Secrecy : Nigeria’s Army Tactical Reconnaisance & Strike Aviation.

Tactical aviation and drones performed so well in Nigerian army operations.

One of the strategies the Nigerian army deviced was to maximise the use  of the Air Forces ISR platforms, especially the ATR–42, which the Air Force also borrowed from the Nigerian Navy. In one incident the Nigerian Army Theater Commander decided to use the ATR-42 as a command post, a request that was flatly rejected by the Air Force. Leveraging on his close ties with the President, the Army Chief took his request to Aso Rock.

Thereafter the Air Force invited the GOC 7th Infantry Division and his artillery commander to be on board the ATR-42 surveillance plane while Nigerian troops advanced on Boko Haram positions . The Nigerian army proved it can combine operations seamlessly with the Air Force. The army began regular training towards that goal and firmed up that skills in real-time combat to devastating effect. Territories were recaptured with minimal casualties in record time. Some of the territories captured includes: -Bama, Banki, and Gozar.

The Nigerian army’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) has grown exponentially. Obviously, since military development is often a closely kept national secret, there are limitations to what we can find out on the exact numbers and components, unless that is, there is an incident.

The level of secrecy in the Nigerian military is almost puts North Korea to shame, and has over the years made it easy for graft and theft to flourish. However there are instances where military secrecy is the only way possible for the Nigerian armed forces to thrive in the world of great power competition.

In November 2003 Nigeria announced it was embarking on a force modernization program, to modernize the countries military and acquire modern state of the art hardware.

In January 15 2004, Channels Television reported that there are indications the Nigerian government was considering re-activating its nuclear research facility. It should be noted that as far back as 1978 Nigerian began investing into nuclear research which led to the establishment of two nuclear training centers: Centre for Energy Research and Development {CERD} at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife as well as Centre for Energy Research and Training {CERT} at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

The Nuclear Technology Centre {NTC} located in the Sheda Science and Technology Complex {SHESTCO}, Abuja was established in 1988 as the third training and research centre. Since the aspiration of becoming a nuclear power was unattainable, the desire to develop non military applications of nuclear technology for the benefits of its citizens led to the establishment of these centres.

Nigeria has not fared well at all in this effort. Even though Nigeria is among the first set of countries to sign international treaties on nuclear technology applications, this has not translated into any meaningful progress. One wonders why the nation has failed woefully in its efforts to harness nuclear technology for noble and peaceful purposes where other countries of the world such as Egypt and India have made great advances. These have great national and international implications for the Nigerian economy.

Having just started its Space program two years before and launched two satellites into orbit, this development was greeted with excitement. Perhaps the most elated were practioners of the Nigerian Medical Association. This development meant clinical therapy through the applications of radio-isotopes in medicine, for ailment such as breast cancer, lung cancer, brain tumor etc will finally be within the reach of Nigerians. Interestingly, the size of nuclear facility deployed in Abuja is twice the capacity of the one established in Cairo.

Then On 28 January 2004 Nigeria’s Vice President Atiku Abubakar gave a Press conference with a delegation from North Korea, Yang Hyong Sop, and announced to a stunned audience that North korea had agreed to share missile technology with Nigeria. Officials gave no details of the deal, including whether Nigeria would receive assembled missiles or technology.

Nigeria claimed the missile help would be used for “peacekeeping” and to protect its territory. Vice President Atiku Abubakar agreed to the “program of cooperation that includes missile technology” with Yang Hyong Sop. A subsequent statement from the Nigerian Vice President’s office said the Nigerian government would continue to cooperate with the Korean government in the defense sector, an area in which both Nigeria and North Korea had cooperated over the years. An ill advised and very stupid move.

According to Vice-President Atiku Abubarkar’s spokesmen Onukaba Ojo in the report

” The subject of arms sales had come up at a meeting in Abuja, Tuesday between Atiku and his North Korean counterparts, Yang Hyong-Sop. Atiku had met with the North Korean delegation to discuss buying missiles. We have since discussed the matter with Nigerian defence officials and found that the suggestion had come from North Korea”.

