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Nigerian Air Force - History

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) evolved from the growing need of the country to participate in African stability in late 1950s and early 1960s. This period was when Nigeria participated in two foreign military operations in the war-torn Republic of Congo in 1960, and the quelling of military insurrections in Tanganyika (Tanzania) in 1959. The scenario saw Nigeria relying on civil aircraft in conveying men and logistics or being airlifted by other foreign air force to an operational theater.

The idea of establishing an air force for Nigeria was first mooted in 1961 following the nation's participation in peace-keeping operations in Congo and Tanganyika (now Tanzania). During these peace-keeping operations, foreign air forces aircraft were employed to airlift the Nigerian Army Regiment to and from the theatres of operation. The Nigerian Government at the time, no doubt, recognized the urgent need to establish an air force actively supported by modern facilities to provide full complement of forces to enhance the nation's military posture. Early in 1962, the Government agreed in principle that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) be established.

The Nigerian Parliament, therefore, approved the establishment of the NAF and recruitment of cadets commenced in June 1962. Consequently, the NAF was officially established by a statutory Act of Parliament in April 1964 to serve four main purposes namely:

  1. To achieve a full complement of the military defence system of the Federal Republic of Nigeria both in the air and on the ground.
  2. To ensure a fast versatile mobility of the Armed Forces.
  3. To provide close support for the ground-based and sea borne forces in all phases of operations and to ensure the territorial integrity of a united Nigeria.
  4. To give the country the deserved prestige that is invaluable in international matters.

It was in 1962 that the drive for the required manpower for the planned air force started. Simultaneous with this development, Government was in dialogue with some friendly nations on the possibility of training Nigerian Air Force personnel in various specialist fields. The first batch of 10 cadets was enlisted in 1962 to undergo training with the Ethiopian Air Force. Thereafter, in February 1963, a second batch of 16 officers was sent to the Royal Canadian Air Force, this was followed with 6 others who were sent to the Indian Air Force for additional training. In August 1963, another batch of 84 cadets left for Germany for more training. Furthermore, in order to give the establishment of the NAF a legal backing, the FGN took further step to strengthen this objective through a NAF Act of Parliament in 1964.

The stage was thus set for the training of its personnel in the country. Consequently, several countries were approached but the lot fell on the German Air Force to provide technical assistance for the local training of NAF personnel and this materialized in 1963.

While the NAF was still at its infancy as a fighting force, the laudable plans made by the German Air Force Assistance Group were prematurely put to test barely three years after its establishment. The inexperienced Air Force assumed the role of a well established Air Force in order to prosecute the Nigerian civil war in close collaboration with sister Services. At this stage of its existence, the NAF was only equipped with a few aircraft. As the war progressed, some fighter aircraft such as MIG 15 and 17 were acquired to help bring the war to a speedy end.

The Nigerian Civil War came to an end in 1970 and there was the need to re-organize the Nigerian Air Force and up-grade its equipment. In order to strengthen itself, the NAF between 1981 and 1990 acquired additional aircraft types of advanced technology. With the acquisition of new weapon platforms, there arose the need to train personnel to man and maintain the new aircraft types. This led to the NAF re-organising its training aspects in all NAF trade specialties.

Following the expansion of the NAF over time and the need to enforce all international laws and conventions relating to space activities in the Nigerian airspace, the Federal Government promulgated Decree 105 (Armed Forces Amendment Decree) of 23rd August 1994 which provided additional roles for the NAF. These additional roles included:

  1. Enforcing and assisting in coordinating the enforcement of international law, conventions, practices and customs ascribed and acceded to by Nigeria relating to aerial or space activities in the Nigerian airspace.
  2. Coordinating and enforcing all national and international air laws acceded or ascribed to by Nigeria and
  3. De-lineating, demarcating and coordinating all aerial surveys and security zones of the Nigerian airspace.

The strength of the NAF continues to grow in size. It was estimated that the strength of the NAF in 1990, stood at 9,500 officers and enlisted personnel. In addition, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) entered a technical support agreement with the West German Air Force to train the NAF in technical manpower.

The NAF involvement in the ECOMOG Operations commenced in August 1990 and was under two major phases: Operation Liberty in Liberia (1990-1995) and Op Sandstorm in Sierra Leone (1997-2001). The NAF participation started with the airlift of Nigerian troops with the C-130 aircraft. By late August 1990, the ECOMOG mandate was readjusted to include peace enforcement thus marking the introduction of offensive air power platforms with the Alpha Jets fighter ground attack aircraft and the Super Puma Helicopters. The NAF exploited virtually the full airpower spectrum of Close Air Support (CAS), Battle Field and Deep Interdictions, Armed Reconnaissance,Airlift, Maritime Operations, CASEVAC and pysops missions. The serviceability of NAF aircraft deployed during the operations revealed gross logistics deficiencies.

