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Out of the blue - maritime security gets a boost

Posted 20 May 2021 · Add Comment

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and navy (NN) are receiving new aircraft to enhance maritime security as part of the national security and waterways protection infrastructure, better known as the ‘deep blue’ project.

Shipshape: The Tekever AR3 UAV is launched using a catapult and recovered by parachute, or with a net. Picture: Tekever.

Deep blue, which is valued at $195 million, involves a major equipment procurement effort being conducted by Israeli company, Blue Octagon/HLSI Security Systems and Technologies, on behalf of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). Erwan de Cherisey reports.

Several patrol boats and fast craft have been acquired, as well as a number of manned and unmanned aircraft.

As per the programme, air assets acquired by NIMASA are to be operated on its behalf by the NAF and the NN.

The former is set to fly two special mission aircraft, procured under deep blue, from the Benin Air Base, which is already home to the two ATR-42-500MP of the 107 Air Maritime Group. Although no official statement has yet been made regarding the type of special mission aircraft to be delivered, a video released by NIMASA shows two Cessna Citation CJ3s in a dark grey paint scheme, which appear identical to the two aircraft that are being outfitted by Bird Aerosystems of Israel.

Both aircraft are being equipped with the airborne surveillance, information and observation (ASIO) solution, which includes a search radar and an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) gimbaled payload under the aircraft’s fuselage, with a control station for the sensors installed in the cabin.

The ASIO system provides full integration of the different sensors, real-time data sharing with a ground base, as well as platforms equipped with the necessary command and control suite. The ASIO has already achieved commercial success in Africa, with one Cessna Citation fitted with this solution having been delivered to Angola in 2017.

Mexico has also procured three ASIO-equipped Citations for critical infrastructure protection. It is not known which sensor suite has been selected by Nigeria.

The delivery of the two CJ3s should effectively double the maritime surveillance capabilities of the NAF, which have so far depended on its two ATR-42s, although, due to the acute need for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) support in inland operations against Boko Haram, these have often been deployed away from the shores.

It is understood (although not yet confirmed) that Nigeria is also set to receive Bird Aerosystems’ ocean surveillance control and reconnaissance (OSCAR) data integration software.

This should allow the fusing of the information collected by the different platforms procured under deep blue, including the CJ3s, unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), and vessels, together with such information as provided by the automatic identification systems (AIS) of the ships operating inside Nigeria’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The NN has received an undisclosed number of Portuguese-made Tekever AR3 UAVs, as confirmed by photographs released on social media showing navy officers inspecting crates containing the disassembled aircraft at Lagos, alongside customs and NIMASA authorities.

The AR3 is intended for shipborne operations. It is launched using a catapult and recovered by parachute, or with a net. Its endurance can reach 16 hours, with a range of 54 nautical miles. The maximum payload is four kilograms and it can include EO and IR sensors.

The NAF may also have received UAVs under deep blue, with some sources pointing to the delivery of at least two South Korean-made Uconsystem Remoeye-002Bs.

The latter are electric hand-launched aircraft with a range of 10km and an endurance of 60 minutes.

Deep blue also includes helicopters, with three Leonardo AW109SPs to be delivered to NIMASA. The aircraft, which have been spotted being test flown in Italy, are painted in a white and green colour scheme. They are to be flown by the NN and will likely be operated both from land bases and ships. Their duties should include surveillance, transport and liaisons.

These new aircraft should provide an unprecedented boost to the Nigerian maritime surveillance capabilities, although the integration and full operationalization of these different assets is likely to take time and will be dependent on the completion of the necessary training and infrastructure work.



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