There is no denying the fact that the northeast is now a kind of Gordian knott, the underbelly of Nigeria where potential adversaries, have a clear goal in keeping the African leviathan distracted, mirred in perpetual internal security challenges leading an incoherent foreign policy.
But why? Why would anyone benefit from a destabilized Nigeria?
The reality is that Nigeria, by no fault of it’s own finds itself sitting astride the most important nexus of four foreign policy axis with connecting ties to so many agendas, that this triangle of land has become so important, and so combustible.
Nigeria is now a hinge on which the door to Franco-American, francophone influence in the region opens or shuts. This region contains the continent’s largest hydrocarbon deposits, natural gas and Uranuim. External interference and a porous border has assured Boko Haram longevity.
If Nigeria truly wishes to turn off the weapons-trafficking tap it must do the following :
Meticulous surveillance and monitoring to ensure no enemy movement goes unnoticed
For meticulous and comprehensive surveillance the NAF must triple the size of its electronic monitoring capacit and expand its ISR assets. Two ATR-42 and four KingAir 350i aircraft can only do so much.
With the staggering number and sophistication of surveillance platforms ringed all over Nigeria, from Niger, Chad and Cameroon, it should be practically impossible for ISIS or any terrorist group to smuggle men and weapons into Nigeria’s without detection from French and American surveillance drones. Relying on these countries to help in border security has over the years proved unreliable.
Swift deployment so as not to give the enemy any chance
ISR is often the first capability a combatant commander requests in a crises or contingency situation, and those capabilities often must remain in place for battle damage assessment.
Insurgency groups know they cannot hope to prevail by engaging the military head on. Their preferred strategy has always been a long drawn out bitter war of attrition, and Nigeria has been fighting on the terms of the jihadist for the better part of the last decade. An “action reaction” dichotomy. They act, we react, on and on the vicious circle continues.
The only way to fight an enemy that doesnt play fair on the ground and wants a long drawn out war, is to not fight on their terms. A relentlessly round the clock aerial search and destroy bombardment will break the will of even the most hardened of commanders.
This entails persistent round the clock surveillance and monitoring and more importantly the ability to deliver quick interdiction strikes.
Integrating these two tactical requirements requires a wide range of integrated ISR for synchronizing to enable quick action. The time lapse between detection of the enemy and interdiction should be in the minutes, to prevent the enemy from escaping.
Fielding such integrated ISR enterprise requires a high level of investment in expanding the size of available platforms. Technology is good, but if the platforms required to complete the kill chain are too few and far between, then why bother with the mission in the first place?
The most visible parts of Nigeria’s ISR force are six reconnaissance aircraft and four armed attack drones
While four armed attack drones (CH-3A Rainbow), have the sophistication and range needed, their limited endurance and numbers limits their effectiveness.
The NAF can boost its fleet of armed drones with the more modern CH-4 drones, like the Egyptian Air Force has done.
The iron triad of the NAF big wing, manned ISR platforms (ATR-42 Surveyor, Beechcraft KingAir 350i and Diamond Sensor aircraft) totalling just around eight aircraft fall so drastically short of the numbers required for persistent search and destroy missions.
Less visible, but vitally important, are the airmen and networks that receive, process, exploit, and disseminate the intelligence information collected by the aircraft.
Granted, Air Force ISR investments has increased dramatically over the years, but the investment levels should more than quadruple, commensurate with the expanded mission requirement.
Years of outsourcing border security in the name of regional cooperation has left Nigeria open to manipulation and subversion. As was the case with Bharat Gnoti, aid to Chadian President caught with 18 SA-7 surface to air missiles he purchased from the Sudanese army for Boko Haram.
That was a chance discovery. Everyday weapons get smuggled into the country to keep the jihadi group active.
Boko Haram owe their longevity to the covert support they receive from external actors.
The first objective of the military should be to seek out, trianglulate and isolate the group from the outside world. It can be done.
Merciless and aggressive retaliation towards any provocation.
The Nigeran Air Force has in the last decade developed a culture that values high performance combat aircraft significantly below VIP helicopters, Super Mushank trainers, Special Forces Regiment, Sewing machine factories, fish farming, forensic lab, gymnasium, K-9 Dog units…anything it would seem but combat aircraft.
Will the Air Force implement its long overdue plan to increase and modernize platforms that put fire and steel on target, or will priority and resources continue to go towards capacity building projects.
In the face of great power competition and deepening security crises, Nigerian Air Power is needed now more than at anytime in the nation’s history.
The steadfast reluctance of Nigeria to transition from trainer aircrafts that perform well in a low-threat environment, to modern high performance combat aircrafts able to operate in high-threat environments is troubling.
Once pocessing one of the largest and most powerful fleet of strike aircraft of any airforce in Africa, today’s Nigeria’s attack squadron increasingly looks more like a volunteer fire department. Only the small number of F-7Ni fighters are considered survivable in high threat environment because of its speed.
Against this backdrop there is the need to recapitalize obsolete aircraft with modern 4th generation fighter/interceptor aircrafts with radars that can plug into an integrated network of sensors across multiple platforms as was the case in the eighties.
So far, the Air Force has cancelled the several proposals for 4th generation fighter/interceptor in flavour of the Super Tucano aircraft. The survivability of this aircraft in a high threat environment is slim. It’s viability as a high speed interceptor, able to punch in afterburner and cover the distance from its base in Mauduguri to Borno for interdiction of Boko Haram elements in minutes, and deliver ordnance is unrealistic .
ISR platforms are meant to provide early warning and situation awareness for strike aircrafts. Not to baby sit them. With the airframe of a civilian jetliner they are extremely vulnerable without defensive capabilities. The only defense they have is their long range and early warning capability and radio silence.
In a tactical environment radio silence is essential for ISR aircrafts. Without a ground base radar monitoring system, the ATR-42 MPA is basically Nigeria’s only long range radar warning platform. These are highly valuable assets and should have fighter escort when operating in a high threat environment.
For security reasons target coodinates from the ATR-42 MPA are relayed via data link, encryption or even text messages. Unfortunately the aircraft has become more like control towers in the air because the entire attack fleet of the NAF do not have search radars. Their “analog” avionic suites are not designed for electronic and system integration.
Hence the Alpha jet and Aero-L29 aircraft depend on ISR assets to find their way, its locate, and fix targets constantly. This entails needless radio chatter that can be picked up by the enemy, thereby putting the entire crew in grave danger.
To effectively maximize the capabilites of ISR assets and execute strike missions the NAF needs, at the very least two tactical attack squadrons of 4th generation interceptors. Nigeria is acquiring three JF-17 Multirole fighter from Pakistan. The fighter recently proved its capability when a Pakistani JF-17 shot down two Indian Air Force fighters over Kashmire in 2018.
Given the NAF security imperative in every geopolitical areas of the country, three JF-17 fighters does not cut it. Nigeria needs to increase the size of its JF-17 fleet from three to twenty four.
The Alpha jets is pretty much still a useful assets for light air to ground missions in a low threat environment but, a trainer aircraft cannot continue to be the workhorse of a nation that takes the security of its citixens serious.