Importance of drones in Nigeria’s anti-insurgency fight

In this special report, SEGUN ADEWOLE takes a look at how unmanned aerial vehicles, popularly known as drones can be a game changer in the war against Boko Haram and banditry in Nigeria

“But we don’t have adequate weapons to fight them. We can’t just be wasting our lives. We have families.

“Without weapons, we are not soldiers. Let them provide the weapon and we’ll fight the idiots.

“It’s not that they will give me this (points at an AK-47 rifle) and they (terrorists) will come with something three times better than this. No, blood runs through me.

“We just have to go… we are going home. Let us go and enjoy the new year with our family. If the army is ready, let them call us back with adequate weapons.”

The above words were those of a soldier walking in the desert part of the northern region of Nigeria with dust all over his malnourished face.

The words of the soldier, which were aired in a viral video, were dismissed by the then Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Sani Usman in 2018.

According to Usman, the video was taken in 2014 and the complaints tabled by the yet-to-be-identified soldier didn’t represent present realities.

However, the same complaints were tabled by the then Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, General Olusegun Adeniyi in a viral video.

“This is not the time to cry,” said Adeniyi to a soldier who looked demoralised with tears welling in his eyes. The soldier was either mourning a friend or afraid to head into battle again for reasons soon to be revealed by his commander.

Turning to the camera, Adeniyi complained to higher authorities about the situation he and his men were facing in the fight against Boko Haram terrorists. According to him, most of the gun trucks used by the troops he commanded were faulty.

“Boko Haram has fired more than a hundred mustard bombs at us. They have fired more than 80 to 100 RPGs at us in addition to more than eight to 10 gun trucks on every side since yesterday,” he added.

The General then pointed at two army gun trucks with bad tyres while lamenting that over 250 tyres had been expended in their operation due to bullets from terrorists and bad terrain.

Also, a soldier, in a viral video, was seen pointing at what he described as outdated equipment at a military base in Metele while mourning his colleagues killed by insurgents when the base was attacked in November 2018.

“See the weapons they bring here. These are not working.

“These are outdated vehicles, they are not working. They just keep them here for formality. They are killing us every day. The situation is getting worse,” said the soldier.

With incidents like this and many more, security expert, Oladele Fajana believes it is time for Nigeria to engage in the use of modern technology in the fight against terrorism.

According to him, such technology will save the country the embarrassment it got as a result of the viral videos made by its soldiers.

When asked about the use of UAVs, he said, “In fact, all other systems of fighting Boko Haram are obsolete.

“Many Boko Haram fighters and bandits commit atrocities and run inside the bush. We need technology that can locate them wherever they are anytime any day.

“I don’t know why the government has not yet invested in drones but some days ago, I read in the newspapers that we were trying to partner with Turkey to get drones and others to help alleviate the sufferings of Nigerians in the hands of these bandits.”

Buttressing Fajana’s point, a former Director of the Department of State Services, Mike Ejiofor, said drones have to be deployed in the fight against bandits no matter the cost.

He said drones were cheaper than sending soldiers to die while citizens continue to be killed as a result of terrorism.

“How can you send soldiers to go and fish out bandits? It’s only drones that can bring data to tell you the exact location of bandits. No matter the cost, I think drones must be deployed.

“It is cheaper to go for drones because you can’t quantify or value human life. How much can you pay for human life? No matter what, I think it’s more cost-effective than allowing people to be dying and recording collateral damages everywhere,” he said.

Nigeria moves for drones from Turkey

When you type the word drone in the search bar of the social media platform, Twitter, the results obtained are usually associated with the Russia-Ukraine war. It shows that drones have played a major role in the war and have been much needed, especially when both sides of the war were losing men to conventional warfare.

There are so many things Nigeria can learn from the use of drones in the Russia-Ukraine war. The good news is that Nigeria will soon receive Bayraktar (TB-2) drones from the Republic of Turkey as revealed by the Turkish Ambassador to Nigeria, Hidayet Bayraktar on October 28, 2022.

