Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that in scaling up internal security operations, especially in the North-east and North-central corridors, the Nigerian Air Force has engaged in countless exercises and operations, all tailored towards tackling insecurity
From Exercise NA ZO along Kaduna-Birnin Gwari Road, to Exercise BABBAN NAUSHI, which loosely translated means ‘Deep Punch or Big Punch’ along the Minna-Zungeru Road, Niger State, to Exercise STEEL DOME 2 at Makia Kano, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has underscored the need to scale up internal security operations, all targeted towards a safe and secure nation.
Although they mean different things, the goals of the exercises are the same; tackling insecurity on all fronts across the nation.
‘Exercise NA ZO’
As part of its continued efforts geared towards developing the capacity of its personnel to combat terrorism and secure lives and properties of Nigerians, NAF conducted a Counter Terrorism (CT) Simulation Exercise along Kaduna-Birnin Gwari Road.
Codenamed “EXERCISE NA ZO”, it was aimed at testing NAF operational doctrine and tactics for effective CT operations as well as evaluating the synergy between air and surface forces in a complex air-ground operational environment.
The CT Exercise (CTEX) involved NAF Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms as well as attack aircraft along with NAF Special Forces (SF) and Canine (K-9) Teams, who were practiced on their individual and group skills in the planning, coordination and execution of CT operations.
Speaking during the Exercise, the Special Guest of Honour (SGOH), Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Abayomi Olonisakin, highlighted the critical importance of training and exercises to a fighting force, like the NAF, towards ensuring greater success in combat operations.
According to him, the NAF had blazed the trail by ensuring that its personnel are engaged in exercises that evolve lessons, tactics and doctrine in the conduct of CT operations, adding that as a service vested with the enviable role of protecting the territorial integrity of Nigeria by air, the timing of the exercise was apt, affording the NAF the opportunity to assess the physical alertness and combat readiness of its personnel with a view to making necessary adjustments and changes.
He said: “Even more important is the fact that an event of this nature is being organised at a time the NAF and its sister services are engaged in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in the Northeastern part of Nigeria as well as anti-banditry in the North-west and North-central.”
The CDS seized the opportunity to express his profound appreciation to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (C-in-C), President Muhammadu Buhari, for his continued support to the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) in general and the NAF in particular. He noted that Nigerians were undoubtedly appreciative of the C-in-C’s commitment to ensuring a secured Nigeria as well as the efforts of the AFN in the fight against terrorism and other societal ills.
While congratulating the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, and his team for the well-conceived and timely exercise, the CDS expressed optimism that the underlying lessons of the event would go a long way in resolving the current security challenges in the Country.
In his remarks, the CAS expressed his delight to have the CDS physically present to witness the first ever CTEX conducted by the NAF. He noted that the exercise was deliberately conceptualised to practice NAF air and ground elements in order to engender a better understanding of the nuances of air-ground integration as well as other critical elements of CT operations.
He disclosed that the service would conduct a number of such exercises between October 2019 and January 2020 with a view to identifying and tackling problems associated with air-ground integration as well as highlighting the crucial role of joint planning and coordination to the success of operations.
Furthermore, he said the planned simulation exercises would also enable the service to appraise the effectiveness of its Force Protection in Complex Air-Ground Environment (FPCAGE) measures in securing its bases and air assets for efficient, unhindered conduct of air operations.
He further noted that similar to EXERCISE NA ZO, the forthcoming exercises would practice NAF Flying Units; Regiment and Special Forces Teams; Air Provost and K-9 Units as well as Intelligence and other elements, such as Medical, to enhance coordination and improve decision-making of commanders in order to ensure mission accomplishment in virtually every encounter. He added that the conduct of such training had become even more crucial given the increasing involvement of NAF Regiment and SF personnel in Internal Security (IS) operations across the country.
In his welcome address, the Air Officer Commanding Special Operations Command (AOC SOC), Air Vice Marshal James Gwani, said the CTEX was in consonance with the CAS’ vision to “reposition the NAF into a highly professional and disciplined force through capacity building initiatives for effective, efficient and timely employment of air power in response to Nigeria’s national security imperatives”.
The timing for the event, he said, could not have been more apt as the NAF is currently engaged in COIN, anti-banditry and other IS operations in various operational theatres within the country. He believed that the exercise would go a long way in further developing personnel’s capacity, professionalism and combat readiness as the NAF continues to battle forces of insecurity in the nation.
According to NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle DaramolaC highlights of the occasion included the operational briefing and giving of orders by the Commander 271 NAF Detachment Birnin Gwari, Group Captain Idorenyin Bassey, along with his sub-unit and component commanders, which was held behind closed doors.
This was followed by the seamless execution of the operational plan, which featured live firing of rockets from NAF fixed and rotary wing attack aircraft; insertion, by rappelling, of NAF SF and K-9 elements and movement of teams into the objective area as well as subsequent rescue of hostages, arrest of the suspected armed bandits, extraction of the assault team by road and evacuation of casualties by air, while being provided with close air support by an attack helicopter overhead the objective.
