BusinessDay

Investment in weapon, training spurs fight against insurgency

Billions of dollars worth of new weapons and increased training of soldiers in special warfare are giving Nigeria’s military a massive boost in recent times in its fight against insurgents in the North.

The ongoing acquisition of new weapons and platforms is the biggest in the country since 1983, when the pace of weapons procurement and qualitative training of soldiers fell drastically as a result of the military’s intervention in politics and fears of coups by the military regimes of the time.

Nigeria is currently the largest importer of military equipment in sub-Saharan Africa, a response to the country’s ongoing battle with Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

Africa’s largest economy has been facing internal conflicts affecting its economic growth and stability since 2009, with piracy, militancy in the Niger Delta, banditry in the North-West and a growing insurgency in the South-East forcing the government to spend more on weapons and training.

Since the conflict in the Niger Delta in 2003, Nigeria’s military has consistently performed poorly against the formidable range of security threats that have further endangered the country’s continued existence. “As a result,” said Michael Page, an associate fellow at Chatham House, “Africa’s largest economy and the most populous country faces increasing risks to its long-term stability, socioeconomic health, investment climate and relationships with key external partners. Change was desperately needed.”

According to a 2019 Associated Press analysis, 6.55 percent is the Compound Annual Growth Rate of Nigeria’s military expenditures. Likewise, the Nigerian defence budget share of its capital expenditure saw a significant increase between 2015 (9.8 percent) and 2019 (26.6 percent). By 2019, 0.5 percent of the country’s GDP went towards military expenditures, ranking it 149th in the world. In 2020, 16.8 percent of its total budget was for security.

Between 2016 and 2022, Nigeria spent nearly $20 billion on defence and security. Both sectors have been allocated $6.62 billion or 13.4 percent of the 2023 budget.
China has been the largest foreign supplier of military equipment to Nigeria since 2017 and will likely remain so until 2024, based on currently signed contracts and anticipated procurements.

The country has acquired more than 20 armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from China and Turkey. The Nigerian Air Force (NAF), according to Janes Defence, has operated Chinese-made CH-3 UAVs that can carry guided weapons since at least January 2015, when photographs of one that crashed revealed their acquisition.

A ground-breaking ceremony for a new airbase in Gombe was held on September 7, 2020, when the NAF said it would be the home of the new 203 Combat Reconnaissance Group, which will operate UAVs and other air assets it did not identify.

In November 2020, the country received a pair of Wing Loong II medium-altitude long-endurance (UAVs) from China.

“Nigeria has joined China and the United Arab Emirates as the only countries operating the Wing Loong II unmanned combat aerial vehicle. The two Nigerian Air Force Wing Loong IIs, which can remain airborne for 31 hours in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mode and 26 hours in offensive roles, will add significant value to counterinsurgency and anti-banditry operations,” Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, NAF’s director of public relations, had said.

That same year, NAF inducted a single Mi-171E and two AW109M helicopters on February 6 in a high-profile ceremony in Abuja that was attended by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Russia’s Rosoboronexport defence export agency announced in September 2014 that Nigeria had ordered six Mi-171Sh (the export version of the Mi-8AMTSh) and six Mi-35M helicopters. Two years later, the deputy head of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation said that Nigeria had signed a contract in October 2015 covering 12 Mi-35M attack helicopters, without mentioning any transport types.

On December 20, 2022, Nigeria inaugurated an integrated satellite called DELSAT-1 to enhance the operational capacity of its armed forces against insecurity. It is believed that China’s 18-story Long March 3B rocket likely launched DELSAT-1 into space from the Xichang launch base in Sichuan province in southwestern China.

Nigeria is seeking to launch five spy satellites into low earth orbit. These satellites, according to Defence News Nigeria, “will link our air, ground and naval forces. You will be surprised how effective they are at spotting the tiny bikes or fast speed boats smugglers use to bring their deadly merchandise into Nigeria”.

“It’s not just about capturing still images and videos of the border. They will also provide data, video and voice communications with aircraft, helicopters, and ground vehicles. This makes it possible for widely scattered forces to share info and operate as a single unit,” it added.

Nigeria’s massive acquisition of weapons and platforms has not only come from the East. In August 2021, NAF inducted its 12 A-29 Super Tucano aircraft into its operations. It said the A-29 Super Tucano would support flight and combat training, close air support operations, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, armed overwatch, counterinsurgency and irregular warfare missions.

In August 2021, the US Embassy announced that “Nigeria purchased the A-29s through the Foreign Military Sales programme, which follows the Department of Defence’s ‘Total Package Approach’’ model and includes spare parts for several years of operation, contract logistics support, munitions, and a multi-year construction project to improve Kainji Air Base infrastructure.

