The Nigerian Air Force has for several years hosted the Air Expo among other events. However, the security situation in Nigeria, the rapidly changing dynamics in the international arena and the changing approach to warfare require careful understanding of the threats and response options available for the projection of air power in addressing National Security imperatives. We, therefore, deem it necessary to host this International Air Power Seminar to serve as a platform for exchange of ideas on the way forward.
The changing character of warfare has imposed the need for a change in the way armed forces approach warfare. While the engagement in conventional or regular warfare remains a possibility, the global predominant threat to nations has become more irregular in nature. Irregular warfare by its nature is asymmetric, and it covers a wide range of activities with insurgency and counter-insurgency operations at its core. The Nigerian military has been engaged in irregular warfare of recent particularly in its fight against the Boko Haram insurgents. Since the beginning of this decade, despite many challenges associated with this type of warfare, the Nigerian Air Force has, over the years, actively employed air power in dealing with security challenges facing the nation.
On assumption of duty, I envisioned the repositioning of the NAF into a highly professional and disciplined force through capacity building initiatives for effective, efficient and timely employment of air power in response to Nigeria’s national security imperatives. Nigerian Air Force has consistently sought to actualize this laudable vision through collaboration with our worthy friends and partners to develop capacities in key areas required for our counter-insurgency operations. Similarly, we have made effort to optimize our local technology through research and development to meet our peculiar technological needs. All these and the sacrifices of our officers and men have contributed immensely to degrading the capacity of the insurgents considerably.
A wide range of counter-insurgency operations have been conducted both singly and in coordination with other Services. While a series of air interdiction and close air support missions have been conducted against the insurgents, we have also conducted Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions, airlift operations, casualty and medical evacuations and other operations that exploit the peculiar characteristics of air power. Between June 1, 2015 and October 31, 2018, the Nigerian Air Force flew a total of 51,582 hours, 15 minutes in 39,807 sorties to deliver the air power that has helped to keep the insurgents at bay and create an enabling environment for surface forces to conduct their operations. To succeed in irregular warfare, the role of the population where the war is fought is very critical.
Government forces and the general population must see themselves as partners in progress, working together to restore peace and security. We must debunk the narratives of the terrorists and endear ourselves as patriots in the hearts and minds of the people. I would like to reiterate that, based on our understanding of the nature of irregular warfare, the Nigerian Air Force and, indeed, the military have deployed massive non-kinetic means in the theatre of operation. Consequently, Civil-Military Coordination activities are carried out simultaneously alongside air operations. We are very active in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in providing medical, educational, security and general basic needs for our displaced people. Our medical outreaches in the Northeast are very robust and have gone a long way to accentuate government presence in the Northeast of the country.
For instance, the Nigerian Air Force has established Level 2 hospitals in Bama and Dalori where surgical intervention services are provided for IDPs, while medical outreach programmes are conducted in several communities across the country. Between 2015 and today, we have provided medical services to over 295,000 patients and have conducted 661 general surgeries and 848 eye surgeries amongst the displaced persons across the country, with well over 80 persons of these being carried out in the north-eastern parts.
In the same vein, the Nigerian Air Force has conducted skills acquisition programmes for IDPs, airlifted relief materials for distressed persons, and extracted vulnerable and aged-persons from high risk areas. These efforts which are aimed at winning the “hearts and minds” of the populace do not only endear the Nigerian Air Force to the people but also create effects in ways that reinforce the will and commitment of the government to the well-being of the citizenry. In the long-term, the focus of the Nigerian Air Force is to develop the capacity and capability to efficiently engage in a 3-Block war on a grand scale, where humanitarian, peacekeeping/stabilization and combat operations are conducted simultaneously. I would, at this point, like to appreciate the efforts of the Federal Government led by our amiable President for consistently giving us the support that has enabled us to progress thus far.
Despite these efforts and aspirations, we believe that nobody and, indeed, no country knows it all and the quest to broaden knowledge and understanding would require the experiences of others. As aptly put by Sir Isaac Newton who, as far back as in 1675, said “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”, the Nigerian Air Force wishes to leverage on the experiences of our friends and international partners to deal with the irregular threats in Nigeria and the sub-region more efficiently. We are therefore open to benefit from the experiences of both local and international subject matter experts in the field of air power, particularly as it relates to irregular warfare which has become almost pervasive in our time. We know that there are countries that have fought or are currently engaged in fighting insurgencies and we are convinced that their experiences will be invaluable to the Nigerian Air Force.
It is in view of this, that we have chosen the theme of this Seminar, to be “Air Power in Irregular Warfare: A Framework for Understanding and Responding” which we consider aptly captures our sentiments and desire to get a better understanding of the nature and response options for the current security situation that we are grappling with. The seminar is conceptualized to provide a forum for cross think-thank domain discussions where experienced air power practitioners and academics in related fields working in similar emerging threat environments would interact with air power practitioners of the Nigerian Air Force. It is in view of this that we have carefully selected air power practitioners and researchers from all over the world to share their thoughts on the theme in order to add value to our on-going counterinsurgency efforts.
We recognise that the successful conduct of counter-insurgency operations depends on a clear understanding of the required overarching framework and policy that would enable us implement a whole of nation approach in fighting this war. Although the Nigerian Air Force is in constant collaboration with other agencies and International Organisations operating in the North East, we realize the need to mobilize all Ministries, Departments and Agencies and indeed the entire population to support government’s counter-insurgency efforts. We have therefore designated some papers in this Seminar to deal with policy issues associated with irregular warfare.
Just as one element of national power cannot successfully defeat an insurgency, so also one country cannot do it alone due to the fluid and cross-border nature of these threats. Hence, coalition building is a necessity for any successful counter-insurgency operation. We have therefore also designated speakers to share their experience on coalition building. Additionally, one of the motivations for hosting this seminar is the increasing realization of the overarching need for the application of air power in irregular warfare. However, because of its characteristics and wide ranging effects, air power could be devastating if misapplied. Also, it is not just enough to be effective, there is the need for efficiency in the application of air power. There is also the need for training on various air power specialties required to conduct irregular warfare. Thus, this Seminar has dedicated some time to consider issues associated with air power application, training as well as ethical concerns in the application of air power in irregular warfare.
The Seminar topics are therefore built around 3 broad strands of learning. The first is Public Policy making, the second is Air Power Application while the third is Training for and Ethical Application of Air Power. The 3 day programme is designed to address one or more broad strand each day. The format of the Seminar is conceived to be slightly different from other seminars in order to allow for maximum participation from the invited audience. Rather than have selected discussants to discuss the paper, we consider it more beneficial to have more open floor discussion from the audience as much as possible.
– Being address by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar at the Nigerian Air Force International Air Power Seminar in Abuja