $300 million. The excess $200 million can be used for a myriad of things.

Nigeria is getting good at building drones, investing $50 million in R&D will be money well spent in Nigeria’s drive to develop combat drones.

The existing fleet of 13 Alpha jets could be upgraded with modern avionics to deluver smart munitions, acquire more combat drones…..there are a myriad of productive things to channel the money on that will ensure a reasonable return of investment.

Spending $500 million on 12 propeller planes makes no strategic sense and is a waste of resources. It will not change the strategic military balance


3 Replies to “The Nigerian Air Force : A Victim of Misguided Priorities?”

  1. I think the reason Nigeria is opting for the tucano is reduced operational costs and the current needs. To execute an endless war on boko haram, they need platforms much cheaper to operate and probably lower maintenance turnaround time.
    Yes I subscribe to the idea of buying 4th gen fighters, and while I think 500m is too much for the tucanos, I think they will prove to be important in this insurgency war.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Salient point, except the Super Tucano is not cost effective, but actually capital incentive to maintain because of its specialized fire control mechanisms. Myanmar recently paid $500 million for 17 JF-17 Block UK variant. SEVENTEEN !!That’s more than an entire squadron.

      The Alpha Jet is faster, more agile and can has basically been proven effective in the close air support role. Yes it might need tinkering to carrying smart munitions, but thats not really needed. The CH-3H AUG provide Nigeria with precision strike capability. If 16 Alpha jets cannot do the job there are 12 Aero L-39 that has been tinkered for light attack role. Why spend the entire defence budget of Cameroon for 12 Super Tucano aircraft that does virtually nothing to address the capability gap. It’s mind boggling.


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