The period between 1990 to 2008 includes the time frame of electioneering period in Nigeria in which the NAF fleets were employed in the lifting of election materials. Also, the period witnessed the application of NAF air assets in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. This was in collaboration with the Nigerian Army (NA), Nigerian Navy (NN) and other security agencies. In addition, the NAF was involved in providing security for the nation during Low Intensity Conflicts (LIC) as witnessed in Kaduna and Plateau States in 1995 and 2008 respectively. The period also falls within the timeframe where the NAF played a significant role in the Nigerian Armed Forces Peace Keeping Operations most especially the OPERATION LIBERTY in Liberia and OPERATION SANDSTORM in Sierra Leone.

The Nigerian Constitution of 1999 charged the NAF with the responsibilities to fight and win wars, whenever and wherever they occur, guide and protect the nation’s territorial borders and water. Also, to suppress insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon by the president, it is to provide the government speedy response options in attaining its internal and external policy goals. In the event of internal insecurity in Nigeria, NAF has internal security platoons which usually participate in suppressing insurrections. For instance, the 7 February 2000 civil disturbance in Kaduna which led to massdestruction of lives and properties witnessed the intervention of NAF personnel in restoring law and order. Similar feats was achieved in the recent Jos crisis.

The inability of the NAF to carry out its constitutional role in order to fully participate in civil duties was constrained by the neglected approach by past military governments. The former CAS in 2006, lamented that “as from 1990, the NAF started a progressive decline in its roles due to a deliberate policy of neglect by successive military governments”. Furthermore, with the advent of democracy in 1999, the serviceability of most NAF fleets was 0 percent while the few active fleets averaged 25 percent to 30 per cent.

From 1990, virtually the entire NAF aircraft fleet serviceability status became seriously degraded and resulted in a progressive decline in the efficient conduct of air operations. The NAF was adversely affected as various training cycles were disrupted consequently; projections were not met resulting in the decline of skilled manpower. The situations were exacerbated by the corresponding separation from NAF Service of competent and experienced technicians on completion of their service years. In addition, the scarcity of aircraft spares parts and the decline of in-depth maintenance activities among otherscombinedto militate against efficiency in air operations.

The NAF was charged with the responsibility of protecting the resources of the country from illegal exploitation fundamental to national development. The NAF has matured into a large well focused service that can hold its own in the region, especially in terms of manpower and potentials as part of their legal responsibilities. This legal responsibility continues to expand the NAF role even to the present day with an enhanced structure.

At present, the NAF has an airlift capacity that provides speedy airlift support for sister Services, the Federal Government and its agencies both within and outside the country. The NAF has a Search and Rescue airlift which is made up of helicopters capable of performing large scale rescue operations over jungles, mountains and high seas. The airlift was deployed, for instance, during the NET building fire incidents in 1982 during which many people trapped in the building were airlifted to safety. Another instance where the NAF exploits readily come to mind is in the area of civil aviation.

The NAF participated effectively in troops lift, logistics re-supply, medieval and in combat, Operations HARMONY I to IV conducted in the Eastern flank of the country from the Maiduguri/Chad border to the Bakassi/Cameroonian' area and Operation GABAS in 1987 aimed at flushing out some insurgents from Chad are some good examples. Furthermore, in the discharge of its role of protecting Nigeria from aerial attack, the NAF in conjunction with the Nigerian Army Air Defence Artillery provides low-level air defence for airports around the country. Although lack of serviceable radar and other equipment continue to be a problem, working with other stakeholders, the NAF through the offices of the airport commandants has maintained reasonable level of operational effectiveness. The commencement of work on the military component of the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) would further enhance NAF's capability in protecting Nigeria's airspace.

The NAF also helps to airlift Nigerian contingents to sporting engagements wherever there are flight problems or notice to move in short time. The NAF has over the years participated in various International Peace-keeping Operations in Lebanon from 1978 to 1982, the OAU Peace-keeping Operations in Chad in 1983 during which 144 NAF personnel were awarded OAU Medals; the UN Military Observer Group (UNIMOG) in Yugoslavia in 1988, the ECOMOG Operations in Liberia, UNISOM Operations in Somalia and Rwanda as well as the engagement in Sierra Leone. Furthermore, in support of Government's foreign policy goals, the NAF has in recent times airlifted relief materials to sister African countries devastated by one form of disaster or the other.

