The economics of buying Tucano jets

Before the end of 2021, Nigeria is set to take delivery of 6 out of the 12 A-29 Super Tucano Jets purchased from the United States of America for the Nigerian Air Force (NAF). The contract for the aircraft was entered between the Nigerian Government and the manufacturer Embraer and its partner Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) in November 2018.

Some outstanding qualities of the Super Tucano Jet include; an advanced integrated weapons system, advanced laser inertial navigation and attack system, flying endurance of about 6 hours 30 minutes, and a maximum and cruise speed of 530km/h and 593km/h. The A-29 Super Tucano is famed to have both an impressive attack capability as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. It is projected that the induction of these aircraft into the fleet of the Nigerian Air Force, would boost its attack capabilities as well as improve its ISR capacity. Availability of the aircraft is also expected to boost NAF’s operations against insurgents in the North-East and other operational theatres. In a letter written to the National Assembly, President Muhammadu Buhari informed the legislators that the sum of $469.4 million was paid to the US Government for the purchase of the aircraft.

The arrival of these aircraft is no doubt a good omen for the fight against insurgency in Nigeria, however in view of the myriad of security challenges Nigeria faces, the economic rationality of this procurement stands to be questioned. Aside insurgency in the North-East, banditry, kidnappings, armed robbery, violent secession clamours, illegal emigration, sea piracy, and smuggling- form the mix of the cocktail of insecurity in Nigeria.

It is common knowledge that the armed forces, the police, and all the paramilitary outfits presently groan under the yoke of poor budgetary allocation, which inhibits them from effectively and efficiently performing their constitutional roles. By the Appropriation Act 2021, the Ministries of Defence, Police Affairs, and Interior are to collectively spend a total of N184,579,759,494.00 as capital expenditure (Mind you release of budgetary allocation to these Ministries constitute an entirely different hurdle).

This expenditure is meant to cover logistics, purchase of armaments and equipment- most of which are manufactured outside Nigeria. Therefore purchases have to be made in foreign currencies. At the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) official foreign exchange rate of $1 to N410, the $469.4 million paid for the A-29 Super Tucanos would currently amount to N193,641,582,000.00. This, therefore, means that the Federal Government’s expenditure on the 12 aircraft outstrips its intended capital expenditure on all the ministries responsible for Nigeria’s internal and external security with N9,061,822,506.00

To my mind, this humongous amount would have been better spent on different platforms, whose deployment would impact greatly on the performance of all components of the nation’s security architecture. One platform which readily comes to mind is the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) otherwise called Drone. Like piloted aircraft, drones are used for tasks associated with national security and defence of territorial integrity.

Drones can be used by both the Nigerian Immigration Service and the Nigerian Customs Service to checkmate illegal entry into Nigeria and the smuggling of prohibited items through our borders. The Nigeria Police Force would perform better when it has drones at its disposal for intelligence gathering and surveillance, as well as an eye in the sky when in pursuit of criminals. The armed forces would also perform effectively in theatres of operations when these drones perform ISR functions and even deliver lethal strikes on enemy targets.

Turkish TB Drones series have lately come off as very effective, efficient, and affordable UAVs. Their deployment in the recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is reputed to have changed the tide in favour of Azerbaijan. Manufactured by Baykar Makina Defence Corporation, the TB2 for instance is a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) drone capable of conducting ISR and armed attack missions, capabilities similar to that of the A-29’s.

While the A-29 Tucano is said to have flying endurance of only 6hours 30minutes, the TB2 has flying endurance of 27 hours. The TB2 is estimated to be around $ 2million. So if the sum of $469.4million was rather spent on a platform like the TB2, Nigeria would by now have at its disposal over 200 drones. Deploying such a number of assets for law enforcement purposes and military-related operations would have stemmed the tide of insecurity, currently cascading the country.

In December 2020 the United Kingdom was reported to have indicated an interest in buying the Turkish TB2 as a cheaper alternative to US-made drones for which it was paying $20 million for a single unit. Ukraine, Poland, and Tunisia have all been reported to have signed deals with the Turks for TB2 drones. It should be noted that the author is neither advertising for the manufacturers of the TB2 nor is a comparison being made between the TB2 and the A-29. It is rather an analysis made out of patriotism and intended to call on the Nigerian government to be more frugal and pragmatic in their security and defence related expenditure, in the light of the availability of effective, efficient, and more affordable alternatives. If the UK (which has a defence budget of £16.5 billion- ($21.9 billion) for the year 2021) is opting for cheaper but efficient military hardware, then it makes little economic sense for Nigeria to spend a whopping $469.4 million on only 12 Super Tucano Jets.

John Aku Ambi, a Legal Practitioner, wrote this piece from Kaduna.

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