Exercise STEEL DOME 2
In furtherance of its efforts to ensure combat readiness for effective response to security threats to Nigeria’s Airports and other critical national assets, the NAF also conducted a CT Simulation Exercise at Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Makia, Kano. The exercise codenamed ‘Exercise STEEL DOME 2’, was organised in collaboration with other security agencies at the airport and entailed insertion and extraction of NAF Special Forces (The Panthers) within the terminal buildings to retake the airport from terrorists.
The exercise, which would be replicated in other major airports across the country, had earlier been conducted at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos in 2016.
Speaking during the Airport Security Simulation Exercise (ASEX), the Guest of Honour (GOH), the Executive Governor of Kano State, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, disclosed that he was very impressed by the performance, zeal and foresight of the current leadership of the NAF in steering the service towards fulfilling its mandate of protecting the territorial integrity of a united Nigeria. According to him, without any doubt, the NAF had been consistent in demonstrating the capacity to effectively and efficiently bring to bear, its combat capability to decisively deal with terrorism and banditry activities within the country and entire sub-region.
Ganduje noted that Kano State had continued to enjoy immense support from the NAF as well as other security agencies, which had resulted in the emergence of Kano as one of the most peaceful states in the North. The governor particularly appreciated the NAF for the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions and other air operations conducted over the Falgore Forest to deny armed bandits and other criminal elements the use of the place as a safe haven. He pledged that the Kano State Government would continue to build on the existing synergy with the NAF and other security agencies to sustain the relative peace and tranquility enjoyed in the state.
While congratulating the CAS), and his team for what he described as the “well-planned, well-coordinated and effectively executed Exercise”, Ganduje lauded the innovativeness of the CAS and enjoined him to continue to build on the gains so far recorded in order to continue discharging NAF’s constitutional responsibilities creditably. He further disclosed that the state government, on its part, had provided scanners and CCTV cameras to enhance the security of the airport and, with these in place, had also persuaded Emirates Airlines to commence operations from MAKIA in the coming weeks.
In his opening remarks, the CAS stated that Exercise STEEL DOME 2 was aimed at testing the combat readiness of the NAF, as well as its collaboration with other airport security stakeholders, to achieve the synergy required to jointly counter terrorist attacks at the airports. He disclosed that the exercise was initially planned to hold in Port Harcourt but had to be rescheduled for Kano because of the ongoing renovation work at the Port Harcourt International Airport.
He also revealed that an ASEX was being planned for the Airport at Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. According to him, the conduct of Exercise STEEL DOME 2 and other CT exercises was demonstrative of the NAF’s unflinching resolve, as a fighting force, to collaborate with sister services and other security agencies to purge the country of the menace of terrorism and insurgency.
“I believe that sustaining the exercises across other major airports and other trouble spots in the country on a regular basis, would constantly put security personnel and other stakeholders in good stead to effectively counter terrorism and other security threats. To this end, the NAF is motivated to conduct more of these operational exercises in other selected parts of the country in the nearest future. This is more so, considering that our dear nation is currently experiencing a myriad of security challenges, which require us, as a fighting force, to be on top of the situation in order to ensure security of our people and our country”, he said.
Speaking further, the CAS disclosed that the NAF was not unmindful of the sacrifices made by personnel in continuously tackling security challenges, some of whom, he noted, had paid the supreme price. He assured that their sacrifices would not be in vain and the NAF would continue to forge ahead until every part of the country was safe and secured. The exercise, he said, would further boost the confidence of passengers and staff working within the airport environment.
Air Marshal Abubakar therefore expressed his profound gratitude to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari, for making tackling insecurity in the Country one of the cardinal points of his agenda as well as for providing the requisite resources for the NAF to effectively conduct its operations.
In his welcome address, the Chief of Training and Operations, Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, noted that Exercise STEEL DOME 2, which was the third ASEX conducted by the NAF, was conceived by the CAS to improve the CT posture of the service to effectively respond to any security threat within the airport environment. He added that the conduct of the exercise was driven by the need to reduce the vulnerabilities of airports in Nigeria and was a culmination of several weeks of training by “The Panthers” and other personnel to showcase the capability of the NAF in dealing with terror threat to the Airport.
Furthermore, the DOPRI said the event also featured the conduct of operational briefing and giving of orders by the Exercise Team Leader, the Commander 013 Quick Response Group (013 QRG) Minna, Group Captain Caleb Olayera, along with his sub-unit and component commanders, which was held behind closed doors. This he said was followed by the execution of the operational plan, which featured airfield defence and force protection measures executed by a combination of ground-based blocking forces and Mobile Air Defence Teams (MADT) as well as an attack helicopter; insertion, by rappelling and tactical drop-off of NAF Panthers and K-9 elements; movement of teams into the terminal building as well as subsequent rescue of hostages, arrest of the suspected terrorists, extraction of the assault teams by road and evacuation of casualties as well as detection and diffusion of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) by NAF K-9 and Nigeria Police Force Explosive Ordinance Detonation (EOD) Unit.
