in Defence / Features

Nigeria's fleet path to fight terror

Posted 12 May 2020 · Add Comment

Nigerian Air Force commander, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, talks to Alan Warnes about modernising the force’s capabilities while, simultaneously, fighting Boko Haram terrorists.

Since 2014, Boko Haram terrorists (BHT) have become a significant threat to Nigeria’s security, particularly in the country’s north-east.
As a result, Nigerian Air Force (NAF) fighters and combat helicopters have been playing a major role in Operation Lafiya Dole to stop their violence.
Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, who has commanded the NAF since July 2015, said: “My primary concern is to ensure Nigeria’s security and that the sovereignty of our country is not undermined by terrorism. That is why we have been working together with other agencies to degrade the capabilities of the BHT and reduce its effectiveness to what it was before 2014.”
Abubakar has also been trying to return grounded aircraft to service. “We are aiming to build capacity within, and see how we can get our partners from outside Nigeria to complete upgrades, period depot maintenances (PDMs), or life extensions in Nigeria, so that our own personnel can get learn and get involved,” he explained.
With the help of outside sources, working alongside NAF personnel in-country, he has seen Aero L-39ZAs, Dassault Alphajets and Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft returned to service.
“Revitalising our fleets is important. Working with Aero Vodochody, we have returned three L-39ZAs back into the air that are now doing a great job against the BHT.
“We have also contracted the company to return three more L-39ZAs and upgrade the old analogue cockpit with a new GenesyS system.
“I want the aircraft, not just for training, but to fight the BHT. My desire is to upgrade all six – with the additional three coming out of the 2021 budget. I am pleased we had so many NAF personnel involved in returning the aircraft to flight.”
As recently as February 8, just five days into Operation Rattlesnake 3, L-39ZAs, working with Dassault Alphajets, “neutralised” Boko Haram terrorists at Alafa Yagayaga, on the outskirts of Sambisa Forest in Borno State.
“The Alphajets are doing their normal air-to-ground ops, while the F-7Nis, which we have worked very hard over the past five years, are now being overhauled by CATIC,” said the air marshal.
On the vital intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) role, the chief said: “We are using a Beech 350 King Air with the FLIR Star Safire, as well as [two] ATR 42s. One is currently undergoing maintenance at Rheinland Air Service at Monchengladbach, Germany.”
On the practical aspects of fighting the terrorist threat he added: “You must win the hearts and minds of the people and, by having a clear picture of what we are targeting on the ground, we ensure civilians are not hurt.”
The combat helicopter force has recently been reinforced with four AW109 Power gunships and a Mi-171E.
The first two Powers were delivered in April 2019 and, on February 6, two more (serialled NAF 578 and NAF579), as well as Mi-171E (NAF 581), were inducted into the service at Abuja.
Abubakar said: “We hope to build up the number of AW109 gunships over time. We have another 17 aircraft on order.”
He did not go into further detail but that number is believed to include the three JF-17s, 12 Embraer A-29 Tucanos, and, possibly, two Mi-35M Hinds.
The US State Department awarded Sierra Nevada Corporation a $329 million contract on November 28, 2018, to supply the NAF with 12 A-29 Super Tucano counter-insurgency aircraft, with six of them being fitted with an electro optical/infra-red (EO/IR) turret.
All of them should be delivered by 2024, and the pilots are expected to be trained at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
The NAF has also purchased three PAC JF-17 Thunders from Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra.
“We are preparing for their arrival later this year [believed to be November] and, while the pilots and technicians are being trained, the infrastructure is being built,” he revealed. “The JF-17s will be based at Makurdi Air Base, or at the new Bauchi Air Base, where we are building a new hangar.”
He did not supply details of the JF-17’s weapons but did say: “We want the best to support our efforts, because terrorism is a global threat. We need to get what it takes to solve this problem and we want the training to dovetail in with the time when the aircraft arrive.”
The NAF enjoys a good relationship with the Pakistan Air Force, which is also overhauling its C-130 Hercules, with NAF assistance.
A C-130H (NAF 913) was reactivated after PDM at 631 Aircraft Maintenance Depot in Ikeja, Lagos, on January 29. A low-resolution image, released by the NAF, showed at least six PAF personnel among the assembled dignitaries.
This is the second C-130H to be reactivated, following the return to service of NAF 917 on June 24, 2019. A third aircraft (NAF 918) should follow soon.
The NAF’s arrangement with the Islamabad-based Shaheen Foundation and PAF (SF-PAF) included on-the-job training, while also refreshing personnel knowledge on airframe, avionics/electrical and the T-56 powerplant.
During the January 29 ceremony, Abubakar said: “The 631 PDM could eventually transition to an authorised maintenance and repair organisation that wouldn’t just cater for the needs of the NAF, but also other countries in the region.
“Our revitalisation programme also currently includes three Alphajets and one Mi-35P helicopter.”
In October 2016, the NAF signed a deal with the PAF/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex for 10 new Super Mushshaks to help with their primary flying training. Initially, they were loaned four in December 2016.
The new aircraft were delivered in two batches, in July 2017 and January 2018, and the commander is very happy with the results.
“They are doing an excellent job at Kaduna (with the 401 Flying Training School), where they are based. The Super Mushshak acquisition has increased our training capacity by 500%.”
He added: “If the pilots then head to fixed-wing, the next stop is Makurdi to fly the Do 228. If it is helicopters, then they head to Enugu Air Base (home of the 405 Helicopter Combat Training Group).
Abubakar revealed that the US, India, China and the Czech Republic had all recently provided the NAF with training slots.”
Four Nigerian Air Force instructor pilots, who had flown L-39s and Alphajets, visited LOM Praha’s CLV flight-training centre in the first half of 2018 to improve their air-to-air combat skills.
They were all skilled in air-to-ground operations and, according to one of the instructors, they learnt a lot in a very short time, training in one-to-one combat before stepping into more complex scenarios.
CLV instructors also help new pilots to cope with any G-forces they had not before experienced. They are trained to adapt with 90° left and right turns, but limited to a maximum 6G (even though the L-39C can reach 8G).
The commander was also pleased that the first female fighter pilot and first female combat helicopter pilot had graduated last October.
“We sent the female fighter pilot to the US Air Force to be trained after she performed so well at the 401 FTS at Kaduna,” he explained. “The helicopter pilot graduated from the [South African] Starlite International Training Academy.”
In more proof of the NAF’s capacity-building, 2,079 recruits graduated at the Kaduna-based Military Training Centre (MTC) on February 15, 2020. At the ceremony, Abubakar told onlookers: “It proves the efforts of the current NAF leadership to reposition the service into a highly professional force, ensuring it is appropriately manned and adequately trained to ensure that Nigeria’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty are not undermined or subverted by any individual or group of individuals.”

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