As Nigeria struggles to come up with an effective strategy against a terrorist group that is increasingly bearing the hallmarks of a conventional fighting force, another threat is brewing in the horizon.
What should keep the Nigerian government up all night is the proliferation of Man Portable Air Defence System (MANPARD).
In January 2019, a NAF MI-35M helicopter gunship, one of the world’s most advanced attack helicopter was shot down while providing close air support to troops of the 145 Battalion of the Nigerian army in Damasak, Borno State. All five officers on-board were killed. Nigeria has an order for twelve MI-35M helicopter gunships, each costing $46 million apiece. Of the four delivered so far one has been shot down.
The NAF maintains the helicopter was not shot down by Boko Haram but crashed due to technical problems. In should be recalled that in January 2018 a NAF Mi-17 helicopter was downed during operations in Borno state, northeast Nigeria. True to the claim and denial bantar that precedes such event’s, the NAF said the Mi-17 was not brought down as insinuated by the jihadi group, but crashed due to mechanical failure during combat operations.
In turn Boko Haram released a video, claiming that they were responsible for the crashed helicopter. Regardless of the claim and denial mantra, there is a dangerous dynamic playing out here. Aircrafts are being brought down at an alarming rate.
The NAF refuses to even acknowledge the fact that the jihadi group have serious anti-aircraft capabilities that go beyond triple A guns, and hence is taking no visible step to mitigate this growing threat.
The use of Russsian made Strela-2 missile which can be fired by a single individual marks a dramatic escalation in Nigeria’s decade long war against the jihadi group. Denying the group now has a credible SAM capability borders on ridiculous.
Weapons like the shoulder launched Strela-2 anti-aircraft missiles proliferated after the fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, when Libyan arms amoury and stockpile of weapons was raided by rebels and fell into the arsenal of armed groups across north Africa and south of the Sahara. According to the CIA, the Gaddafi regime owned about 20,000 Strela MANPADS that cannot be accounted for. TWENTY THOUSAND !!
These missiles pose a threat to both the Nigerian military and commercial jetliners. The Nigerian Air Force have consistently refused to invest in high performance aircraft, relying instead on helicopters to rein in Boko Haram insurgents. Slow low flying rotary aircrafts are not designed to survive such threat environment. It’s titanium hub might offer some protection against small arms fire or high calibre rounds, but not against missiles.
As Boko Haram or ISIS West Africa increases its stockpile of anti-aircraft missiles, it could potentially lead to more helicopters being shot down and the death of more pilots. Such missile attacks could force Nigeria to switch to bombing with high flying jet, of which there are basically NONE. The workhorse of the Nigerian Air Force, the Alpha jet is a trainer aircraft with barely twice the speed of the Mi-35 helicopters. It cannot hope to outrun a missile flying at mach 2.1.
Which leaves Nigeria with just a complement of SEVEN Chengdu F-7Ni Airguard fighter/interceptor, and since there is no airforce in the world with a %100 readiness rate, it leaves Nigeria with maybe four or five jets available for operations in the northeast and strategic air defence.
New Scramble for AFRICA
Africa is the new battleground for great power competition, maskirovska, and economic exploitation. It’s the new Havard for terrorists. Currently, there are thousands of people already fighting for ISIS, Al-Qaeda Al-Shabab and other terrorist groups in Africa, and they are becoming increasingly connected. The continent is saturated with terrorist training camps, drone bases, military bases, weapons smugglers, human trafficking, illegal migration, thousands of refugees braving the Mediterranean in their quest to escape to Europe and drowning. It’s one very big mess.
More and more terrorist operations now occur in sub-Saharan Africa. It all started when France, a country that does not seem to realize it is no longer an 18th century world power, led the campaign to use the machinery of NATO to overthrow the Gaddafi regime with little regard to the objection of the African Union and with no post Gadaffi plan.
They basically turned Libya’s armoury into an arm’s bazaar as one of the world’s biggest stockpile of weapons was raided by terrorist groups. A decade later one billion Africans are still suffering the consequences.