Bayraktar (TB-2) drones have been employed by Ukraine in defending itself against Russian invasion.

However, Nigeria has to understand a lot about what it is about to purchase.

What Nigeria stands to gain with Bayraktar (TB-2) drones

According to the manufacturers of the drones, Baykar Tech, the Bayraktar is a Tactical UAV capable of conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The drones also carry out armed attack missions.

Bayraktar (TB-2) drones are currently used by the Turkish Armed Forces, French Gendarmerie and the Turkish National Police. Other countries making use of these particular drones include Qatar and Azerbaijan.

Monitoring the effect of the drones in the Russia-Ukraine war, Oryxspioenkop, a defence website dedicated to reports on weapons use, reported that they have been able to destroy six armoured fighting vehicles, five towed artillery, one multi-rocket launcher, two anti-aircraft guns, 10 helicopters, six naval ships, three command posts, one communication station, two logistics trains, and numerous resupply trucks all belonging to Russia. Military Today News reports that the success was recorded using just three Bayraktar drones.

Bayraktar travels with a maximum speed of over 220km and is powered by a single Rotax 912 internal combustion engine with 105hp.

The drone carries 300 litres of fuel and has a loitering time of 27 hours, meaning it can float around for a long time to enable the mission of striking targets and also carrying out surveillance.

According to Baykar Tech, their drones, which are armed with 4 Laser Guided Smart Ammunition, have recorded 500,000 hours of flight and counting, and an altitude record of 18,000 feet which can get to 27,000 feet at maximum.

A video shared by Military Today News showed the drones taking out Russian armoured tanks which were nothing less than nine metres in length.

When the tanks were hit by the drones, the impact of the weapons covered beyond the nine metres length of each of the tanks. This was aside from the accompanying shockwave common with such strikes.

When told about the effectiveness of the drones, a security consultant, Yemi Adeyemi, told our correspondent that such would help the military navigate terrains difficult for soldiers to access.

He said, “If Nigeria can get that type, I think it will be okay. Anywhere our military personnel cannot reach the drones can go there and drop whatever they want.

“I currently use a drone for spy work. For example, if there is a bank robbery, we fly the drone to the location to check the kind of weapon used by the robbers so that security agents will know the kind of weapon to use to counter them.

“So, if Nigeria can have the drone that will be more effective, I think it will go a long way in improving the security situation of the country.”

On his part, security expert, Dr Kabiru Adamu, backed Nigeria’s interest in attack drones but feared that there were some challenges not being addressed.

He said, “In instances where you are short of manpower, one of your easiest fallback plans is to embrace technology.

“We are aware that we have a shortage of boots on the ground. The natural way to go is the use of technology. Although it’s not the only way, it is one of the easiest ways to solve security problems. To that extent, I think it’s a good development.

“The only challenge, in my understanding, is the absence of a framework to guide the acquisition of these drones.

“At the moment, every security agency licensed to bear arms is acquiring these unmanned aerial vehicles without any guidance.

“I think in the long run, there’s going to be a challenge because you want to think about integration if you are embarking on the acquisition of any asset for your military or national security strategy. You also want to think of longevity.

With Bayraktar TB2, Nigeria still needs to watch its back

At least, 12 of the Bayrakter TB2 have been shot down by Russia’s anti-aircraft systems, a thing Nigeria should be worried about if the country is to employ the services of drones in its fight against bandits and terrorists.

In September 2021, reports quoting multiple sources said Boko Haram terrorists were training gangs, known locally as bandits in the use of anti-aircraft guns.

Four months later, the Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, announced that troops recovered one Deshka M Anti-Aircraft Gun from terrorists in Borno State in the North East region of Nigeria.

Also, a memo addressed to the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps warned that terrorists have rocket-propelled grenade launchers, anti-aircraft guns and general-purpose machine guns. This means that the terrorists Nigeria is dealing with can repel the country’s aerial attacks.

When asked if Nigeria will need to worry about the drones getting shot down by bandits, Fajana said it was an exaggeration that bandits have the capacity to do such.

