February 22 1982. This was a day that will live in infamy for the Nigerian Navy. On this day the Nigerian Navy commissioned one of the most sophisticated Frigate in the world at the time. It far outclasses any warship by any African navy and was a match for Russian and American Frigates.
Say hello to NNS ARADU. This German built Meko Class Frigate was the Flagshit of the Nigerian Navy until the commissioning of NNS Thunder in 2011.
But in an impoverished region where Nigeria was the only country with a Navy, what was the rationale behind acquiring such an advanced and expensive warship?
For answers we go back in time….Back to the golden age of Apartheid South Africa.
Nigeria emerged from a victorious but brutal civil war smack right into the oil boom of the seventies. Nigeria was by every metric the most powerful black nation in the world, and the centre-piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy became centred on Africa. Flush with oil wealth Nigeria took on the mantle of championing an end to Apartheid rule and the emancipation of the oppressed black South Africans.
The brutal oppression of the South African black population and the refusal of the South African government to revise its domestic policy, despite the growing international pressure, induced the Nigerian government to press the United Nations (UN) to take tougher actions against Pretoria.
As a result, an isolated South Africa was now faced with an arms embargo in which a reluctant Britannia had no choice than to comply.
Now this is where it gets corny.
France, at the time, a staunch enemy of the Nigerian state saw an opportunity to strengthen her relations with South Africa and acquire the much-needed strategic materials for her nuclear programme. France, and later Israel decided to fill the space in the military market vacated by Britain and the USA.
France became Pretoria’s most important arms supplier, a relationship that lasted throughout the Gaullist administration. De Gaulle’s decision to supply South Africa with French military equipment and the transfer of technological know-how was based mainly on political, military and economic considerations.
French military assistance to South Africa from 1960 onwards was to affect all spheres of the SADF and help Pretoria to build one of the strongest if not the strongest army on the African continent. What motivated France to supply Pretoria with military equipment that was to help the apartheid regime to hold on power despite growing international pressures?
There is an annual maritime exercise held in South African waters called CAPEX. Since 1972, other countries such as France and Nigeria also took part in the annual military exercises of the Western powers aimed at protecting Southern Oceans from potential communist attack. As Pretoria and Paris became bedfellows, Nigeria was unceremoniously denied participation in the 78 edition of the annual.
It became apparent to the Nigerian government the dynamics at play. Seventy percent of Nigeria’s wealth was located outside of the nation (this was before the discovery of inland oil deposits in former Bendel State and parts of Port Harcourt), and the Nigerian economy is based on the export of raw materials. The Nigerian Navy had patrol boats, but compared to its adversary the Nigerian Navy could provide little more than basic littoral brown water shoreline defence.
In 1976 the Nigerian Navy was given a directive by the Nigerian President Shehu Shagari, to devise forces, doctrine and tactics to stall a potential cross straits blitz from the gulf of Guinea by potential enemy ships and protect Nigeria’s vital offshore oil infrastructure.
By 1977 it was concluded that based on the threat perception, the Nigerian Navy needed to reach blue waters with the appropriate ships in terms of firepower, extended operational range and enhanced surveillance capability to best police and ig need be defend Nigeria’s EEZ from enemy vessels, including submarines.
NNS ARADU WAS BORN
In 1978 the Shagari administration reached a contractual arrangement with the German company, Blohm Voss of Hamburg for two multipurpose frigate with the best technology money can buy.
Her keel was laid in December 1978, and in just under two years the ship was delivered. The Nigerian Navy naval doctrine called for between two or three Meko Class multipurpose frigates, and on 22 February 1982 the first of two Meko Class frigates was officially commissioned into the Nigerian Navy. The ship was amongst the most heavily armed frigate in the world.
8 × Otomat Mk1 surface to surface missile.
24 × Aspide Surface to Missiles in octuple launcher.
1×5 inch deck gun.
OTO Melara Otobreda 127/54 Compact.
8 ×Bofors 40 mm gun.
6 × torpedo tubes.
1 depth charge rack.
2 × Lynx Mk.89 helicopters.
NNS Aradu was one of the first class of frigate capable of carrying out just about any mission alone. It was one of the most technologically advanced warship for its time and had the most advanced air defence fire control system in the world. NNS Aradu was capable of carrying out the following mission :
Sustained and independent blue water patrol over a range of 6,500 miles (10,500 km)
Air defense of self and cooperating forces up to a range of 13 km.
Anti-ship warfare missile attacks against surface units up to a range of 80.5 km.
Gunfire support to friendly forces operating up to 16 km from the coast.
Electronic warfare (intercepting and jamming).
Airborne or surface Search and Rescue.Anti-submarine warfare (short range or extended range using helicopter borne torpedoes.
The Nigeria Navy needs at least two missile armed warships to prepare for any possible conflict. Abuja needs to “really think” about spending more on acquiring armed platforms for the navy. Claims there is not enough cash as nonsense.