The Military Balance : Air Power.

For decades, the air domain has been one of assured superiority for Nigeria by virture of its size, diplomatic and economic clout. This dominance, however, rests on weapons and technologies that Nigeria’s traditional regional foes are increasingly attaining as part of a broader effort to counter Nigeria’s capabilities, and to deny Nigeria unimpeded control of the air.

Nigeria’s much poorer neighbors are aquiring advanced 4th generation fighters. In parallel, they are pursuing strategic military ties with the United States and France, setting up advanced Reaper drones bases on their soil and at the same time are recapitalising their weapons inventories with missiles that will enhance their ability to contest control of the air.

Chads Mig-29 is far superior to Nigeria’s frontline fighter, the F-7N.

In April 2009, the Chadian website Tchadactuel quoted President Idriss Déby as saying: “No African country except Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa has the weapons that Chad has today. In addition to what I have today, I am trying to acquire others. As I speak, my little brother Umar Déby, accompanied by the chief-of-staff of the air force,is in Ukraine, negotiating the acquisition of MiG-29s fighter jets and ammunition ”

These were the words of Chad’s President Idris Derby in April 2009. About a decade later the much poorer Chad fields front-line fighters a generation ahead of anything in the Nigerian Air Force inventory.

In 2010 Chad took delivery of several Mig-29 fighter jets from Ukraine. This markedly improve the combat air capability of its air forces. Meanwhile, years before that Chad brought into service :

4 Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot-A; (Ex-Ukrainian)
2 Sukhoi Su-25UB Frogfoot

 

Indeed, Chad and Cameroon are now  looking to further exploit a range of advanced technologies that are appropriate to guided weapons used by American and French Reaper drones.

Presently, air combat capability of Nigeria’s neighbors are increasingly being enabled by accelerating technology developments in communications and intelligence gathering platforms that enable faster and more coordinated activity between dispersed platforms. As such, and as part of the modernisation of its air-combat capabilities. The Cameroonian and Chadian Air Forces have each received two Cessna 208 aircraft modified for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions from the United States, effectively negating Nigeria’s monopoly in ISR capable air platforms in the region.

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An MX-15 camera is mounted on a C-208 aircraft parked at Adjikossei Air Base, N'Djamena, Chad, January 17, 2018.
An MX-15 camera is mounted on a C-208 aircraft parked at Adjikossei Air Base, N’Djamena, Chad, January 17, 2018. The camera will be used to conduct intelligence surveillance reconnaissance missions in the region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Gustavo
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Chads ATR-42 is to be retrofitted with advanced surveillance systems and sensors, putting Chad, a landlocked country on par with Nigeria in the area of ISR and ISTAR systems.
A Chadian Air Force Airman takes accountability of equipment during a training mobility training team event with the 818th Mission Support Advisory Squadron at Adjikossei Air Base, N'Djamena, Chad, January 18, 2018.
A Chadian Air Force Airman takes accountability of equipment during a training mobility training team event with the 818th Mission Support Advisory Squadron at Adjikossei Air Base, N’Djamena, Chad, January 18, 2018. The MSAS sent eight Airmen to advise, train and assist with intelligence surveillance reconnaissance, aircraft maintenance, logistics, and security anti-terrorism. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Gustavo Gonzalez/RELEASED)

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Members of the U.S. Air Force 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron go over airfield security procedures with members of the Chadian Air Force Airmen during a mobile training team event at Adjikossei Air Base, N'Djamena, Chad, January 16, 2018.
Members of the U.S. Air Force 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron go over airfield security procedures with members of the Chadian Air Force Airmen during a mobile training team event at Adjikossei Air Base, N’Djamena, Chad, January 16, 2018. The MSAS focuses on the mutual exchange of air mobility concepts and procedures with partner nations in the development of their air mobility systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Gustavo Gonzalez/RELEASED)
U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron train Chadian Air Force Airmen at in airfield hanger during a mobile training team event at Adjikossei Air Base, N'Djamena, Chad, January 16, 2018.
U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron train Chadian Air Force Airmen at in airfield hanger during a mobile training team event at Adjikossei Air Base, N’Djamena, Chad, January 16, 2018. The MSAS focuses on the mutual exchange of air mobility concepts and procedures with partner nations in the development of their air mobility systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Gustavo Gonzalez/RELEASED)
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Alenia C-27J Spartan – Chad
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Chads SU-25 is far superior to Nigeria’s Alpha jet.
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Chads SU-25 is far superior to Nigeria’s Alpha jet.
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Chads SU-25 is far superior to Nigeria’s Alpha jet.

 

MALI

In 2017 Mali  received a second Airbus Defense and Space C295 transport aircraft to supplement the one that was delivered in late 2016.

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The MAF also received two Harbin Y-12 transports and two Mi-35M attack helicopters. In 2018 Mali received more Mi-35M helicopter gunships and six Super Tucano light attack aircraft.

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Mali Air Force Harbin Y-12 transport plane.
Mali’s Super Tucano fighter pilots.
Four of the recently delivered Super Tucano light attack aircraft lined up on an airfield.

 

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Mali Air Force Super Tucano.

A challenging future environment

Future aquisitions for the Mali and Chadian Air Force includes an undisclosed number of SU-25 ground attack fighters for Mali, and Mirage fighter jets for Chad. When these aircrafts begin to enter service in the next few years, it will provide the Chadian or even Malian Air Force the ability to threaten high-value air targets in Nigeria at extended ranges.

The Nigerian political and military establishments seem uninterested with these latest development and do not see the need for Nigeria to massively rebuild its near extinct airforce.

Coupling the SU-25 operational radius with a 400km-range AAM would, for instance, be a forcing factor for Nigeria’s Patrol aircrafts flying ISR missions. It is perhaps no coincidence that the Chadian Air Force  is increasingly interested in ISR capable platforms. Yet more concerning from the Nigerian perspective is the fact that this development is only one aspect of American and French effort to build the airforce inventory of Chad, Mali and Cameroon with more capable systems, including the potential handing over control of some Reaper Drones that offer far greater engagement options. These developments are themselves nested within a combat-aircraft upgrade and re-equipment programe.

While collaboration between the two countries, at least at the subsystems level, posses a challenge to Nigeria’s air dominance in the region, Nigeria’s leaders refuse to even admit this is taking place. The Nigerian air forces will have to take account of a more complicated future threat environment. The consequences of negligence will be far reaching.

 

 

 

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