With the primary responsibility for air defense and the development of military space research, the Nigerian Air Force also provides air services in coordination with the other military branches. TARKAA DAVID writes on the impact of the recent acquisition of 26 new aircraft.
With a population of over 200 million, the Armed Forces of Nigerian has this herculean task of protecting the lives and properties of overall Nigerians spread across a landmass of 923768 km2 and 774 local governments.
The Armed Forces had been living up to this mandate right from the civil war and now the Boko Haram insurgency which has tested the capacity of the Nigerian Armed Forces as the giant of Africa.
While many blame the lack of equipment for the military’s inability to halt insurgency, others blame it on lack of political will by the political class.
Nigerians in 2014 rejected the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration and overwhelmingly voted President Muhammadu Buhari with the promise to address insecurity and other challenges in the country. Six years into his administration, there seems to be no visible difference as the situation has spiralled into banditry, kidnapping for ransom, and secessionist agitations. While wars are fought by men, the need for sophisticated equipment and manpower cannot be overemphasised.
The administration of President Buhari has so far acquired a total of 26 brand new aircraft and many unmanned aerial vehicles to boost the combat readiness of the NAF.
The newly acquired aircraft include 10 Super Mushshak trainer aircraft, 5 new Mi-35M helicopter gunships, and 2 Bell 412 helicopters.
Other’s include four Agusta 109 Power attack helicopters, two Mi-171E helicopters, and more recently, three JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter aircraft.
A couple of weeks ago, the NAF received 6 A-29 Super Tucano aircraft out of the 12 already purchased by the President Buhari-led administration which will soon be inducted.
Military authorities said that the remaining 6 A-29 Super Tucano aircraft, as well as some unmanned combat Aerial Vehicles which will arrive in the country before the end of the year, will boost NAF’s air power employment capabilities in support of joint operations.
Also, 20 previously grounded aircraft including the Falcon 900, ATR-42, Beechcraft, Super Puma, F-7Ni, EC-135, Do-228, Mi-24V, Mi-35P, C-130H, L-39ZA, and Alpha Jet aircraft have been reactivated in the last six years.
Additionally, for the first time in its history, the NAF successfully conducted multiple in-country Periodic Depot Maintenance (PDM) on 2 C-130H, 3 L-39ZA aircraft, 2 Mi-35P helicopters as well as 3 Alpha Jet aircraft.
The acquisitions and reactivation as well as the emplacement of robust logistics support structure have enabled the NAF to raise the serviceability status of operable aircraft from about 35 per cent in 2015 to about 72% as of 2 August 2021.
To ensure the sustainability of the newly acquired platforms, the Federal Government has in the last six years invested substantially in the training and retraining of NAF personnel both locally and abroad.
Within the period under review, the NAF has winged over 133 pilots while 233 other personnel of various trades are currently undergoing training.
Similarly, the enhancement of training facilities at the 401 Flying Training School (401 FTS) Kaduna has improved the training capacity of the school.
As a result, for the first time in about 3 decades, 401 FTS was able to complete ab-initio flying training for cadets of the Nigerian Defence Academy before their commissioning as officers.
In the aspect of aircraft serviceability, the NAF has trained and retrained engineers and technicians to ensure adequate maintenance of its fleet.
These efforts at enhancing NAF’s fleet as well as building the capacity of personnel have no doubt reflected on NAF’s operational output.
Coupled with the renewed and enhanced synergy among the Services and other security agencies, the acquisition and employment of these platforms has yielded tangible results in the fight against insurgency in the Northeast while recording gains in the fight against armed bandits, kidnappers, and other criminal elements in the Northwest and Northcentral theatres.
For instance, from January 2021 till date the Air Component elements of Operation HADIN KAI (OPHK) conducted 1,015 missions in 1,357 sorties and logging 1,861hrs.
The most recent achievements recorded in the OPHK Theatre included the provision of Close Air Support (CAS) to ground troops in combat with ISWAP forces equipped with 12 GTs and 2 Armoured Personnel Carriers at Damboa, Borno State on 3 June 21.
The NAF aircraft prevented the troop’s location from being overrun and inflicted heavy casualties on the ISWAP forces leading to their eventual withdraw.
Air interdiction and CAS missions were also conducted at Lamboa on 20 June 21 against ISWAP elements with all 5 of their gun trucks destroyed and several terrorists neutralized.
Also during the attack at Bula Yobe, the NAF provided close air support for ground troops in combat with ISWAP forces on 27 Jun 21, the air operations destroyed 3-gun trucks, neutralized many terrorists, and prevented troop’s location from being overrun.
The successes recorded by NAF’s air component also extended to Operation HADARIN DAJI (OPHD) in the Northwest as well. The Nigerian military has disclosed that over 1000 Boko Haram Terrorists including high-profile commanders have surrendered to government forces.
Indeed, from January 2021 to date, the air component of OPHD conducted 591 missions in 692 sorties with 943 hours flown.
These operations led to the rescue of some kidnapped students whilst providing close air support for troops on clearance operations in various locations destroying bandit camps.
Within the same period, the air component of Operation THUNDER STRIKE (OPTS) conducted 500 missions in 630 sorties with 975 hours flown with tangible results in the areas of curtailed cattle rustling, kidnapping, and banditry.
The NAF also made significant contributions to the results achieved in Operations WHIRL STROKE in the North Central; DELTA SAFE in the South-South and AWATSE in the Southwest.
These efforts and successes recorded no doubt were realizable due to the improvement and enhancement in NAF’s air fleet inventory that comprises aircraft of various capabilities required for different types of operations.
According to the Defence Headquarters over 1000 Boko Haram Terrorists/ Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) fighters have in the last two weeks surrendered to government forces,a development spectators attributes to success of military offensives and air strikes on their enclaves.
The NAF recently conducted a holistic assessment of its combat efficiency in order to determine requirements, in terms of air platforms, armament, communication, manpower, and medical, amongst others, to raise the efficiency of the Service to appropriate levels to meet current and emerging national security imperatives.
While the NAF sustains its kinetic operations, it has also continued to devote resources to non-kinetic operations aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the civil populace.
These were achieved through the provision of medical facilities and school feeding programmes in IDP Camps in Borno State, the conduct of medical outreaches to host communities of NAF Units across the country, provision of airlift in support of the National COVID-19 response, and availing host communities of NAF schools and medical facilities.
On its part, the NAF has also dedicated significant time and resources to capacity building of personnel of other support trades, whilst placing a high premium on the welfare of personnel and their families to ensure enhanced performance in the field.
The welfare of personnel has also received close attention as the NAF has renovated/remodeled and constructed new blocks of classrooms and hostel accommodation in existing NAF schools across the country.
In the same vein, the NAF has vigorously engaged in massive construction and renovation of residential accommodation to reduce the accommodation challenges in our bases.
The NAF has also sustained its efforts at expanding the post-service housing schemes to ease the burden of post-service life settlement for its personnel.
“All these were done as part of efforts to bolster morale by improving personnel welfare for effective and efficient service delivery,”
As part of efforts to promote quality health delivery to its fighting force and families, the NAF recently unveiled the telemedicine portal to ease personnel access to quality healthcare that transcends borders.
The Nigerian Air Force College of Nursing was also upgraded and accredited to offer HND programmes.
The NAF has also continued to invest heavily in Research and Development especially in Unmanned Aerial Systems technology, rockets and rocket launchers, heat shield protective cones for the Alpha Jet rocket pods, among others.
At the moment, it appears the government’s investment in military wares and capacity is yielding results with the renewed onslaught and the number of terrorists denouncing terrorism and surrendering to government forces.