Cameroon’s small air force has had to galvanise a diverse range of capabilities to good effect in the war against Boko Haram.
On December 28, 2014, hundreds of Boko Haram insurgents overran a Cameroonian army camp at Ashigashia in the Far North , on the border with Nigeria. The stunned and outnumbered garrison conducted a tactical withdrawal and immediately requested an air strike.
Following presidential approval, a pair of Alpha jets took off from Garoua, heading for the objective at full speed. Both flew two strikes with rockets and cannon, forcing the terrorists into a hasty retreat.
The outpost was successfully reoccupied by Cameroonian land forces barely four hours after they had been obliged to vacate it. As a result of the sortie, the defence minister decorated BA 301’s battle standard. Cameroon’s Alphajets are all MS2s, a version optimised for light attack, which was initially developed to to meet an Egyptian Air Force requirement.
They feature a Thomson CSF VE-110 head-up display (HUD), SAGEM ULISS 81 inertial navigation system (INS), Thomson CSF/CNI AHV-9 radar altimeter, SFIM CG90 back-up heading reference sensor and Thomson CSF TMV630 laser rangefinder. The latter is mounted in the tip of the aircraft’s nose, while the avionics are co-ordinated via a digital multiplexed databus.
The jets are equipped with four underwing, and one underbelly, hardpoints. The former can be loaded with external fuel tanks, BAP 100 bombs or MATRA SNEB 155 F4 68mm rocket launchers. The latter mounts a single DEFA 553 30mm cannon pod. A single Alphajet is kept mission- ready, on alert around the clock in one of Garoua’s hardened aircraft shelters, which are built to sustain a direct hit from a 500lb bomb.
All CAF transport assets are pooled together at BA 201 in the port city of Douala, Cameroon’s economic capital. The air base is home to 21ème Escadron and 22ème Escadron, which share a pool of aircraft that comprises a pair of C-130H Hercules which were bothtakenup in 1977, a single C-130H-30 received in 1982, a Xian MA60 and CN.235-300. The latter two were pressed into service in 2012 and 2013. Since May 2014, when the tempo of military operations
The CAF’s helicopter fleet comprises 12 aircraft of four different types Yaoundé’s BA 101 houses two rotary-wing units. The first, 11ème Escadron, flies a pair of Bell 206B-3 JetRanger IIIs tasked primarily with liaison, observation and light utility duties, although they can also be called upon for medical evacuation (medevac).
A Bell 206 was operating from Maroua when AFM visited late in September2015, transporting military personnel around the operational area for briefings and inspections. Two Aerospatiale SA330 Pumas serve 12ème Escadron for logistics and troop transport work.
CAF’s other helicopter unit is 23ème Escadron, flying Chinese-built Harbin Z9WE attack helicopters. Four were delivered in 2014 after a Chinese loan and three remain operational after one was severely damaged during a test flight on April 23 last year.
The Z9s fill the void left by the retirement of the HOT-armed Gazelle in the early 2000s, and can be equipped with HJ-9 anti-tank missiles. In addition to combat sorties they also provide a useful reconnaissance capability, thanks to their nose-mounted forward- looking infrared (FLIR) turrets.
Aircrew were trained in China prior to the Z9s’ delivery, but future pilots are likely to train in Cameroon. It’s thought the helicopters have yet to see combat against Boko Haram.