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Nigerian Air Force

The Nigerian Air Force is one of the largest in Africa, consisting of about 10,000 personnel. Its aircraft include twelve Chinese Chengdu F-7s, 11 Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jets, 12 Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano, armed helicopters and military transport aircraft.

Senior leaders of the Air Force cannot explain why Nigeria even needs an Air Force, but they continue to pursue combat aircraft to battle an unknown threat. Nigeria has an Air Force with few functional aircraft. The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is largely irrelevant. Most of the Generals are pilots who feel the need to focus on fighter aircraft to protect Nigerian airspace against foreign incursion (by whom they won't say). With the exception of the helicopter fleet being used in the Niger Delta, most of NAF's aircraft are non-functional. There are six times as many general officers and flag officers in the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and Nigerian Navy (NN) as there are operational ships and aircraft.

Chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar said 06 February 2019 that 22 aircraft had been added into the inventory of Air Force to support on-going military operations across the country, particularly the fight against Boko Haram terrorists. Air Marshal Abubakar said as at July 2015, the aircraft serviceability status of the Air Force was below 60 percent. He added that as at date, the aircraft serviceability status has improved beyond 80 percent.

The Nigerian Air Force, established in 1964, is a component of the Nigerian Armed Forces charged with the responsibility of safeguarding the nation’s airspace and other responsibilities as prescribed in the NAF Act. The first constituent part of the NAF concept of operation is the Active Defence component. It is anchored on the maintenance of a credible defensive posture. This is derived from the national foreign policy objective that Nigeria has no territorial expansionist ambition, but would ensure that her territorial integrity is protected and not violated. It follows therefore that the NAF must be strategically defensive. This stance should act as deterrence to a potential enemy. However, should deterrence fail, the enemy should be subdued by the employment of air power. To accomplish this, the NAF must carry the war to the enemy, hence the forward engagement component.

Forward Engagement is the other component, which implies the maintenance of an offensive stance. The significanceis that the NAF must have the capability to seize the initiative from the enemy. This implies taking the war to the enemy’s territory and would entail force projection. Basically, this would involve mobility which does not only connote the movement of men and materials but also the ability to apply offensive force externally.

As of 2009, most of its fleets were grounded and its training institutions were constrained with shortages of technical skills such as instructors and institutional facilities. The highest percentage of the actual allocation to NAF compared with the annual budget proposal was just 31% in 2002. Evidently, the current budgetary allocations to the NAF cannot sustain effective and efficient aircraft maintenance activities. This is due to the constraints in spares acquisition. Lack of funding has been responsible for an inability to preserve aircraft regularly… Aircraft become due for Periodic Depot Maintenance (PDM) with time, and not by hours flown, because they are most of the time grounded for unserviceability. The reasons for unserviceability are usually traceable to lack of spares occasioned by insufficient funding.

In November 2010 Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Mohammed Dikko Umar, approved the restructuring of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) with the establishment of a Quick Deployment Force. The quick force is charged with “add-on capabilities of peaceful military-to-military engagements and aspects of Internal Security Operations in the Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW)” initiative. The restructuring, Umar said, would add impetus to “the attainment of the main objective of the Defence Transformation Programme, which is geared towards ensuring that the Nigerian Armed Forces possess capabilities across the full spectrum of potential military operations, including the ability to deploy troops rapidly within the nation, sub-region and other theatres of operation as may be directed from time to time by the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C), to enable it execute its constitutional roles efficiently.” He added: “In this regard, immediate steps will be taken to assemble an outfit that would deliver the necessary capabilities in line with the Defence Transformation initiative.”

Under the fresh initiative, the NAF has deployed a LUH (Light Utility Helicopter) to the Internal Security Operations (ISOs) in order to check the Boko Haram sect in Borno and Bauchi states. Also, Umar, who last week visited the Maiduguri operational area, has approved the deployment of the combat helicopters – Mi-35 – to the area. In addition, the Air Force chief has directed the deployment of some of the newly acquired Chinese fighter jets – F-7NI – to the Maiduguri area for routine patrols and other necessary duties. Also, the NAF would deploy about 500 personnel to the area to carry out duties associated with platform deployments and patrols.

