Insurgency: NAF & The Air Power Decimation of Boko Haram.
Though the task of combating Boko Haram and terrorism which has ravaged the entire North East of the country has been a joint battle prosecuted by the entire military establishment, the use of air power in particular has greatly shaped the successes recorded so far especially in routing the terrorists from several occupied Nigeria territories.
Having participated in difficult and sensitive operations during the struggle for Independence of States in Southern Africa, like Zimbabwe, Namibia and most importantly, South Africa and later Liberia and Sierra Leone, the NAF was able to meet its goals including, ensuring a fast and versatile mobility of the Armed Forces; providing close support for the ground-based and sea borne forces in all phases of operations and ensuring the territorial integrity of Nigeria.
In anti-terrorism campaigns in Nigeria, especially in the North-East and counter-insurgency operations in the Niger-Delta, the Nigerian Air Force has been very active and ensured airlift of troops and equipment, rotation of force, close air support of surface forces, battlefield Interdiction, tactical transport, casualty evacuation, air surveillance operations, armed reconnaissance missions, and Airborne Command and Control.
Security sources hinted that before taking on Boko Haram challenge headlong, the NAF put machinery in place to ascertain the strength of the Boko Haram Terrorist (BHT) group vis a vis equipment holding, funding, deployment within the country if any, and links with the local populace, and contemplate their tactics.
Accordingly, the force estimated that the initial strength of the BHT group was not larger than 2,000 combatants (about 3 battalions); their equipment holding was made up of mainly Hilux vehicles and motorcycles for transport and possibility of Anti-Aircraft (AA) Guns mounted on Hilux vans. Others were small arms, mainly AK-47 rifles.
Funding of the group, though difficult to ascertain, was put at 30% external funding while 17 Camps created by the group were discovered to have been established in Krenoua, Bita, Allagarno, Gwoza, Sambisa, Alafa, Damboa, Mafa, Monguno, Bama, Kerawa, Benisheik, Kukawa, Baga, Banki, Mallan Fatori and Gamboru Ngala.
In the area of links with local populace who sympathized with their cause, it was established that they derived huge sympathy from Dikkwa, Gwoza, Damboa, Alafa, Bama and Gamboru Ngala and most of the BHT’s training for regeneration was conducted in the above mentioned Camps.
For weapons, ammunition and explosives, BHT was found to have established a corridor along the Allagarno-Buni Yadi axis, which was to create access to the Ashaka Cement Company where they could easily steal explosives.
This was clearly established as the operations continued, with several incursions into the Ashaka Cement Company and the BHT carting away tons of explosives for the various urban bomb explosions initiated by the group. The BHT additionally engaged in kidnapping for ransom, bank robbery, rape and drugs.
The fight against terrorism and insurgency in Nigeria dating from 2009 to date has however resulted in the NAF learning new lessons thereby offering force the opportunity to train, retrain and apply new tactics and introduce new equipment and different weapons.
Recall that by May 2013 when the spate of terrorism and insurgency in the North East of our Country took a dramatic turn, the President, C-in-C declared a State of Emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States to enable the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) effectively combat the menace.
Sequel to the declaration of a State of Emergency, the Armed forces had commenced activities under a Joint Task Force code-named OPERATION BOYONA. The NAF’s mandate for OPERATION BOYONA was essentially to conduct combat and combat support operations to ensure favourable situations for the surface forces.
After an initial 90 days of reasonably successful operations, OPERATION BOYONA was terminated and immediately replaced by OPERATION ZAMAN LAFIA, with operational command reverted to the Nigerian Army. In addition to OPERATION ZAMAN LAFIA, the NAF provided air support for OPERATION RESTORE PEACE, in the Middle Belt, as well as surveillance efforts at Bakura Forest and Bauchi environs.
The primary task of the NAF OPERATION ZAMAN LAFIA was essentially to decimate, degrade, destabilize and demoralize the Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs) with a view to completely curtailing their freedom of action and movement. Air assets committed to the operations include; the Alpha Jets, F7-NIs, Mi-24/35s, ATR 42-500MPA, Beechcraft King Air 350 Surveillance Aircraft, as well as the G-222 and the C-130.
Consequently, the scale of airlift prosecuted by the NAF for OPERATION ZAMAN LAFIA involved the generation of a significant number of sorties, particularly the airlift of thousands of Nigerian troops and equipment to and from the operational areas.