The United States and Great Britain burst their nut on this development. Within 48 hours they threatened economic sanctions. France took it a notch further by threatening military action if the deal between Nigeria and the pariah state goes ahead ,

The Nigerian government was taken a back by the magnitude of the visceral reaction by the West. Abuja had not taken into considerations what western reaction wwhenill be like when it chose to announce this deal to the public. Humiliated, and under threats of sanctions, Nigeria walked away from the planned partnership. The Presidents office issued an official statement saying :

They came to us wanting a memorandum of understanding signed with us towards developing missile technology and training and manufacture of ammunition. They were just trying to get us interested, but there hasn’t been any interest shown on our side. We are not interested, but we didn’t tell them“.

..Back to topic

The length in which the West took to block Nigeria’s acquisition of advanced weapons system reminded Abuja of the botched 2004 missile technology transfer deal. It dawned on the military that every attempt to rearm will be torpedoed by Nigeria’s supposed ally and largest trading partner on the continent. At this point there was only one way to go – BELOW RADAR.

As relations with the West worsened, the relationship between Nigeria the and China deepened in unprecedented proportion. In many ways it was a match of needs. The Nigerian military had a pressing need for counter-insurgency (COIN) equipment, such as drones, MRAP vehicles and smart bombs (many of which the US has been unwilling to provide the government due to human rights concerns). China on the other hand was seeking to be a first tier exporter of such modern military systems as well as has a massive domestic demand for oil.

The result has been the export of Chinese weapons, warships and armed drones to Nigeria. In an ultra secrete operation that will impress even the KGB, the Jonathan administration acquired 5 CH-3A Rainbow attack drone and its full complement of air to ground and anti-tank missile from China.

The military was able to employ the use of these attack drones in secret……until that is the Chinese Factor blew the lid open. Nigeria have suffered quite a lot from these Chinese Factors in the past. A Nigerian satellite (NIGCOMAT-X ) launched by China lost power, de-orbited and came crashing down to earth. Luckily the sattelite was insured. Before that two Chengdu F-7Ni fighters crashed during flight training, killing both instructor and pilot.

And then during a reconnaissance and support mission, a CH-3A Rainbow attack drone lost contact with ground control and crashed. On lookers who witnessed the crash rushed to the scene and were greeted to a striking image of a drone that crashed upside down near Dumge village in the Mafa District of Borno Province.

The two anti-tank missiles on the CH-3’s wings appear to be intact. In an era when everybody with a smart phone is a reporter it didn’t take long for the picture to hit social media. The secrete was opened.

This January 25, 2015 photo appears to show a Chinese made CH-3 drone, owned by Nigeria, which has crash landed upside down. The two AR-1 ATGMs attached to its wing pylons suggest that Nigeria is turning to drone strikes as the bloody war against Boko Haram continues.
Aminu Gamawa

Thus in 2015 Nigeria became the first African country and 4th country in the world to use a true armed drone in combat after the United States, Israel, Great Britain and Pakistan. As the CH-3 has a cruise altitude of 5,000m and a flight ceiling of 6,000m, it is unlikely that Boko Haram would have the necessary heavy anti-aircraft weaponry or training to do so.

This development took the powers that be by surprise. How could their intelligence agencies have missed it?  How could Nigeria acquire advanced platforms only the elite few have and employ them in combat for up to a year in complete secrecy. Perhaps more troubling was the player involved.

Unlike America’s former major geopolitical foe, the Soviet Union, the West is playing catchup with China for influence in what a decade ago was called the HOPELESS CONTINENT by the Economist Magazine. China is a power on the rise and is asserting rule making authority in Asian waters. Nigeria as well is a power on the rise. It had one of the worlds fastest economy in the world and is the engine that powers the most powerful regional bloc on the continent.

