Air Defence: The Need for Improvisation.

With the ever increasing tactical aircraft and UAV presence in Nigeria’s traditional adversaries, and recent pledges by the United States to gradually give these countries access, and eventually full control of these drones, including Reaper drones, some of the most sophisticated drones in the world, the question  the Nigerian military must give answers to, is which is the best and most efficient of destroying them. Of course any anti air system could do the job,

It seemed as if Nigeria’s perceived air superiority advantage combined with peace keeping doctrine and battles against militant groups just didn’t require much in terms of ground forces being able to defend themselves from aerial attack, especially while on the move.

Two major  wars in permissive aerial environments against non-state actors didn’t help the air defence cause either.  But the tactical realities of the modern battlefield is right at Nigeria’s doorstep. Nigeria needs some semblance of a dedicated air defense force structure, or the nation is setting itself up for a potential national embarrassment.

Nigeria’s combat doctrine has not changed in 35 years. In Liberia Nigeria narrowly averted a major embarrassment when Charles Taylor’s Rebel faction, the N.P.F.L almost zeroed in on the Nigerian contingent with large force, outnumbering the Nigerian defenders by ratio of five to one.

Nigeria’s air superiority made the different. The Rebels chose to strike in the dead of night with the knowledge Nigerian Alpha Jet do not carry out night missions. In other words the Nigerian Air Force became predictable to the enemy that it only flies during the day.

Unfortunately for Charles Taylor Nigeria’s ingenuity kicked in.  NAF flyboys came up with innovation that allowed the Alpha Jet carry out night attack mission. Four Alpha Jet was what stood in the way between Charles Taylors rebel faction and Nigerian peace keeping soldiers hopelessly outnumbered.

Shrieking from the sky the rebels watched in horror as four Alpha Jet swooped in, dropping Beluga cluster munitions. Another Alpha made another straffing run, as 30 mm cannons tore through the advancing rebels. This Liberia was saved.

But this was over two decades ago where Nigeria’s air superiority was guaranteed. Nigeria’s once large air superiority margin has shrunk so drastically, especially when it comes to expeditionary operations far from home.

In addition, the battlefield Nigerian forces find themselves on today are so complex and crowded with competing forces, many of which have different agendas, that sanitizing large swathes of airspace is no more an option, both tactically and strategically speaking. There are advanced 4th generation fighters like the Mirage and Rafale fighters right at out doorsteps.

Finally, and most importantly, the risk posed by weaponized unmanned aircraft has exploded. There are Reaper drone bases ringing Nigeria from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Mali, and from all indication Ghana very soon.

Suddenly Nigerian air power looks like a World War Two relic in comparison. Until recently the threats posed to Nigeria has been presented largely by groups like Niger Delta Insurgents, rebel factions and of course Boko Haram. Irregular force of fighters with varying levels of competence, much of which is poor, not a near peer state competitor with far higher professionalism and much greater resources.

 

The Nigerian Air Force as a whole has largely brushed the issue aside as an imperative for the service, digging itsehead in the sand, and focusing instead on creating more and more Special Forces units, buying more trainer aircrafts, setting up Skills Acquisition programs and holding Sporting competition.

Repeated unauthorized incursions into Nigerian territry by Chadian and Cameroonian forces was not enough to stop the NAF from going on a self destructive suicidal path to extinction. The only modern assets in the Nigerian Air Force arsenal are its unmanned aerial vehicles and ISR aircrafts. But their advantages are negated by the near obselete platforms they are tasked to provide critical for.

In essence, the quiet denial that there was a real possibility Nigerian forces on the ground could face this threat in the near term showed at best a lack of imagination on the part of Nigeria’s decision makers, especially considering the nation has been a decade.

At worst it showed that those in charge were willing to take on the risk posed by the rapid modernization of Nigeria’s historic adversaries at our very own backyard for a period of time in hopes that the threat would not actually metastasize.

Nigeria’s fire brigade approach to national security is troubling. The downing of a number of Alpha Jets and Mi-17sh combat helicopters to ground fire by Boko Haram in recent years should have made it abundantly clear the level of threat to Nigerian aircraft’s posed by anti-aircraft guns from non-state actors. How much more against an adversary with the resources of a state.