“That is an exaggeration. The producers of that technology don’t just sell to anybody anyhow. Just like the Super Tucano jets, it took some time before the US sold them to Nigeria.

“The bandits can’t buy anti-aircraft weapons except those guns mounted at the back of the vehicles they used in Libya which they brought to Nigeria.

“Apart from that, nobody can walk up to manufacturers to purchase weapons without his government’s attention. In Nigeria, there are some things you cannot import without the consent of the Federal Government,” he said.

On his part, Adamu expressed the belief that bandits were capable of shooting down the drones, adding that such was something to worry about.

“If the bandits could shoot down a fighter jet, they could definitely shoot down drones. So, yes there are things to be worried about.

“But that should not in any way deter us. There are protective measures that we need to acquire when we eventually get those drones so that they are not shot out of the sky,” he said.

Cost of drones used in Russia-Ukraine war

Multiple reports have it that each Bayraktar costs $5m. The number of such drones to be purchased by Nigeria was yet to be identified as of the time of filing this report.

Reacting to the cost of the drones, Fajana believes such shouldn’t be a thing to worry about if Nigeria is to be secured.

He said, “Every effort needed to secure the country is not too much. Those big personalities that bought armoured vehicles, how much did they buy them?

“Drones are what individuals can buy for Nigeria if they are not greedy. Femi Otedola spent $3m to hire a yacht for his birthday. Can’t someone like that procure such a drone for Nigeria? So, it’s not too much.

“Drones are the kind of things we cannot manufacture, so we must buy at the rate the owners are selling them. A single drone can give us rest in this country.

“With drones, bandits, kidnappers and terrorists can be tracked to their location. The number of properties and lives terrorists have destroyed is more than $5m in 10 places.”

While Ukraine has been recording successes with Bayraktar, the aggressor Russia has also been having its fair share with the deployment of Iranian Shahed-136.

Shahed-136 drones, with a range of 600 miles and speed of 120 miles per hour, cost €20,000 and can be taken by Nigeria as an alternative to Bayraktar when the prices of both UAVs are put into consideration.

This is because one Bayraktar is equivalent to 240 Shahed-136, meaning the destruction of one of the Turkish UAVs would be regarded as a huge loss compared to its Iranian counterpart.

However, a careful look at the operations of Shahed-136 shows that they are easily identified because they are very noisy. They have been nicknamed “flying mopeds” by Ukrainians who are often alerted of their presence due to the lawnmower or moped kind of sound they produce.

Many such drones have been downed by Ukraine before they got to their targets in the Russia-Ukraine war.

According to Military Today News, they are not effective against military targets but effective against civilian infrastructure.

Russia sends the drones, which were designed to fly directly into targets on suicide missions, which is why they have been dubbed kamikaze drones in the Russia-Ukraine war.

Looking at the purpose they serve in the Russia-Ukraine war, it would be unwise for Nigeria to opt for the Iranian UAVs as an alternative to Bayraktar. This is because insurgents in the country don’t have infrastructure worth wasting €20,000 to destroy.

This is why Ejiofor advises against settling for cheap drones, adding that cost shouldn’t be a thing of worry when security is being considered.

“Security is not cheap, so we must invest in it. My worry is the investment in substandard equipment. If we get the effective one, it will help us no matter the cost,” he told our correspondent.

Drones used by security forces in Nigeria

Nigeria inaugurated its first indigenous UAV named GULMA in 2013 under the administration of former president Goodluck Jonathan. It was a technology demonstrator used to gather performance data on UAV systems.

This was followed by the production of TSAIGUMI, an operational UAV manufactured at the Air Force Research and Development Centre at NAF Base Kaduna.

The difference between both UAVs was revealed in a statement issued by the Nigeria Air Force Director of Public Relations and Information, AVM Olatokunbo Adesanya in 2018.

According to him, GULMA UAV has an operational endurance of four hours, a service ceiling of 5,000 feet and could not be operated beyond 20km.

He said it had a maximum take-off weight of 40kg, engine sound is not muffled and the UAV relied on a direct radio frequency communication system.