Exercise BABBAN NAUSHI
To combat terrorism, NAF also conducted Exercise BABBAN NAUSHI along Minna-Zungeru Road. The CT Simulation Exercise, which involved the employment of NAF Special Forces (SF), “THE PANTHERS”, operating in concert with air assets as well as support elements, is another in a series aimed at improving NAF CT posture to effectively respond to any security threat within the country.
In his remarks during the event, the SGOH, the Executive Governor of Niger State, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Alhaji Ibrahim Matene, commended the Air Marshal Abubakar, and all personnel of the NAF for executing a well coordinated training exercise. He observed that the current NAF leadership has demonstrated laudable resolve to ensure that its officers and airmen/airwomen have the required capacity for the effective performance of their duties.
He added that the exercise was timely and well thought out as it would have a long-lasting effect towards enhancing the security of Niger State and its environs. Speaking further, he stated that despite its best efforts, Niger State had also had its fair share of security challenges, especially in four Local Government Areas (LGAs). He however noted that in the last few months a number of joint operations, involving the NAF as well as sister services and other security agencies, had been conducted to dislodge armed bandits from the affected areas, with commendable successes recorded.
He however requested for the deployment of additional air assets to Niger State to give more potency to the joint operations against the bandits. Abubakar said he was impressed by the effective execution of the exercise as well as the precision of the air strikes by the NAF attack aircraft. “EXERCISE BABBAN NAUSHI could signal the end of armed banditry in Niger State. We have seen the impact of your air operations and we need more”, he said. The SGOH emphasised that the Niger State Government, on its part, would continue to support the NAF, sister services and other security agencies to enable them perform their duties more effectively.
In his remarks, the CAS recalled that since assumption of office his desire has been to bequeath a “highly professional and disciplined force through capacity building initiatives for effective, efficient and timely employment of air power in response to Nigeria’s national security imperatives”.
He noted that this necessitated having the right organisational structure, the right platforms and equipment as well as the right institutional and human capacity. He observed that much had been done, in the last four years, to restructure the NAF for better service delivery; through the establishment of two new staff branches at Headquarters NAF as well as two new field commands, including the Special Operations Command, the host of EXERCISE BABBAN NAUSHI. As for the right mix of platforms and equipment, the CAS reported that the NAF was extremely fortunate because through the Federal Government’s immense support, the Service had been able to acquire 19 new platforms and reactivate 20 erstwhile unserviceable ones, with another 18 aircraft already ordered awaiting delivery. This, he said, had made it possible for 10 aircraft to be deployed for Exercise BABBAN HAUSHI.
Air Marshal Abubakar noted, however, that it was in the area of having the right human capacity that his administration had invested most significantly, with an unprecedented number of personnel trained in different categories of air and ground operations both locally and abroad. He observed that series of simulation/training exercises, like BABBAN NAUSHI, were being conducted to sharpen the skills of NAF SF personnel and flying units to enable them be more effective and efficient in the conduct of their operations. He said the exercises afford opportunities to interrogate processes and procedures in order to identify gaps with a view to bridging them for enhanced performance in real combat scenarios. While reiterating the primacy of Air Power as a critical requirement for victory in modern warfare, the CAS remarked that such exercises also provide opportunities to test the efficacy of force protection measures in order to ensure that NAF Bases and air assets are properly secured to enable unhindered Air Power employment for optimal effects.
He said the NAF would therefore continue to carry out such exercises because of the derivable benefits, while highlighting that the next one would be conducted in the Southwest of the country. Air Marshal Abubakar restated the NAF’s unalloyed commitment towards ensuring the safety and security of Nigeria and Nigerians.
Earlier in his welcome address, the Air Officer Commanding Special Operations Command (AOC SOC), Air Vice Marshal James Gwani, said the exercise, which was the second to be conducted within the last few weeks, was driven by the obvious need to develop tactics and doctrine of the NAF SF. He said the exercise would further enable troops to appreciate the importance of timely logistics for enhanced combat effectiveness as well as perfecting the skills of the NAF SF, “THE PANTHERS”, in responding to any act of unrest within the country. The exercise, according to him, was a culmination of several weeks of training by the elite SF personnel and had been put together to showcase the capability of the NAF, in combating terrorism.
Air Commodore Daramola said the highlight of the occasion included the operational briefing and giving of orders by the Commander 271 NAF Detachment Birnin Gwari, Group Captain Idorenyin Bassey, along with his sub-unit and component commanders, which was held behind closed doors. This was followed by execution of the operational plan which featured live firing of rockets from NAF fixed and rotary wing attack aircraft; insertion, by fast-roping, of NAF SF elements and movement of teams into the objective area as well as subsequent arrest of the suspected armed bandits; extraction of the assault team by road and evacuation of a casualty by air, while being provided with close air support by an attack helicopter overhead the objective. A special feature of the exercise was the logistics re-supply by tactical air drop to replenish the assaulting forces who were simulated to have run out of ammunition during the raid.