Insurgency: Situating the Clamour for ‘Army Aviation’


The recent clamour by the Army High Command for the creation of a Nigerian Army Aviation component to help its operations in the counter-insurgency warfare against Boko Haram has continued to raise critical posers in the defense sector, writes Louis Achi

Recent history and ongoing experiences of warfare have established the undoubted significance of air power as a decisive element in attaining victory, be it in conventional, unconventional or sub-conventional conflicts.
Indeed, from World War 2, right through to current military engagements globally, it has become manifestly clear that those with superior air power more often than not would decide the fate of those without.

This is why an air force is considered a critical offensive/defensive component of any viable national defence system, and in fact the “raison d’être” for the existence of the Nigerian Air Force.

For most nations, Nigeria inclusive, the air force delivers both strategic and tactical capabilities, either acting singly or, more commonly, in support of land and sea forces (armies and navies).

Put differently, nations generally have separate armies, navies and air forces, with the latter often solely invested with air capabilities to act singly or in unison with other forces towards achieving national security objectives.

This arrangement ensures the most efficient and economically viable utilisation of air assets, which are inherently technically complex and expensive resources, considerations that are germane in the face of harsh global economic and geopolitical realities.

The only notable exception to this norm is the US, which maintains, in addition to a standing air force, considerable air assets in its naval aviation and army air components.

This is not surprising, when considered in the light of America’s vast geopolitical and economic interests, which drives her global security outlook and corresponding need to posture as the “world’s policeman”.

Hence the US hegemony notwithstanding, conventional wisdom across the world, and particularly for developing nations such as Nigeria, favours the concentration of air capabilities in a single national air force.

Against this backdrop, the recent clamour by the Army High Command for the creation of a Nigerian Army Aviation component to help its operations in the counter-insurgency warfare against Boko Haram in the Northeast comes across as a rather ill conceived and misplacement of priorities at best, or indeed a serious distraction at worst.
Curiously, the Army appears to insinuate that the lack of an inherent air power component is the reason for the disturbing longevity of the insurgency, and that it could indeed have wrapped up the war already, if only it had its own air power.

All of this is according to Maj. Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi, current Theatre Commander of the Operation Lafiya Dole, who could not have made such weighty pronouncements without clearance from the top echelon to do so – from no less than the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai.

Adeniyi, who assumed command of the military’s counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast about three months ago, made these assertions while receiving the National Assembly’s Joint Committee on the Army, led by Senator Ali Ndume of Borno State, which visited Maiduguri about two months ago, on a two-day oversight assignment of the frontlines.

In Adeniyi’s words: “The only thing that needs to be given to the Army now is Nigerian Army Aviation with its own helicopters. There is a way you solve a problem that will change the game. The army needs combat helicopters to end the Boko Haram war.

“If we have it, it will not be deployed like air force assets, air force jets, which are for bigger strategic goals. These helicopters will sleep with us in the trenches; they will be with us in the frontline.
“These helicopters and the rifles are dispatched together. I know this has been on the table for years. When this is done, Nigeria can forget about the deadly Islamic sect.”

Adeniyi spoke more on the Army’s request for its own combat helicopters, separate from those of the Air Force, explaining that unlike the Air Force jets, the Army Aviation helicopters would perform more critical roles during attacks. Interestingly, however, the General conceded that Nigerian Air Force was in fact doing quite well.
“The Air Force is doing a wonderful job, but their reach is too long. It is what we call close air support that is needed,” Adeniyi noted, adding recently in Maiduguri, that “Insurgency is a large scale criminal franchise…I can boldly say on camera that Army Aviation will end Boko Haram in three months.”

The position expressed by the Army High Command through Maj. Gen. Adeniyi brings to the fore fundamental questions that require careful consideration in the face of virulent threats to Nigeria’s sovereignty, security and wellbeing. Does this position signal a further escalation of the undeniable inter-service rivalry, which has measurably impeded seamless security services delivery in the country?

Disconcertingly, Maj. Gen. Adeniyi’s expressed position comes off as buck-passing, a scenario hardly to be associated with the Nigerian Army’s stellar track record of combat effectiveness both at home and abroad.
Citing lack of Army Aviation as the reason for the Army’s inability to decisively defeat Boko Haram, which lacks air capabilities while also strongly asserting that the same insurgents are “not strong” and “not a formidable force” appear contradictory.

