In today’s modern battlefield, airpower is functionally inseparable from land and battle space information.
The Nigerian Air Force being a defence-oriented force is essentially a Tactical Air Force, and not a strategic one. Although defensive in nature, the edifice stone of NAF operational doctrine is offensive response with emphasis on counter air operations. The NAF is thus organised to carry out the following roles:
Air Defence: Air Defence is attained by maintaining air superiority over Nigerian air space through interception, point defence, and combat air patrol. To perform this role Nigeria has Four F-7Ni fighter/interceptor.
Counter Air Operations: Counter Air Operation is performed either through preventive or retaliatory attacks against enemy targets and installations. Nigeria relies upon about a dozen Alpha jets and three F-7Ni fighter/interceptor, none of which will survive in a non permissive environment with SAMS.
Interdiction: Interdiction is carried out against hostile forces and supply activities in the battlefield. To perform this role Nigeria has Four F-7Ni fighter/interceptor.
Close Air Support: This is performed through concentrated air attacks against enemy forces within the Forward End of Battle Area (FEBA) as requested by friendly forces. To perform this role Nigeria relies mostly upon its formidable helicopter gunship fleet. Nigeria fields one of the largest and most sophisticated attack helicopter fleet in Africa.
Air Transport: Three Hercules C-130 cargo aircraft and a number of helicopters provides tactical mobility for troops and equipment. It includes air combat support, medical evacuation, search and rescue and movement of VIPs.
Maritime Operations: Maritime Operation involves aerial patrol of own territorial waters for security and information gathering purposes. Two ATR-42 Maitime patrol planes patrols Nigeria’s maritine domain.
Air Reece: Air recce involves aerial reconnaissance mission flown for the purpose of gathering air intelligence. Nigeria relies on one ATR-42 MPA, four King Air 350i and a host of unmanned aerial vehicles.
As is evident, the Nigerian Air Force lacks aircraft in the strike or counter-strike role which could provide the necessary defence, and if need be, the offensive force against any potential enemy. The service does not seem to give a damn about the importance of having an air defence strategy and the need to develop a robust air defence network.
The NAF needs at the very least, two Squadrons of modern 4th generation fighters capable of making about ten short ton of bombs within a radius of about 250 nautical miles.
Such an aircraft must be equipped with self navigational system and aerial refuelling system for improved range, and should be capable of night operations with defence suppression capability
To this end Nigeria does not need an overtly advanced platforms like the F-16 or SU-35, relative to the Air Forces of countries in the region. Two Squadrons of JF-17 Multirole fighter augmented by pre-existing eight F-7Ni fighters will give Nigeria unparalled and full spectrum dominance in the region.
Our highest investment priority should be in improving readiness. The Alpha jets and Aero-L-39 aircraft we have on the ramp are just too old and too few. We need to revitalize the fleet.
Managing aircraft readiness is a delicate balance between budgetary, resource realities, modernization needs and operational requirements.
So then, how does one go about acquiring equipments for threat, which are yet manifested? How does one achieve the optimal balance in one’s force design between catering for expected minor contingencies, but simultaneously remaining, prepared for major conflicts. Does one prepare for visible threats, or to counter potential capabilities?
The clever solution would be to design one’s air force according to perceived opponent’s capabilities, and not according to threats yet manifested. From the evolving security environment, it is fairly obvious that Nigeria is likely to face a direct threat from a modern, high-tech advisory in the next ten or twenty years i kid ye not. It will be strategically irresponsible to rule out the possibility of facing a regional opponent that has a defence agreement with a powerful actor. So the threat Nigeria will face is a combination of sophisticated, air defence batteries and terrorists. Nigeria must therefore reorganise its air force to enhance its core competencies.
INFORMATION IS POWER
To respond rapidly to any conflict, dominate any situation, and optimise day-to-day operation, accurate, timely and secure information must be available. The NAF should have information superiority. The ability to collect, process and disseminate an uninterrupted flow of information while exploiting or denying an adversary’s ability to do the same.
Currently in terms of number and types, the NAF inventory of combat aircraft is a joke. Five F-7Ni fighters and a dozen Alpha jets are not enough for air dominance even in the sub-region. In most cases, their operational status is zero. The NAF has become a world expert in refurbishing, carrying major modification of trainer aircrafts and having a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate this feat.
F-7NI Fighter/Interceptor (WIDOW MAKER)
This overpriced piece of junk has killed more pilots than has enemy fire. No serious country operate them as frontline aviation.
This aircraft was acquired purely for training pilots 32 years ago. Today it is the workhorse of the NAF ground attack capability, re-rolling it for missions far beyond its capabilities.
The following radars are in the inventory of the NAF and are located at various stations in the country:
(a) P-12 short range
(b) P-35 medium range
(c) PRV-II Height Finder
Nobody knows if these radar systems are operational. What we do know is that the Russian manufacturers have stopped production of the series for decades now. However, if they were operational, the P-12 and P-35 radar coverage extends to 360 KM and 370 KM range respectively. A low-level, they both have 90 KM effective range.
Good thing about this system though is that, when co-located with PRV-II, it is capable of three-dimensional reception. It can also be used for electronic warfare (EW) jamming, but will have to be manually operated in that mode. The P-35 can transmit video pictures to command post within 30 KM.
Nigeria’s focus on counter insurgency is eroding its ability to fight a land war against a more traditional military adversary. After 15 years of conflict, the Army knows how to fight terrorist groups.
But that is both a blessing and a curse. Those who joined the Nigerian army 15 to 20 years ago, (a third of the army), know nothing but fighting terrorists. But as we get into the higher-end threats, our skills have atrophied over 15 years.
As a result the army has not trained or updated its doctrine and carry out wargames on how to fight a large land war, including one where an established adversary is able to bring sophisticated air defenses, tanks, infantry and even naval power into battle.
When the Niger Delta Amnesty deal was reached, the Nigerian Army was supposed to return to barracks after more than a decade of war, resume training, and rebuild its readiness to fight and defend its territory. Boko Haram changed all that.
The threats to Nigeria’s territory did not end with the hand over of Bakassi to Cameroon in 2003. But other threats are not going away. Calabar is still fair game if the opportunity presents itself. Then we still have the Lake Chad disputes.
Nigeria has to figure out how to adapt Nigeria’s military strategy to the new reality that Nigeria is no more the preponderant military hegemon in West Africa. The miltary should balance the military’s responsibilities in fighting Boko Haram while relearning how to fight higher-end, great-power conflicts.
With the United States, Morocco, France and now ISRAEL establishing a presence, the West African sub-region is of growing importance. There’s also a lot of bad stuff happening that could undermine Nigeria’s interest and its decades of investments in the region.