Air Defence : A Regional Arms Race.

In a well run military an effective air defense is based on an integrated and coordinated approach including airborne (AEW or tethered radars), active and passive ground based sensors (radar, IR scanners, ESM), command centers and “shooters” of various types.

The air defense network usually includes the surveillance and control of the protected airspace, projection of airpower for air defense missions, wide area air defense at medium and high altitude and site point air defense, covering medium and low altitudes. Each of these elements utilizes typical weapon systems, sensors and command and control facilities designed to meet the specific environmental and tactical scenario.

Nigeria has never had an air defense system on a strategic level. The current structure is designed for medium and low-level defenses, usually referred to as point defense systems. In simple terms Nigeria’s current air defense structure can do nothing more than to provide area defense of fixed target areas against attacking aircraft at low to medium altitude.

Nigeria’s low altitude defense of mobile forces is maintained by the radar guided ZSU-23/4 (Shilka). A 23mm quad automatic Self Propelled Anti-Aircraft (SPAA) gun.

Protection of large area and strategic sites are maintained by the Skyguard radar directed air defense gun system. Together they are fused into one integrated defense structure, where guns, missiles and radars of various types are mutually covering each other to provide an effective air defense “umbrella, of autonomous escort for mobile forces, protecting primarily from direct attack by attack helicopters and close air support assets.

The most strategic layer of this ADS is its ROLAND Tactical Air Defense System, or SHORAD (short-range air defense air defense)



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This weapons system is meant to target incoming precision strike weapons which, having penetrated the first layer, are threatening the defended site. Typical targets the Roland can engaged at this level are guided weapons, UAVs, and gunship helicopters.

Comparative Air Defense Systems

Regional armies are currently modernizing their air defense assets. Nigeria’s current air defense systems are obsolete, few and far between, and they rely on armament systems developed and fielded in the 1960 – 1980s.

The Senegalese army for example is modernizing its air defense systems by aquiring new radars to enhance target detection, tracking and engagement, and is introducing the use of passive sensors or introduction of  multi-sensors (active/passive). Multi-weapon (missiles and guns) combinations, on a single platform are favored.

To this end Senegal just acquired the Ground Master 400 air surveillance radars and SkyView command and control systems from Thales.

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Grand Master 400 air surveillance radar system.
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The S-band radar of the system has a detection range of 5-470 km at an altitude up to 30 500 metres and can be deployed in a single 20 foot shipping container. It can also be vehicle-mounted – it is available in mobile or fixed versions.

This state of the art radars and command and control system will be installed at Ouakam Air Base in Dakar. The Senegalese armed forces are to deploy a state-of-the-art airspace surveillance and control capability.

To be fair, Chad has always fielded the best air defense systems in West/Central Africa. Thanks to the Libyans.

The Libyan Air Force carried out air raids and bombing runs on northern Chad, South of the Libyan border.

In response a shipment of anti-aircraft missiles from the United States was delivered to Chad, and a technical crew was also sent to teach the Chadian government in the use of these sophisticated missile systems.

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These missiles includes the Red Eye & Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.  Add this to the Russian SA-6 Gainful Air Defense Missile System you begin to understand why the landlocked Central African nation has arguably the best air defense system in the region in quantity and quality.

An SA-6 Gainful SAM of the Chadian Armée de l’Air.
An SA-6 Gainful SAM of the Chadian Armée de l’Air.


The SA-6 ‘Gainful’, linked to a tracked ‘Straight Flush’ radar vehicle, can ‘kill’ as low as 30 m and as high as 18 km. Its triple launcher is mounted on a tracked vehicle. Warheads weight 80 kg.

Design of the 2K12 is centered around the use of three rail-launched guided missiles utilizing an optical sight and continuous wave target illuminator. Missiles can detonate on impact or be set with a proximity fuze and hold an effective range of 15 miles against targets up to 45,930 feet in altitude. Each is powered by a solid fuel rocket motor and can reach speeds of up to Mach 2.8 which places any modern aircraft at risk.

The system is categorized as a low-to-medium altitude interception device and its tracked nature assures that it can be relocated to any positions in defense of key installations. In its tracked form, the chassis makes use of six double-tired road wheels with the drive sprocket at the rear of the hull. The crew is entirely sealed in their armored vehicle while the traversing launcher – fitting the three missiles – sits atop the hull roof.

Mobile missile systems like this will be hard to defeat. They can literally arrive on a scene, pop off some missiles and be gone. Goodluck looking for them. The Chadians have enough air defense assets to deploy them in layers. Pilots lucky enough to evade the SAMs by flying low will run into the fire of radar-guided, quadruple-barrel ZSU-23 guns. It’s better to die from an SA-6 than to be chewed up by AA guns Spitting out 4,000 rounds a minute.



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