For instance, airlifting each Nigerian Army Brigade consisting of about 2,400 troops and their weapons, equipment and ancillary resources consumed many sorties because the aircraft were carrying about 100 men per trip including artillery pieces, support equipment and ammo.
Figures later showed that the NAF’s 201 Heavy Airlift Group (HAG) has operated approximately 1,160 sorties till date using the C-130 aircraft, including about 58 Medical Evacuation sorties from Maiduguri.
Similarly, the 203 Medium Airlift Group (MAG) employed the G-222 to provide 398 sorties as part of the strategic airlift effort. For tactical airlift, the Beechcraft King Air 350, A-109LUH and Mi-24/35 were effectively employed to generate over 941 sorties, including about 45 for Medical Evacuation. For the Tactical Airlift assets, they were used primarily in their traditional role of supply between Bases.
In the area of air assault, the most widely used platforms for the NAF offensive operations in the fight against terrorism and insurgency is the Attack Helicopter. The main helicopters in this role were the Mi-24/35s, an extremely lethal platform capable of launching bombs, missiles, rockets and cannon fire, with the possibility of a backdoor gunner adding to the overall capability.
The Attack Helicopters have provided ‘Close Air Support’ for ground troops to strike the BHT locations and conducted armed patrol missions, as well as attacks to destroy terrorist logistics caches and disrupt their supply lines.
With the combined efforts of the Alpha-Jets, the Mi-24/35s were essentially in place to deny the enemy freedom of movement and action, and this they did creditably well bearing in mind their limited number. The AW-109s and Super Pumas with Machine Gun mounted in the cabin were additionally deployed for more firepower support.
Also, terror bombings of BHT-occupied villages by both the F-7Ni and the Alpha-Jet became commonplace in areas that were sympathetic to the BHT movement and activities. To complete the destruction, ground forces were expected to enter these areas after an air assault and engage any BHT members left alive, but unfortunately in most situations surface forces never moved into position.
The F-7Ni and Alpha Jet were employed exclusively in the air-to-ground role, since the BHT offer no air-to-air threat. The fighter jets were used for carpet bombing, close air support for ground troops, and to strike BHT Villages, as well as to conduct armed reconnaissance missions to detect and attack BHT Groups.
It was learnt’ that from November 2014 the NAF engaged the use of the Chinese CH-3A UAVs for both Surveillance and Strike; although some mishaps were recorded in the early operations; in all it was a force multiplier because the UAVs were operating both Day and Night and it was very effective during successful strikes to recapture Gwoza.
Security sources further disclosed that generally, the weapons employed in these operations included 500kg, 250kg and 100kg bombs, rockets of various types including the S-5, S-8 and C-24, as well as the 30mm cannons.
Modifications were also carried out to ensure that the Mi-35 helicopters were able to deliver 500kg bombs originally meant for MiG-21 aircraft. Additionally, NAF was able to procure from Pakistan 250kg Pre-Frag (HE) Bombs and 250kg Steel Bombs, and also introduce the use of Proximity Fuzes for the Bombs. In fact, the direct cost of all the Ammo expended is estimated at N13, 462,338,304:40 ($72,769,396.24).
For Command, Control, and Communications, the NAF is said to have employed a wide variety of (C3) equipment and procedures. Air-to-Ground Communication was basically through existing UHF and VHF while coordination between and amongst the field commanders and the forces was mainly through the basic mobile phones and text messages were substantially employed. The ATR-42 and Beechcraft aircraft were used extensively as Air Command Vessels by the Surface Forces. There was also employment of Network Enabled Capabilities.
Aftermath the experiences of the fight against terror, the need for the establishment of Forward Operational Bases (FOBs) became apparent. The FOBs assisted in increasing troop presence in critical areas and thus serve to achieve quick reaction time to contingencies in those areas.
Accordingly, the NAF is currently developing 3 new FOBs with locations in Mubi, Bama and Monguno. It is anticipated that these FOBs, once fully active, would provide a force-multiplier factor for enhanced operations. Meanwhile, FOB Mubi is already active.
Towards sustaining these task, additional platforms that meet ‘High’ and ‘Hot’ performance specifications whilst combining reconnaissance with attack capabilities like the Agusta T-129 Attack Helicopter built to meet the aforementioned performance capabilities have been added to NAF fleet.
It is also hoped that the Mi-171E Helicopter will be added soon. The NAF believe the rugged and versatile Mi-171E would fit seamlessly into its operations, based on our extensive experience with the similar Mi-17 Series.