October 2, 2022

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Greg Odogwu
While growing up, I was a war movies buff. At a time, World War II films became my favourite. Eventually, after secondary education, I combined the love for war stories with my passion for history and this made me fully appreciate what the victory of the Second World War meant for the free world. Today, living in Nigeria, I am conscious of the similarities between the world of 1944 and the Nigeria of 2022. Just like the world’s allied forces, Nigeria’s armed forces have finally secured a beachhead in the fight against insurgency. However, what most people miss is the dynamic behind this feat. Like in the Battle of Normandy, the unseen force in Nigeria’s push against insecurity can be written with just two words: Air Supremacy.
Air warfare was a major component in all theatres of World War II; and, together with anti-aircraft warfare, consumed a large fraction of the industrial output of the major powers. Both Britain and the United States built substantially larger strategic forces of large, long-range bombers. Simultaneously, they built tactical air forces that could win aerial supremacy over the battlefields, thereby giving vital assistance to ground troops.
During Operation Overlord, the codename for the Battle of Normandy—the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe during World War II—a 1,200-plane airborne assault preceded an amphibious assault involving more than 5,000 vessels that ferried more than 150,000 troops across the English Channel on June 6, 1944. By August of same year, more than two million Allied troops were in France. On that fateful day, known as D-Day, the German air force, Luftwaffe, could only muster less than 400 aircraft to face the thousands of the Allied warplanes. This is air superiority.
According to official D-Day history, out of nearly 12,000 Allied aircraft available to support the Normandy Landings, 14,674 sorties were flown on D-Day and 127 aircraft were lost. For the airborne landings during that first night, 2,395 Royal Air Force and the US Air Force aircraft were in action. By the end of the fifth day, a total of 326,547 Allied troops had been landed on the shores of Normandy, with 54,186 vehicles and over 104,000 tons of supplies. D-Day was the largest amphibious invasion in military history. But it must be noted that had the warplanes not flown in the dead of night to drop Allied paratroopers behind enemy lines, the outcome of Operation Overlord would have been far from victorious, if not disastrous.

This is exactly the case in Nigeria, which may be lost on many citizens, for obvious reasons. The present fight against insurgency is playing out in a way that the “Axis powers” of Boko Haram, ISWAP and bandits have taken a land which must be reclaimed. The Nigerian troops, stretched out on one side, needed the strategic bombings that would give them impetus to cross into enemy territory.

Presently, that “invisible” gains of air support is paying off. This is why in recent times, you could see news of the Nigerian air force strafing the enclaves of the insurgents, while the land soldiers move in to mop up. Attaining air superiority has consistently been a prelude to military victory. This is also true in the war against terror. Air power has helped turn the tide of the war in Nigeria’s favour because it is the only aspect of the Nigerian military that terrifies insurgents. But these gains did not come overnight; it has a history and a human arrowhead who planned, initiated and inspired the thrust.
Another unfamiliar truth is that the Nigerian air force was actually a ghost of its former self before 2015. The downward slide started three decades ago after the alleged coup plot by Mamman Vatsa. There were reports that the air force was fully involved in the conspiracy. So, Adamu Sakaba, Ben Ekele, Martin Luther and G.A. Ahura, all pilots, were executed alongside Vatsa and other military officers. As a result, the then Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida, began to weaken the air force. The Tactical Air Command in Makurdi suffered the backlash, as further investments in air power infrastructure were either shelved or postponed.

One of such concern was when our 18 SEPECAT Jaguar fighters, delivered and operating from Makurdi, were retired in 1991. Nigeria donated its fleet of L-29 to the Republic of Ghana Air Force at the inception of the ECOMOG operations in Liberia while the attempt to correspondingly expand the fleet by acquiring 27 Aero L-29s in 1991 was not executed. Worst still, as the air force cadre grew old, the younger officers’ capacity was not built or exposed to contemporary trends to replace them. Indeed, aviation experts and military corresponds would tell you that some years back, the country lacked military jet pilots and had to engage retired flight officers when the country needed to fly its few remaining jets.
But all these changed drastically with the appointment of the immediate past Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar. Firstly, he is known for his role in moving to a higher level in terms of aircraft purchase. Secondly, he has been hailed by industry watchers, journalists and military strategists for his full-scale capacity-building initiative for officers of the air force. It is under his command that young officers began to fly Nigerian jets, as opposed to what was obtainable in the recent past. He sent them overseas for training and they came home bubbling with knowledge and vigour. He also empowered the engineers and made their role have a feel of national aerial importance, even while on the ground.
It is also instructive to note that female flight officers took a front seat under Abubakar. For an environmentalist, this is sign of eco-friendliness; gender mainstreaming is critical in the fight against climate change. One of such female pilots was Tolulope Arotile, Nigeria’s first ever female helicopter combat pilot, who died in an unfortunate road accident in Kaduna in 2020.

It was also under him that the army began to release videos of their aerial missions, which gave the nation a sense of belonging. There was a perceptible air of transparency brought into the fight against insurgency, which not only fostered patriotism and hope among the citizenry but helped boost the morale of the beleaguered gallant officers in the trenches.  While in service, Abubakar, who enjoyed flying, came across as a calm, soft-spoken commander who inspires confidence even without saying a word.
Therefore, now that Abubakar is no more at the helm, the incumbent Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Oladayo Amao, has the job cut out for him. In November 2018, Abubakar awarded contract for some A-29 Super Tucano fighters and delivery is expected to be completed in 2024. It will be under the command of Amao that the country would be able to experience the air superiority afforded by these new fighting birds.
What is more, as the nation faces the onslaught of climate change, the air force must join the fray. It is gladdening that they have already set the ball rolling. Recently, chief of air staff Amao, while paying a courtesy call on the Royal Air Force at London, announced the decision of the NAF to align with the initiative for Global Air Forces on Climate Change, as part of its pre-emptive measure to safeguard military equipment against the effects of climate change. Of course, global warming and climate change has significant impact on the aviation industry, the turf of the air force. Hence, the major reason why I hope that our country secures an air supremacy in the fight against climate change.

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