The secrecy behind Nigeria’s arms deal was a source of concern. If Nigeria could procure such systems with total secrecy who knows what other weapons system Nigeria could acquire to potentially challenge the powers that be in the region. It’s no surprise therefore that shortly after this incident the United States began building drone bases in virtually every country bordering Nigeria, to keep an eye on things. If it meant breaking life long principles and risking political capital by cozying up to dictators of the continent’s most repressive and poorest regimes so be it.

The Reaper drone is a marvel of military technology. It is by far the most advanced attack drone in the world and the fact that these drones are fully operational in Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Niger should keep the Nigerian government up at night. More so the resent acquisition of a 55 acres of land in Benin Republic.

MQ-9 Reaper

The MQ-9 Reaper has an operational ceiling of 50,000ft, a maximum internal payload of 800lb and external payload exceeding 3,000lb. It can carry up to four Hellfire II anti-armour missiles and two laser-guided bombs (GBU-12 or EGBU-12) and 500lb GBU-38 JDAM (joint direct attack munition). In May 2008, a USAF Reaper successfully test dropped four Raytheon GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II 500lb bombs, which have laser and GPS guidance.

The MQ-9 sensor payload can include the General Atomics Lynx SAR (synthetic aperture radar). Lynx also features ground moving target indicator technology. The Predator is to be flight tested with a L-3 communications tactical common datalink (TCDL).

This drone can stay airborne for up to 40h. It’s UHF and VHF radio relay links, a C-band line-of-sight data link has a range of 150nm The surveillance and reconnaissance payload capacity is 450lb and the vehicle carries electro-optical and infrared cameras and a synthetic aperture radar. The two-colour DLTV television is equipped with a variable zoom and 955mm Spotter. The high-resolution FLIR has six fields of view, ranging between 19mm and 560mm.

Video signals received in the ground control station are passed to the Trojan Spirit van for worldwide intelligence distribution or directly to operational users via a commercial global broadcast system. Command users are able to task the payload operator in real-time for images or video on demand.

It’s critical to understand that the MQ-9 Reaper can operate with absolute impunity on Nigerian airspace with absolutely no possibility of detection. Technically one Reaper drone can wipe out the Nigerian government in a single strike. It can wipe out Nigeria’s leadership and every single military installation and oil terminals without breaking a sweat, and unless it is announced there will be absolutely no way for Nigeria to know where the attack came from much less care.

With such overwhelming capability the existence of Nigeria is theoretically at the hands of a couple of pilots sitting in a a single 30ft trailer in one of these bases scattered all around Nigeria.

Same way if the United States truly wants to help wipe out Boko Haram they can achieve that in 72 hours. America’s robust intelligence assets can locate every single operational base or hideout of Boko Haram insurgents and wipe them out. Instead we have witnessed Boko Haram waxing stronger as American and French footprint in West Africa increases.

Each time Boko Haram terrorists get pummeled by the Nigerian army and air force and suffer huge losses they retreat and go on a two month hiatus and the government declares victory. A months later they bounce back in spectacular fashion with new and better weapons, it becomes a self-perpetuating circle of attrition that over time strains the resources of the state.

In a region with the most Reaper drone bases in the world, how likely is it that a bunch of rag-tag insurgents are able to retreat in large numbers, carry out training, buy weapons and supplies of fuel and other logistics, repair broken down vehicles, even install solar panels…all undetected by drones and surveillance assets in Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Mali.

Then they somehow know the exact composition of Nigerian army formations, they know the number of troops, weapons placement and at night attack with numbers that give them a three to one ratio advantage without night vision equipment. All without detection. One wonders where or how Boko Haram gets the necessary Intel they need in real-time to carry out surgical operations, at NIGHT.

Why is the richest and most powerful country on earth spending billions of dollars building drones and buying land in the worlds poorest countries and turn a blind eye to grave human rights abuses by Cameroonian forces against innocent civilians in Southern Cameroon ? to fight Boko Haram?  If so then they are late to the party.


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