Corruption aside, decades of coups made unstable military regimes fear their own armed forces. Each coup plot led to a deliberate under-resourcing of any department under suspicion. The Air Force has had it worse than any other branch of the armed services.
A botched 1985 counter-coup against newly installed Ibrahim Babangida was rumored to involve planned aerial bombardments, so his junta cut funds to the air force, a security official who remembers the time says. Another failed coup in 1990 allegedly involved Air Force officers, so their budget was squeezed.
When democracy returned in 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a former military ruler, feared the Air Force, too. The medieval interservice rivalry between the army and Air For persists till this day. This starvation of the military has occurred since Obasanjo, as part of a strategy to ensure they couldn’t conduct more coups.
The NAF should be able to carry out suppression of enemy air defense, tactical air intercept, and combat air patrol missions. To be fair, the The Nigerian Air Force appears to have turned a corner on procurement on rotary aircrafts, having received new helicopters in the last year.
Nigeria possesses today one of the largest attack helicopter fleet in Sub Sahara Africa, with nearly 30 attack helicopters. That number will swell to 40 by the end of 2018.
Eighteen of them will be the venerable Mi-35P helicopter gunships, twelve of them will be the new MI-35M, which are the most sophisticated in the Mi-series of helicopter gunships capable of night fighting. This is a positive trend in procurement of rotary winged military aviation.
All in all, on a tactical level, Nigeria’s military aviation is in pretty good shape. Nigeria’s rotary winged fleet are already of fairly high quality. But this is only half the story.
Nigeria has a total of eight F-7Ni interceptors in service. Other strip platforms are suitable do light attack roles in an uncontested environment. This lack of a modern Air Force strategically puts the security of Nigeria in peril. The air force’s ability to attack targets on the ground, using high precision weapons in a contested environment is zero.
What the NAF needs is the revitalization of Nigeria’s strategic air power, especially fighter jets and dedicated SEAD (suppression of enemy air defences). These are areas in which the air force has struggled to maintain capabilities since the deliberate decimation of the Nigerian Air Force began for selfish political reasons.
The Nigerian Air Force is doing fantastically well in rotary wing, SIGINT/ISR, Unmanned systems and heavy lift spectrum. The acquisition of modern 4th generation aircrafts will go a long way toward making the Nigerian Air Force a 21st Century Air Force befitting of Africa’s wealthiest power.
NAF Chiefs do not seems to be cognizant of this need and is going forward with projects to acquire more trainers, building accommodation blocks and recreational facilities, holding sporting events and flagging off FARMING SEASONS !!
The last month or so has seen a number of political brinkmanship over the decision of the President to remove $600 million from the excess crude account for a dozen turbo prop aircraft that costs nothing more than $10 million apiece. The Super Tucano aquisiton purchase is entirely political and makes no strategic sense.
The claim by the Service Chief that the Nigerian Air Force has been substantially modernized and upgraded as part of the current State Armament Program is inaccurate. Given below are the procurement in tactical aviation over the last ten years.
Two Bell 412 utility helicopter.
Two Alpha jets without weapons configuration.
Ten Super Mushank trainer aircrafts.
Twelve Mi-35M helicopter gunships.
Twelve Super Tucano aircraft ( delivery 2020).
Five CH-3A Rainbow armed drones.
Much of this procurement reflects the focus on COIN
There can be no doubt that much of the enthusiasm for armed UAV’s as manned fighter replacements in for the NAF stems from its recorded successes in the northeast and of course budgetary issues.
The prospect of ‘robot fighters’ which do not incur the large cost overheads of fast jet pilot training and retention, or the difficulties in recruiting suitable candidates for pilot training, is clearly attractive to the NAF.
The NAF rationale on armed drones is centred on a perceived lower cost of ownership and fleet operation, in theory allowing the NAF to field a substantial combat force without the budgetary grief traditionally associated with manned fighters. But can attack drones really replace manned fighters in the NAF?
A necessary and essential condition for the replacement of any capability with an alternative is that the substitute can effectively do the same job, and ideally do it either better for the same expense, or cheaper.
Now, if we consider the role spectrum performed at this time by the F-7Ni fighter in the NAF service, we will find that the aircraft is primarily used for counter-air operations, with secondary strike roles in which it supplements the Alpha jets for ground attack and interdiction. These roles can be further subdivided thus:
Combat -Air – flying Combat Air Patrols over Nigerian territory to destroy opposing aircraft.
Close Air Support / Battlefield Air Interdiction – supplementing the Alpha jet in striking at opposing ground forces either in contact with or in the proximity of Nigerian ground forces, and providing fighter escort for the former in contested airspace.
