Mayday! Mayday On Easter Day

April 4, 2021
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The Nigerian Airforce lost communication with one of its Alpha jets (NAF475) on Wednesday evening. It lost communication with radar while on an interdiction mission, providing support for ground troops in Borno state. Search and rescue operations were on as 24 hrs after, there was no sign of contact with the jet. 48 hrs after, it became clear that the jet was down, and perhaps, the pilot(s) could also be down and lost.  Three days after, NAF declared that the jet had crashed just around 30kms away from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. It was found at Abba-Jille, in Konduga local government area of Borno State. It was seen flying around Goni kurmiri and Njimia villages. It had attacked terrorist sites at Sambisa Forest.

On Friday evening, a video surfaced, showing a flying jet burst in flames after which it fell off the sky. It was a terrorist propaganda video with the usual arabic voice over, chanting, and gun shots, displaying gun trucks of the terrorist group. Boko haram claimed that it had downed the plane. Subsequently, the NAF issued a statement to counter the claim, claiming that it was a crash and not that the aircraft was shot off the skies. People who are supportive of the NAF campaigns against the terrorists, will find NAF’s statement a little more comforting, as against the claim by the  Boko boys. On the other hand, people who are sympathetic to the terrorist campaigns will declare the clash a victory for Boko haram and a setback for the Nigerian military. A confusing and worrying situation with both sides facing trust issues from the public. Terrorists are of course known to hype and exaggerate their progress with their war, and be silent on their setbacks or injuries; sustained during the war. NAF may not exaggerate their own victories, but people may be attuned to believing that losses suffered,  aren’t usually declared accurately.

I watched the video, and for sure, it was put together (edited), with all the necessary terrorist flare and propaganda. Music, narration and so on. The video appears to have different templates or backgrounds for the jet. The first frame is a jet flying at a normal cruise speed. The second frame shows a blast with the jet which appeared doctored. The third frame showed a steadily downing jet, with tail smoke, supposedly from the blast. Now, if the blast in the first frame is accurate, it wouldn’t have been possible to have a jet in one and whole piece steadily falling off the sky. Pieces and smitherings of the plane, dismembered; would have been falling off the sky! A laymans perspective is able to deduce a few anomalies to the claims of the jet being shot. One must wonder the details that can be reviewed and discovered, if the video could undergo forensic analysis.

It is safer to assume that the terrorists have the capabilities to down a jet. According to Defense News Nigeria, an independent source of military equipment and operations: sometime in 2014, SA-7s and SA-24s as well as SA-7Bs were traced from Libya to the Agadez region of Niger by the CIA. This was due to the fall off of a bazaaar of weapons from Libya. Due to this, much attention has been drawn to shoulder fired weapons as anticraft missiles. A proliferation of these weapons known as MANPADS; which have a range of up to 23000 ft, is a huge source of worry to the war on terrorism, along the Chad basin. Even though fighter jets can go as high as 48000 ft, nevertheless, a pilot has to be aware of the weaponry to expect while airborne, so as to be guided on how best to glide through his flight time. Jets are more vulnerable to attacks from MANPADS while they are taking up to the skies, and when they are on their way down to land. The NAF pilots are reputed to be very proficient in the piloting of these Jets; and are even claimed to have been very inventive; and have mastered the piloting of these jets closer to ground, aside the far off normal.

It is wiser to prepare against the attacks from missiles, fired ground to air, to down aircraft of the NAF, in the Lake Chad/ Sambisa Area. Radar equipment and capabilities must be upgraded and updated. Missiles can be tracked and destroyed, or avoided and dodged, with the proper technologies in place. A missile approach warning system (MAW) is often part of the avionics package on some military aircraft. A sensor detects missile approach– and its warning automatically cues the pilot to make a defensive manoeuvre– and deploy the appropriate defensive counter-measures to disrupt missile tracking. Guided surface to air missiles (GAM) can always be countered by electronic countermeasures (ECM), provided there are timely threat warnings. So while the NAF is concentrating on armament with aircrafts, it must now pay attention to ECMs.

May the souls of the lost crew rest in peace. Fired or crashed, it is an avoidable setback and the loss of a jet is a massive one indeed. Ours is always a prayer and a note. A prayer for success and victory in the war, for our troops; and a note to remind, inspire and support the institutions that man the fight against terrorism. Their success is ours, so is their sacrifice to our benefit. Their victory is the only source of our sustainability and development– for without peace, nothing, and nothing at all, can reign!

–Tahir is Talban Bauchi.

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