The Air Marshal, who took office on 13 September 2010, said in his mission statement released in Abuja that “the Quick Deployment Force to be constituted would take cognisance of such challenges and add-on other capabilities so that it can flexibly and rapidly deploy in peaceful military-to-military engagements and in various aspects of Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW). Thus the Force would possess capabilities across the full spectrum of potential air operations.” He added: “This would improve the Nigerian Air Force’s reaction time in national emergencies and ability to project credible and balanced force in support of national objectives or regional/United Nations obligations should the need arise.

“While a committee will work out the full structure as well as the command and control (C2) arrangement of the Force, I envision a stand-alone outfit of ‘group plus’ strength with virtual wings that would be activated on attachment on need.” Umar continued: “Apart from its war-fighting role, the Nigerian Air Force has, on various occasions, recorded successes in MACA/MACP as in the provision of airlift to various government departments. It has also attracted tremendous goodwill and credibility to the nation through the provision of VIP transport and airlift support for Southern African liberation movements and African Union/United Nations peace missions.

“In the offensive roles, it gave support to surface forces during the ECOMOG Operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone. While these efforts were commendable, initial force packaging and effective operations in the field were hindered by avoidable challenges. These challenges would have been minimised if we had a quick deployment force arrangement in place.”

By 2005 there was some press coverage of a plan to rehab or replace the MiG-21 fleet with Russian or Romanian support (and Israeli assistance), but there were no definite moves in this direction. Reporting indicated that Nigeria will purchase 18 Chinese F-7 fighters (the Chinese version of the MiG-21) Purchasing new aircraft offered significantly more opportunity for graft than refurbishment of the current fleet.

The heavy lift capability of Nigeria's C-130 fleet was the feature that distinguished NAF from most other sub-Saharan African air forces, and the feature that got them the most attention from the US. As of 2005 NAF had eight C-130s, all in Lagos, but only 1-2 flew on a regular basis (and even these did not meet USAF airworthiness standards). The US had invested significant time and money to assist the NAF to create a plan increasing the utility of this fleet, but the NAF did not seem willing to take ownership of the process.

Following the reactivation efforts, by 2011 the status of Nigerian Air Force Fleet was reported to have improved considerably to a point where over five different aircraft types participated in the 50th Independence Anniversary Celebration, a feat last recorded in 1989. Also, serviceability of NAF aircraft is well above 90% for the F7s, ATR-42 and the Agusta 109s, while the L39 ZAs, Mi-35/24s, D0-228s and the ABT-18s have continued to play their roles albeit at marginalserviceability rates.

Umar added that “in order to speed up the fleet reactivation projects, efforts will be intensified to ensure completion of all rehabilitation jobs on schedule and where necessary, some will be reviewed to enhance Nigerian Air Force’s benefits. In particular, the reactivation programmes of the 6 x Alpha-Jets, 2 x Super Pumas and the Periodic Depot Maintenance(PDM) of 3 x Mi-35 currently going on will be pursued with vigour in order to improve our ability to support surface forces. In order to prevent a decline in our airlift capability, the G222s will be given a critical look while PDM schedule of the C130s and DO-228s will be sustained. Effort will also be intensified to take delivery of the new Super Puma that has been paid for. Additionally, our operational support infrastructure will be improved upon to ensure exploitation of the full potentials of our platforms.”

In July 2011 the Air Council approved the use of a new rank structure to be worn by officers of the Nigerian Air Force. The new rank, which will be on the working dress (No. 5), will replace the current ranks worn by the officers. It was the second restructuring of rank badges in the Nigerian Air Force since the establishment of the Service in 1964. The new working dress rank badges have additional laurels that make them more distinguishable than the current rank badges.

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