The total sale is valued at almost $500 million, making it the largest FMS programme in sub-Saharan Africa”.
In April 2022, the US government announced that it had approved the sale of attack aircraft and other equipment to Nigeria. The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency said the equipment was to cost Nigeria about $997 million. The equipment includes 12 AH-1Z Attack Helicopters; 28 T-700 GE 401C engines (24 installed, 4 spares); and 2,000 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System guidance sections.

Others include Night Vision Cueing Display (NVCD); commercial variant GPS with Standard Positioning Service, communication equipment, electronic warfare systems; AN/AVS-9 Aviator’s Night Vision Imaging System; M197 20mm machine gun; Target Sight System; support equipment; spare engine containers; spare and repair parts; tools and test equipment; technical data and publication.

The US government said the proposed sale would better equip Nigeria to contribute to shared security objectives, promote regional stability and build interoperability with the US and other Western partners.
“This sale will be a major contribution to US and Nigerian security goals. Nigeria will have no difficulty absorbing the equipment and services into its armed force,” it added.

In October 2022, Buhari revealed that NAF, which had already acquired 38 brand-new aircraft, was also “expecting another batch of 36 new ones, while the Nigerian Navy had been equipped with new platforms, sophisticated riverine, rigid-hull inflatable, seaward defence, whaler and fast attack boats as well as helicopters and capital ships.

In 2019, Nigeria and the China North Industries Group Corporation Limited signed a weapons supply contract. The contract, according to Grey Dynamics, a London-based private intelligence firm, was worth $152 million “and included VT-4 main battle tanks, ST1 light tanks, SH-5 self-propelled 105mm howitzers, Typhoon MRAPs, Spartan armoured personnel carriers, armoured guard booths, Buffalo vehicles, inshore patrol craft, Epenal boats, STAN Patrol Vessels, fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and more. China offloaded the equipment into Nigeria in April 2020”.

The Nigerian Army has invested in main and light battle tanks, self-propelled artillery and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs). Over 100 locally produced Ezugwu MRAPs designed and produced by the Nigerian Army Vehicle Manufacturing Company based in Kaduna have been bought so far.

The army intends to soon have an Aviation Corp consisting of MF-212 ISR/attack aircraft and UH-81D helicopters. Nigerian Navy seeks to also augment its fleet with a guided missile frigate, two new offshore patrol vessels and another landing ship tank.

The Nigerian Navy, says Defence News Nigeria, is no more dependent on foreign dockyards to repair and refit its ships.

It has not just been the massive acquisition of weapons that is changing the dynamics on the battlefield and scaling up the military’s fighting capacity. Unprecedented training of special forces and special operations units across the three forces has greatly improved the military’s capacity to take the fight to the insurgents.

Until 2014, Nigeria had only one Special Forces unit: the 72nd Special Forces Group in Makurdi, now a brigade. Since 2015, thousands of troops have been trained by US, UK, Russian and Israeli Special Forces in special warfare. There has been a noticeable rise in their combat activities across the country.

In April 2022, a British Military Advisory Training Team, in partnership with NAF trained 150 Advanced Special Forces operatives to be deployed to troubled areas to help in tackling security challenges in the country. The Special Forces, known as Nigerian Air Force Panthers, graduated from the Regiment Training Centre Annex, Special Operations Command of NAF, Bauchi.

In November, Air Marshal Oladayo Amao, the chief of air staff, announced that the air force had trained 7,000 regiments and special forces to combat security challenges in the country.
“The 7,000 so far trained are made up of 5,000 Regiments and 2,000 Special Operation Forces personnel, both at home and abroad,” he said.

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The Nigerian Navy’s Special Boat Service (SBS), a Special Forces unit fashioned after the Royal Navy’s Special Boat Service, is widely regarded as the best-trained fighting unit of all components of the Nigerian armed forces.

Their activities are mainly centred around the maritime domain; securing vessels from pirate attacks. However, the SBS is sometimes deployed in the arid desert of the North to support the regular troops in the counter-terrorism and anti-banditry efforts. In 2021, it was announced that an SBS unit of the Naval Base Lake Chad and 403 Special Force Amphibious Brigade, Nigerian Army, conducted a clearance operation in Baga, Borno State.

In 2020, the Nigerian Army announced it had graduated 1,151 special forces comprising nine officers and 1,142 soldiers from its School of Infantry, Jaji, Kaduna State, to combat insurgency and banditry.

The Nigerian Army’s special forces and special operations units have greatly expanded since 2015 from one special forces group to about five special forces brigade size units under a special forces command in Doma, Nasarawa State.

While the military has been making progress against ISWAP/Boko Haram terrorists in the North-East, Nigerians continue to feel the pressure from the federal government’s inability to secure the country despite billions in weapons procurement.

Agathe Damarais of the Economist Intelligence Unit said that in 2022, “jihadists, bandits and separatists hit at least 550 of the country’s 774 local government areas and more than 3,000 people were kidnapped last year, an almost 30-fold increase on 2016”.