It hardly seems logical that the Nigerian Army, globally renowned for its competence and bravery, would need the prop of its own helicopters to defeat a “weak” Boko Haram, which has no “Aviation” of its own. Many see this development as unseemly buck-passing.

Worse still, Adeniyi’s position betrays a fundamental lack of comprehension of the basic Air Power principles as well as the imperatives of building, sustaining, managing and employing an air force. First, the General refers to the Nigerian Air Force as a strategic air force rather than a tactical air force, betraying deficient awareness of what a strategic air force actually is.

Secondly, Maj. Gen. Adeniyi appears to presume that air assets as well as the capabilities and support resources required to sustainably operate them in combat can simply be acquired and deployed overnight.

In this regard, is the General aware of the procedures of platform selection and acquisition, as well as the processes leading to the actual delivery of the platforms? Has he considered the issues and intricacies of crew resource development and management to match the platforms and ensure a sustainable stream of combat-capable pilots and systems operators?

Then there are maintenance and logistics requirements (ie; maintenance personnel, fuel, oil, lubricants, support services, etc) to be acquired, emplaced, sustained and dynamically managed to ensure, as the General put it, that the helicopters can be alongside the troops in the trenches?

Adeniyi and the Army High Command may not have considered the overall outlay of material, financial and indeed political resources which would be required to actualise an ‘Army Aviation’ project and the imperatives of all these considerations on the nation’s economy? Duplication of military capabilities, in the face of stringent economic realities and competing development imperatives lacks logic.

While the idea of “Army Aviation” is not entirely without merit, it is disingenuous to hold it out as the panacea for the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, more so when the nation boasts a credible Air Force, which even by the Army’s own admission is doing an outstanding job of Air Power delivery in support of the counter-insurgency efforts.

Furthermore, under the current stringent economic circumstances, duplicating air capabilities by creating “Army Aviation” would not be the most prudent utilisation of the nation’s scarce politico-economic resources.
The emerging consensus is that rather than this misconceived yearning for its own helicopters, the Army should be more concerned with consolidating on its areas of core competence whilst adjusting tactics and strategy for better synergy with the Nigerian Air Force.

The relevant questions in this light are: Does the Army have the required wherewithal to deal with the extant situations on ground? Are there sufficient armoured vehicles as well as support equipment currently?
There is also the need to look at the tactics, the equipment and more especially, the morale of the troops on ground. These are some of the areas where the senior Army officer and indeed the High Command should be focusing its energies, with a view to creating the necessary conditions for decisive victory against Boko Haram and indeed all other threats to Nigeria’s sovereignty, security and wellbeing.

More realistically, the Army needs to focus on its areas of core competence and develop appropriately dynamic tactics and strategies alongside a renewed commitment to developing better synergy with sister Services. Much is to be said about the efforts of the federal government to equip the Nigerian Air Force for more effective Air Power delivery. In recent times, the Nigerian Air Force has taken delivery of several aircraft types, with a corresponding upsurge of various associated capabilities.

From THISDAY checks, besides the Alfa Jets, F7NI, and L-39ZA aircraft that conduct air interdiction missions and in some cases provide close air support to troops, the Air Force now also has an array of helicopters, most of which were procured during the current administration.

These include the Mi35M, Mi35P, A109 Power, Super Puma and Mi17, amongst others, which provide close air support, tactical air logistics in supply as well as Medical/Casualty Evacuation (MEDEVAC/CASEVAC) for troops.

Presently, the Nigerian Air Force is also expecting imminent delivery of two additional attack helicopters and one utility helicopter from Italy, as well as more Mi35M helicopters from Russia. Moreover, 12 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, already proven to be effective in counterinsurgency operations, are due to be delivered by the US from 2021.

It is noteworthy that the Super Tucano has been successfully employed in combat with amazing results in Afghanistan and some countries in South America hence their addition to the Nigerian Air Force arsenal would undoubtedly boost the effectiveness of the fight against Boko Haram.

Clearly, the Nigerian Air Force has the wherewithal to effectively provide the Air Power needed for the Nigerian Armed Forces to defeat all threats to the nation, Boko Haram inclusive. The Army and the Air Force need to develop a better synergy and eliminate inter-Service rivalry, to enable effective operations towards a full and final defeat of Boko Haram, which has no Air Power and therefore possesses no undue advantage over the well-trained Nigerian military troops.