The NAF has similarly systematically localized almost all trades training in pursuance of its local training policy. Because of the high standards of facilities and quality of Instruction in some NAF schools, the Federal Government directed the NAF to provide significant military aid in term of training to some sister African countries. To this end, NAF has in recent years, trained military pilots and aircraft technicians for various African nations. The localization of training has no doubt saved the nation huge sums of foreign exchange in addition to making the country more self-reliance in its training needs.

The NAF participated actively in various operations nationwide in aid to civil power/authorities during the period under review. These missions range from internal security assignments to the provision of airlift to government agencies. When aviation workers abandoned work for one labour protest reason or the other, NAF personnel took over immediate control of the airports in a few instances. In collaboration with other aviation stakeholders such as the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), it monitored the Nigerian airspace and played a supportive role in the implementation of government policies on the National Airport Security Programme. Some instances of NAF participation in aid to civil authority/power are mentioned under internal security and other engagements.

In addition to the aforementioned tasks, the NAF aids civil authority in the provision of liaison and light transport for both military and civilian VIPs, airlift for presidential visits, aerial patrol duties and ceremonial displays. Indeed, significant portion of the electoral materials used in the series of elections held in the country were airlifted by the NAF. Its search and rescue efforts helped to save many lives during the NET Building fire in 1982 while NAF pilots and other personnel were involved in various internal security operations.

Apart from the normal airlift of electoral materials conducted in support of the numerous electoral bodies in 1991, the NAF played an active part in the verification of voters registration for the then National Electoral Commission (NEC) now Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The NAF has also been involved in the patrol of PHCN power lines across the country and is in the forefront of efforts to stop illegal oil bunkering under OPS Restore Hope. Currently, the Nigerian Air Force is involved in internal Security Operations in different parts of the country. Additionally, the NAF is also collaborating with National Emergency Management Agency in disaster response.

As currently structured, the NAF has bases in over 17 states across the country. To cater for the welfare and needs of its personnel, hospitals and schools were established. These facilities are often open to the host communities. Through these facilities, the NAF contributes to human and national development. Furthermore, job opportunities are also provided for citizens in some of the ancillary services thereby improving the local populations' living standard.

In an effort to achieve a good measure of self sufficiency in aviation technology, NAF entered into a joint venture agreement with the Dornier (AIEP) Limited. The joint venture project culminated in the development and production of made-in-Nigeria aircraft called “Air Beetle”. The aircraft was officially commissioned as part of activities to mark NAF Silver Jubilee celebration in Kaduna, on 22 April, 1989. The aircraft was developed jointly by DANA (AIEP) engineers, NAF pilots, engineers and technicians. Currently, the NAF is also developing national capacity in aviation technology and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) through the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) in Kaduna.

In the area of peace support operations, the NAF has also left an indelible imprint. Nigeria's outing on UN PSO is perhaps as old as the nation itself. Indeed the need to airlift Nigerian troops to these operations was the main factor that resulted in the formation of the NAF. The first Nigerian troops deployed to Lebanon on UN peacekeeping operations from 1978-1982 relied entirely on NAF airlift assets for their sustenance. Also, the deployment and withdrawal of the Nigerian contingent to OAU peacekeeping operations in Chad in 1982/83 were carried out using NAF C-130s. Apart from these major operations, the NAF was involved in peacekeeping efforts in Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda, Kuwait etc. The successes recorded by ECOMOG forces in their peacekeeping and later, peace enforcement efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone would have been at a far higher cost, without the critical contributions of NAF air power. Currently, NAF C-130s and personnel are involved in airlift missions in International Peace Support Operations in aid of United Nations, African Union and Economic Countries of West African States.

With the advent of democracy in May 1999, plans to reverse the downward trend of NAF's fortunes began to be implemented. The democratic government identified the need to have a robust air force, hence, it began to make committed efforts at revitalizing the Service. This entailed revamping ageing platforms and systems as well as inducting new ones. The results of these efforts gradually manifested with the arrival of some of the reactivated aircraft and the delivery of new ones. In 2010, the NAF took delivery of the F-7Nls, the Agusta 109s and ATR 42s. In 2011, 4 Alpha Jets were reactivated through AETSL while 7 others are scheduled to join the fleet soon. Similarly, several other platforms are currently undergoing Periodic Depot Maintenance (PDM). The NAF is now able to meet essential tasks. Similarly, the Super Puma Helicopters are now back to operations after nearly a decade of conservation.

The challenges of the Vision 20:2020 has brought out the imperative of maintaining a strong air force more than ever before. To this effect, the CAS has coined a vision thus “To transform the NAF into a self-reliant and highly professional fighting force through the application of innovative technology in fulfilment of national defence and security objectives” that should drive the NAF to attain capabilities necessary for the achievement of national objectives. The Vision should see the NAF able to discharge its constitutional responsibilities.

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Page last modified: 16-02-2019 19:17:03 ZULU