PART 1: The Nigerian Military’s Urgent Need for Rebalancing.

The Nigerian military has a history of neglecting its internal domestic warfare capability and doctrine in favor of focusing on conventional warfare and projecting power. Emphasis was placed on logistic assets necessary to help Nigerian project forces beyond its border if need be.

For the Navy coastal patrol crafts gained prominence. Landing ships were acquired to support amphibious operations by carrying vehicles, landing troops and even tanks directly onto shore with limited naval ground infrastructure, making the Nigerian army capable of staging amphibious assaults to almost any beach in the region.

The Nigerian Air Force was, and still is a logistics superpower, with one of the largest fleet of transport aircraft. The Army on its part was rigidly trained with conventional warfare in mind. After the Niger Delta insurgency there were calls for the Nigerian army to prepare for multiple forms of warfare through the development of relevant doctrine and training. The Nigerian army must be prepared to fight the type of warfare that presents itself, not the type of warfare it wants to fight, it was argued.

However the army, fatigued after a decade of military operations in the Niger Delta showed little interest in developing relevant doctrine and training for irregular warfare, leaving the Nigerian army unprepared and inexperienced in counter insurgency warfare.

The Boko Haram insurgency brought to light the folly of choosing your own enemy and battlefield. The largest black army in Africa was dragged into counter-insurgency campaigns that were unforeseen or misunderstood and a new kind of enemy,

This enemy did not field armour and artillery firepower, but using tactics centered on small infantry squads using machine guns, mortars, and RPG’s, they swarmed Nigerian army positions. The chunky Nigerian army stood no chance losing huge swathes of territory and suffering many embarrassing defeats.

In 2013 the Nigerian military very quickly transitioned from the conventional fighting mode and moved into “full-spectrum” counterinsurgency operations. It began to develop doctrine to combat guerilla warfare. Billions of dollars in investments, the kind of investmemt that was never made on Nigeria’s conventional military machine were now being made on COIN operations, so that by 2015 the entirety of Nigeria’s military establishment was focused solely on fighting guerrilla warfare. We talking about billions here.

To put this into perspective, between 1992 and 2010 and after three ECOMOG operations, cumulatively Nigeria spent roughly $9 billion on security.  Between 2013 and 2015 Nigeria spent between 2016 and $22 billion on security, plus an extra $1 billion set aside annually specifically to buy munitions. That’s a ton of potential kickbacks

The Nigerian Air Force and Navy, not to be left out of the billions of dollars in security allocation left their assigned statutory roles of protecting Nigeria’s air and maritime domain and started building their very own tactical ground forces for operations in the northeast.

The NAF in particular have the blood of hundreds of soldiers on their hands each time Nigerian troops request for air support that never comes.  Rather than focus on providing Close Air Support for troops, the NAF begins building a parralel army on its own. Creating Special Forces Regiments and spending millions in training  ” to help the Nigerian army’s campaign in the northeast “, help that was never solicited.

As a consequences hundreds of Nigerian soldiers died needlessly on the battlefield because the airforce could not carry Close Air Support missions to protect troops, there were simply not enough assets. This prompted the army to request for the creation of an independent Air Wing to provide COS for ground troops.

Plans to upgrade the nation’s air defense systems by replacing the ROLAND anti-aircraft systems and aquire drones through technical partnership with Israel during the Ya’ardua administration was scrapped.

In 2010 the Nigerian Air Force took final delivery of 15 Chengdu F-7N Airguard fighter / interceptors, as a stop-gap measure to plug the gaping hole in Nigeria’s defences, while the service looks for suitable 4th gen aircraft as replacement. Never happened. Instead the NAF opted to overhaul 12 Aermacchi MB-339CD jet trainers for light attack roles and call it a strike fleet.

The $350 million earlier planned by the service to acquire a Squadron of  modern 4th generation platforms was deemed to prohibitively expensive for the NAF. To save cost the Air Force had a much better plan, splash $650 million on 12 Super Tucanos, a Cessna aircraft with machine guns and smart munitions

The Nigerian military is once again in danger of repeating the mistake of hollowing out one aspect of its warfighting ability at the detriment of the other. The military is caught in a paradoxical situation in reverse, in which the conventional warfare capability needed for overall deterrence is basically now on life support.

The traditional doctrine of the Nigerian military, was one based on territorial wars and  maneuver, a form at which the Nigerian army has excelled. No country dares to use its military forces in an explicit fashion against Nigeria because the Nigerian army was a conventionally minded army military trained for fighting large battles.

This capability is being eroded at an astonishing rate. The Nigerian military must never compromise its ability to prepare and fight other armies. Nigeria focusing on nothing but counterinsurgency to the exclusion of conventional warfare preparation because of the belief that inter-state military confrontations are a thing of the past is a strategic gamble that could have devastating consequences. Nigeria will not have the luxury of time to rebuild if a significant contingency comes up.

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A Nigerian army goat.

Besides, armies trained and equipped to fight conventional warfare can quickly and effectively shift to counterinsurgency and nation-building than vice versa. If a conventional Nigerian army can quickly and effectively make the transition, why reconfigure toward a hyperfocus on counterinsurgency  for future wars and conflicts?