Interdiction and Strike – supplementing the Alpha jets in striking at opposing strategic assets and road/rail communications, and providing fighter escort for the former in contested airspace.
In essence, the F-7Ni will fight for control of the air, and once this is achieved, swings to supplementing the Alpha jets and Aero L-39’s in attacks on surface targets.
The role spectrum for the Alpha jet is no less challenging in its breadth and its depth:
Offensive Counter-Air Strike – destroying hostile aircraft on the ground, air bases and other supporting infrastructure.
Defence Suppression – destroying hostile air defence assets, especially radars, C3 and SAM/AAA systems.
Defensive Counter-Air – interception of opposing maritime patrol aircraft and transports at large operating radii.
The capability goals are quite specific, in that they define the geographical footprint for such operations to encompass the air-sea gap to Nigeria’s northeast and southeast, and for strike operations any base or asset within the region which could be used to threaten Nigeria or Nigerian troops forces operating in the region.
An attack drone replacement for either or both the F-7N and Alpha jet would therefore have to cover an exceptionally broad role spectrum, and do so with no loss in flexibility, over a geographical footprint.
Now we all know this is not feasible. Unless Nigeria successfully develop its own attack drones and starts mass-producing them. This is no mean feat by any measure.
Now this does not rule out armed drones as a viable combat asset for the NAF. But drones cannot be relied upon to wholly perform the complex and frequently rapidly evolving role spectrum performed by manned fighters. It is to be a supplementary asset for particular niche roles only.
One of the principal virtues of modern air power is its unparalleled flexibility, which in a large part is the reason why air power is progressively displacing land power as the preferred means of firepower delivery.
That flexibility mostly derives from the presence of a competent aircrew in the cockpit of a combat aircraft. Currently envisaged platforms like the Super Tucano are by their design specialised assets for niche roles, and by their nature inflexible assets, and thus divert resources from manned aircraft without the flexibility which the very same resources would yield if expended on manned aircraft.
NIGERIA’S STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENT.
The great challenge Nigeria faces over the coming two decades is in developing a modern force structure capable of flexibly adapting to a wide range of regional contingencies, and doing so in a constrained ﬁscal environment.
Nigeria today faces a number of less than palatable strategic realities, which must be addressed if the strategic risks to Nigeria’s interests are to be minimised or managed.
Key long-term issues will be the roles of foreign powers and interests in the region as they continue to build military bases, high-tech surveillance installations, prop up the autocratic regimes and keep them in power by continually arming the despots.
The second strategic risk is that arising from the ‘arc of instability’ which spans the four geopolitical zones of Nigeria. This instability is a direct result of rapid social and economic changes, corruption and external players pulling strings clandestinely.
This is manifested in ethnic, social and religious conﬂicts, that pop’s out of no where and never ends. Like a hydra headed monster, immediately one problem is solved or close to getting solved, another pops out.
The ongoing conﬂicts between herdsmen and farmers the central parts of the country present the possibility of future large-scale operations. The Nigerian military has been carrying out one form of operation or the other without rest for close to 20 years.
The third strategic risk arises from the ongoing War on Boko Haram, which represents a large-scale globalised insurgency. While the campaign against Boko Haram have been strategically successful to date, the powers that be continue to use the Boko Haram insurgency as a pretext for setting up military bases all over West Africa.
With regional powers exploiting the chaotic security situation in northeast Nigeria throughout the ‘arc of instability’, Nigeria is presented with the likelihood of having its military stretched too thin, it snaps.
The last strategic risk is that the underperformance of the Nigerian Ministry of Defence in acquisition, financial management and capability development, will persist over coming years. $25 BILLION has been spent by the Nigerian military between 2014 and 2017, yet the country lacks modern combat aircraft and theatre defences.
This financial mismanagement will degrade Nigeria’s ability to deliver military capabilities by inappropriate choices of weapons systems, very late deliveries to service and poor return on taxpayer’s funding in capability terms. Meanwhile the rapid regional military capability evolution is gaining steam, and if Nigeria’s continuous underperformance in these key areas persists, we could see the Nigerian military mired with obsoleted technologies or ill-suited weapons for a future regional environment.
These strategic risks are not an exhaustive representation of the risks Nigeria may face, but do cover the most critical items. Some of these risks are intrinsically difficult to quantify, but this does not mean that they cannot be or should not be addressed.
Flexibility in Roles: Capabilities should be developed ﬁrst and foremost for the Defence of Nigeria, and then adapted for use in counter-terrorism, coalition warfare and regional intervention operations. Capabilities which are optimised for unique roles other than the Defence of Nigeria should receive lower funding priority.