The Case for Expanding Nigeria’s Eye in the Sky.

Perhaps one of the greatest development of the Nigerian Air Force is the Airborne Warning and Patrol Planes. These planes have the capability to alert air and ground crews to the presence of enemy aircrafts. New modern aircrafts will allow Nigerian pilots to see exactly what ground controllers and patrol planes are seeing.

These new eyes and ears gives Nigerian forces a unprecedented early warning system. With information provided by these systems, fighter crews can get into fighting positions before been seen by the enemy. A tactics that paid off and perhaps saved Nigerian lives.


In recent years, the Nigerian Air Force that is nearing extinction, has been deployed on increasingly complex and demanding tactical missions, including:

  • counter-piracy.
  • close air support (CAS);
  • combat search and rescue (CSAR)

Critical Asset for Nigeria’s War on Terror.

Since it commenced flight operations in 2011, the ISR component of the NAF has proven to be a key asset in crisis management and peace-support operations. Following a series of Boko Haram attacks and occupation of territory, aircraft from the newly formed Nigerian Air Force Reconnaissance Squadron deployed to north-eastern Nigeria the epicentre of the war against terror, becoming Nigeria’s eye in the sky.

They were tasked with providing airborne surveillance in the 66,000 sqr kilometre Sambisa forest and along the Nigeria Chadian border

On the morning of June 19, 2016, seven Toyota Hilux trucks manned by Boko Haram fighters lay in wait near Daira Noro, Borno State in northeastern Nigeria.

Members of a fundamentalist insurgency infamous for its terrorist attacks and kidnappings of young girls, the fighters had recently been chased out of their camps in Sambisa forest by an African multi-national task force.

As the African forces advanced north in pursuit, the Boko Haram fighters had prepared a road-side ambush under tree cover. Two of their trucks were armed with heavy machine guns.

The distant whine of small airplane engines sounded overhead. An unarmed civilian plane flew by.

Then suddenly, a small twin-engine fighter — an Alpha Jet — came screaming over the horizon. Radioed the position of the Boko Haram fighters by the unarmed plane — actually a King Air 350 surveillance aircraft — the Alpha Jet unleashed a barrage of rockets on the concealed ambush, followed by 250-pound bombs and strafing runs.

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King Air pilots from the NAF Reconnaisance Squadron based in Yola.
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A King Air 350i ISR plane of the NAF Reconnaissance Squadron.

The Toyotas were all destroyed and the ambush force thrown into chaos.

Nigerian ground forces followed close on the heels of the jet and chased off the survivors. They counted 15 bodies and two abandoned rocket-propelled grenades.

Perhaps one of the most important tool of these ISR capable platforms is to provide real-time imagery and information on its operations, giving it transparency. In 2006, Amnesty International, in one of its myriad of propaganda campaigns against the Nigerian government accused the Nigerian Air Force of killing the abducted Chibok school girls. Despite the NAF refuting the claims Amnesty International carried on with its habitual smear campaign designed to embarrass and malign the Nigerian government.

Well this time the Nigerian government had a nasty surprise. The Air Force released video footage of its operations, which completely tore to shreds the accusations from the Human Rights Group.


Against this backdrop the strategic importance of these ISR platforms to the Nigerian military cannot be overemphasized.

Four ATR-42’s, plugging into the pre-existing network of four King Air 350i surveillance aircraft, two Diamond Sensor planes, six CH-3A Rainbow attack drones and the Falcon Eye Maritime Surveillance Systems will provide the Nigerian military of unprecedented coverage of Nigeria’s air, land and sea domain, with their distinctive radar domes mounted on the fuselage, which provide the Nigerian Air Force and Navy with air surveillance, command and control, battle space management and communications.

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An ATR-42 Maritime Patrol Plane assigned to the NAF Reconnaisance Squadron flanked by two Aero L-39 aircrafts.

Nigeria has the most advanced ISR networking platforms in all if Africa.  Nigeria’s ISR assets conducts a wide range of missions such as air policing, support to counter-terrorism, evacuation operations, embargo, initial entry and crisis response.

Under normal circumstances, the aircraft operates for about twelve hours, at 30,000 feet (9,150 metres) and covers a surveillance area of more than 120,000 square miles (310,798 square kilometers).

The ATR-42 MPA and CH-3A Rainbow UAV’s played an important role in enforcing the ECOWAS mandate in the Gambia It also provided air support and 24/7 surveillance of the airspace over Banjul.

Taking into account the vintage aircrafts Nigeria relies on to defend the nations airspace, Nigeria will be well served to increase its ISR aircrafts from two, to four or five ATR-42 Maritime Patrol Planes.

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Following the kidnapping of the Dapache school girls Nigeria deployed its most advanced ISR assets to search for the missing schoolgirls.
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Following the kidnapping of the Dapache school girls Nigeria deployed its most advanced ISR assets to search for the missing schoolgirls.


Nigeria operates a fleet of Two ATR-42 Maritime Patrol Planes. Built by the Italian aircraft manufacturer, Allenia, the ATR-42 is one of the worlds most sophisticated Maritime Patrol Planes. Its equipped with long-range radar and passive sensors capable of detecting air and surface contacts over large distance.

The aircraft is also able to track and identify potentially hostile aircraft operating at low altitudes, as well as provide fighter control of Nigerian aircraft. It can simultaneously track and identify maritime contacts, and provide coordination support to Nigerian surface forces.


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