When Chadian forces invaded Nigerian territory in 1983 it took Nigeria THREE MONTHS (not three days)n to dislodge the Chadian invaders. This  was under the Shagari administration in the 80s, a period often described to be the golden age of the Nigerian military. One wonders how the nation will fare today should that same scenario be played out given Nigeria’s fire brigade approach to warfare.

Simply put, the enemy doesn’t act on the Nigerian military’s timeline. Nigeria has to accept the fact that the most significant threat any nation can face, France, United States and the CIA has arrived right on our doorstep, along with its wide-ranging implications for life here at home. Look what they did to Libya, Iraq, A-STAN. The same fate would have befallen Syria’s Bashir Assad had the Russians not intervene.

Nigeria has no strategic military ally by any measure yet refuses to aggresively invest in the defence of the Nigerian nation, but often go our of its way to expend resources on other countries. Nigeria spent $300 million within two months restoring democracy to the Gambia.

Three Hundred Million United States Dollars. Eight months later we have supposed ECOWAS allies opening its doors to the West for the continious militarization of West Africa. We have Ghana, Nigeria’s supposed staunch ally going to the West and begining a speech with a 20 minutes monologue on how horrible Nigeria is.

Plugging the vulnerability GAP.

 

The subject of ground-based air defense systems is barely mentioned in the consciousness of the Nigerian military for a number of reasons . First of all, its pretty much a very complex and technical field.Even more significant is the fact that the topic does not have “sex appeal .” Who cares about AAD.

Nigerians are more interested in the aircraft than the weapons that bring them down. Whereas the airplane appears as a dynamic, advanced, exciting, and offensive weapon, ground-based air defense systems are seen in the opposite light.

Further, Nigeria’s experience has been almost exclusively with the offensive use of aircraft, not with the defensive use of flak and SAMs;Nigerians have seldom fought without air superiority.  Little wonder then that the subject of flak and SAMs has been neglected .

Nigeria’s antiaircraft artillery lags behind that of the others in the region. To put this into perspective, Chad fields the SA-6 SAM system. This system is a generation ahead of what Nigeria’s Roland SAM system.

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The Chadian army operates a battery of the venerable SA-6 Gainful SAM.
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The Chadian army operates a battery of the venerable SA-6 Gainful SAM.

TANPADS (vehicle mounted systems)

Nigeria has relatively sparse anti-aircraft defenses to cover thousands of miles. The most widely used SAM systems in Nigeria is the The 9K32 Strela-2 Man Portable Air Defence System.

There are roughly 150 Strela Manpads in the Nigerian Army inventry.
There are roughly 150 Strela Manpads in the Nigerian Army inventry.
There are roughly 150 Strela Manpads in the Nigerian Army inventry.
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Nigerian Army all terrain fighting vehicle.

By itself the Strela is pretty much limited to medium altitude short-range air defence. In order to significantly increase combat characteristics, the ZSU-23-4M4 self-propelled gun can be modified to carry the Strela missiles. Strela launchers can be fastened unto the aft tower of the radar. The two launchers of the tower can be placed with four containers with 9M39 missiles

 

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Jordanian improvisation. Truck mounted Strela Tanpads
Nigerian Army ZSU-23-4 (Shilka) radar guided anti-aircraft cannon.

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The Nigerian army’s combat doctrine entails amoured and mechanized units work in tandem with air defence units. This is largely means a bunch of soldiers with Strela MANPADs

When combat vehicle is integrated into the military air defense system, this parameter is significantly increased. When working together with the battery command post and third-party detection tools, the range at which the target is detected increases to 34 km.

 

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There is little doubt the Nigerian Army is among the best trained and of recent best equiped land army in Africa. This same Army is amongst the least protected on the battlefield should the shit hit the fan. Without a very formidable air defence systems an entire battalion of soldiers can be wiped out in minutes by a couple of bombs droped by aircafts.

With the use of Shilka integrated  Strela missiles, the maximum target range is increased to 5-5.2 km, height – up to 3-3.5 km. This can also be integrated with other airborne systems, so that the crew has a set of optical and radar facilities complementary to each other.

 

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