As for TSAIGUMI, Adesanya said its engine sound was muffed and had a state-of-the-art encrypted communication system.

The drone has an operational endurance in excess of 10 hours, a service ceiling of 15,000 feet and a mission radius of 100km.

However, not much has been heard about the drones, especially in the fight against insurgency.

Defence website, Oryxspioenkop, in a post in 2021, said the projects “appear to have been unsuccessful in their design or perhaps too limited in their usefulness.”

Just recently, the Inspector General of Police, IGP Usman Baba, announced the acquisition of three high-powered Asisguard Songar Armed Drones to checkmate criminal activities in the country.

 According to the website of the manufacturers, Asisguard, the drones can function in any kind of day/night military and security operation.

“The system can broadcast real-time video and operate within a mission radius of up to five km,” Asisguard said of the drones.

A promotional video of the drone in action as shared by the manufacturers showed it firing shots right from the sky in a similar fashion to an AK-47 rifle. However, nothing was said by the manufacturers about the capabilities of the drone’s weapon.

Avoiding accidental drone strikes on civilians

There have been allegations of accidental airstrikes by aircraft of the Nigeria Air Force on civilians in the country leading to the loss of several lives.

In response, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Oladayo Amao, instituted a committee to address the allegations as well as review the circumstances leading to such strikes.

With attack drones set to arrive from Turkey, the avoidance of accidental strikes might be a thing to put into consideration.

However, Fajana believes accidental strikes are part of what is experienced during war just as he advised that more needed to be done to avoid such.

He said, “We shouldn’t be afraid of accident airstrikes. Even in America and also in the current war between Russia and Ukraine, there is still what we call accidental discharge. That’s what we call collateral damage.

“The problem with the north is that it is not properly managed. People are scattered all over the place and also live close to the bandits’ enclaves.

“Even when the government announces that there is going to be an attack somewhere, because of people’s lack of education, they will not understand; some won’t even take it seriously to run for their dear lives.”

On his part, Adamu said to avoid accidental airstrikes in the case of drones and any other attack aircraft, intelligence must be verified before offensive measures.

He said, “Accidental airstrike is a function of failure of intelligence, where you have faulty intelligence. Intelligence is a wide topic.

“Usually, once you gather information, you would want to verify it before you introduce the offensive measure. So, a combination of both technology and human sources will verify it.

“If we have offensive drones which we use to target particular groups, it is important that we use coordinates and human points that we have on the ground. Intelligence requires extra levels of verification.”

On his part, Ejiofor stated that such could be avoided if accurate data is gotten before airstrikes are embarked on.

He said, “We shouldn’t be worried if we have effective and accurate data. A problem can only occur when these people (bandits) are with civilians and using them as human shields. But if they are free, it’s okay.”

It added that operators of the drones were currently being trained by consulted foreign experts on how to operate and maintain the UAVs.

Speaking to our correspondent, Adamu, who saw photos of the drones, said they didn’t look like what any serious police force would go for.

“They told us it was an offensive drone but when they presented it to the public, for those of us in security, we found out that we could have done better.

“Those are toy drones and not something any serious police force should present as an offensive drone.

“If we are serious about using offensive drones, there are drones that are out there that if the enemy hears that we are acquiring them, the enemy will know that they are in for trouble,” Adamu said.

Aside from GULMA, TSAIGUMI and the Asisguard drones, Nigeria had also made use of other drones in its defence strategy.

Military Africa, a website putting the spotlight on military technologies in Africa, listed the drones to include Amebo drone, CH-3A UCAV, Star Tiltrotor, ADS Aerostar UAV, VTOL fixed wing UAV, Mugin commercial UAV, RQ-11 Raven Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, CH-4 UCAV and Wing Loong II.

 When asked about the drones currently being used by Nigeria, Ejiofor said the available ones are not effective.

“They are using drones but what they are using are not effective drones,” he said.

 Efforts to get the reaction of the Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, proved abortive as messages and calls put across to his phone were not responded to as of the time of filing this report.

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