It should be no surprise that Nigeria’s potential foes have seized this target of opportunity to disrupt Nigeria’s hegemonic position by circumventing Nigeria’s military strength altogether through indirect actions.

If the Nigerian military is not careful it faces the prospect of an embarrassing defeat at the hands its francophone adversaries who have spent the last decade preparing for large-scale battles and forging strategic military alliances with powerful countries.

There are a range of scenarios that might include Nigeria having to engage in heavy fighting.  Focusing on counterinsurgency operations will not prepare the military for such a possibility.

The Nigerian Army must do what it takes to address the gaping hole in Nigeria’s conventional military capability. A good counterinsurgency tactics practiced by proficient combat outfits cannot compensate for flawed strategies and policies. The Nigerian Army and Air Force must refocus itself toward conventional warfighting skills, with the knowledge that if called on to do so, it can easily shift to strategic defence.


The Nigerian army is a force of about 150,000 men, 1,300 artillery pieces, and 250 tanks (200 taken into account attrition and theft).

With army this large any attack from a potential enemy will be designed to catch Nigeria by surprise.  Nigeria has grown complacent over the years in its defensive positions. A complacency that borders on arrogance.

All Nigeria has to defend its 1,584 miles northern front are roughly 20,000 men, 300 artillery pieces and less than 100 tanks. A tiny defensive force woefully ill prepared to repel an attack.

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Nigerian army T-55 tank in storage.

A large chunk of Nigerian army tanks are Soviet designed T-55. At 40 tons the T-55s is relatively small. But it can move up to 30 mph and is armed with a 100 mm main cannon, providing a balance of speed and deadly firepower.

In an hypothetical but realistic scenario, in the event of a surprise attack, Nigeria’s first response will be to send its Airforce to smash the advancing enemy invaders before the army can mobilize. That is assuming the Nigerian Air Force still has combat aircraft to deploy, because the primary target of an invading force will be to prevent or limit Nigeria’s counter attacking force.

But for the illustration purpose lets assume that is not the case.

Nigerian Air power at this point will be crucial. The enemy will try to figure out how  to eliminate the inevitable Nigerian Air strikes. The obvious choice will certainly be by surface to air missiles. Strategically redeployed SAM batteries could potentially wipe out the entire NAF fleet of strike aircrafts

A NIgerian soldier wielding a Strela-2 MANPAD (Man portable air defence system)
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Nigerian army ROLAND SHORAD (Short range air defence system.
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A South Sudanese S-125 (SA-3) surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), which it appears to have acquired from its neighbour Uganda, and QW-2 Vanguard SAMs from China.
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Chadian SA-3 SAM site.

With the Nigerian Air Force neutralized, and with the lack of air defence systems, all that stands between the invasion force and the Nigerian heartland will be about 109 tanks or less. Most of which are obsolete 70s era Soviet, British and French tanks.

Nigerian troops will be pounded mercilessly by enemy aircraft.

The Nigerian army 21 amoured brigade, responsible for securing the northern front will at this time do what they were trained to do, counterattack, straight into enemy positions, to try to break up their formations and force them back across the border.

Without Nigerian artillery and air support, the whole counter attacking force will depend on tanks. None of those tanks will last an hour. They will be greeted with an inferno of tank destroyers and anti-tank missiles, which the enemy has in abundance.

The MILAN 3 is a French designed portable anti-tank guided missile. Fitted with a 5.7 pound warhead, the MILAN 2 can penetrate 8 inches of amour from ranges at nearly 5 miles. That’s standoff distance. It’s most deadly feature is a wire guidance system, which allows the operator to steer the missile all the way to the target via an optical sight. The operator fires the missile, and using a joy stick literally direct the missile unto the target at standoff distance. It’s deadly effective, and it allows the enemy operators to fire volleys of missiles with a %90 hit rate . There is no surviving that.

This nightmarish scenario would have been possible because Africa’s wealthiest economy fighting the longest war in the modern history of Africa refuses to invest in air power and air defence systems. Neither the Super Tucano now Alpha jet will be able to survive in contested environment with SAM’s.


Every airforce in the world has readiness problems. Not even the USAF can guarantee an %80 readiness rate of its platforms. It’s simply impossible. On any given day, nearly three out of every 10 aircraft in the Air Force’s aging fleet are out of commission, those that have not crashed are undergoing regular maintenance or inspections, or receiving heavier duty repair work.

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Crew from the NAF maintanance squadron working in an F-7Ni fighter.
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Crew from the NAF maintanance squadron working in an F-7Ni fighter.

Declining readiness is especially concerning given the relatively small size of the Air Force’s fleet. The NAF fields a total of nine Chengdu F -7Ni fighter/interceptor, 13 Alpha light attack jets and less than a dozen Aero L-39 Albatros trainer/Light attack. With this size even a %70 readiness rate means at any given time, all Nigeria has to defend her 910,768 km of territory is 4 or 5 Chengdu F-7Ni fighter/interceptor.

Flying such a small fleet of decades old airframes so heavily comes with its inherent danger,  When you start to fly the same aircraft over and over and over again, the possibility losing, not just the aircraft but pilots increases exponentially.


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