Exclusive Interview with AIR MARSHAL HB ABUBAKAR

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Air Marshal Hb Abubakar
Air Marshal Hb Abubakar

Insights into the Third African Air Forces Forum            

As the third Edition of the African Air Forces Forum nears, we bring you an interview with AIR MARSHAL HB ABUBAKAR, Chief of the Air Staff, Nigerian Air Force. The Conference and Exhibition of the Third Air Forces Forum will hold in Abuja, Nigeria from 23 to 24 May 2024 while the Ceremonial Parade and Air Show will take place in Kaduna, Nigeria on 25 May 2024.

 

ANSWERS TO INTERVIEW QUESTIONS  

 

  • Reflecting on the 60-year journey of the Nigerian Air Force, what do you regard as its most noteworthy achievements in terms of advancing national security and regional stability? 

Ans:   Indeed, the Nigerian Air Force has come of age, having undergone significant transformation in its organization, manning and equipment holding.  At inception in 1964, the Service was barely able to carry out its primary responsibilities of defending the nation from the air, due to the few platforms that were available at the time. Accordingly, during the early years up to 1970, the Service relied solely on foreign partners such as the German Air Force Assistance Group for technical and nontechnical training of its personnel. Nevertheless, the Service was still able to participate in the Civil War which started in 1967, as it rose up to the challenge in spite of its infancy.  Over the years, particularly during its formative years in the 1970s up to 1990, the NAF underwent platforms/equipment upgrade, while new ones were also acquired. The Service further experienced reorganization of its force structure, while bolstering its training and aircraft/equipment maintenance capacity. Between 1990 and 2000, the NAF underwent some expansion as it established new commands and formations, increasing its presence across Nigeria. Perhaps the most noteworthy achievements of the NAF, with regards to advancing national security and regional stability, have been recorded in the transformation era from 2000 till date. The NAF contributed greatly to restoring peace in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Mali at one time or another. The Service has acquired significant technical and non-technical capabilities and now has the capacity to conduct most of its training in-country.  The Service’s foray into the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems and the increased use Precision Guided Munitions has revolutionized our contributions to the Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency efforts and indeed our efforts in tackling the myriad of security challenges of the country and the sub-region.  With her current array of available and expected platforms, the NAF can confidently boast of a balanced tactical force within the subregion, that can effectively safeguard Nigeria’s sovereignty, ensure her national security, and contribute to peacekeeping missions both regionally and globally. The NAF has also over the years achieved a lot in the area of Reseaerch and Development, with several landmark research projects. 

  • With Nigeria hosting the 3rd Africa Air Forces Forum, what are the objectives and anticipated outcomes you aspire to achieve through this esteemed gathering of air forces from across the continent? 

Ans:   Contemporary security challenges are not only multidimensional in nature, but mostly transnational. This presupposes the need for countries to partner and collaborate, while also comparing notes on the best approaches to addressing these challenges. It is noteworthy that the Africa Air Forces Forum serves as a regional platform for advancing air force capabilities and building pillars of bilateral and multilateral partnerships.  To this end, the Forum provides a unique opportunity to highlight the continuous advancement of air force capabilities, technological innovations, and strategic developments that contribute to enhancing Africa’s aerial defense and peacekeeping capabilities. That is why we carefully selected the theme of our 60th Anniversary and the third Africa Air Forces Forum to be “Nigerian Air Force at 60: Leveraging Strategic Partnerships in Aerospace Innovations for Regional Security”. Therefore, I am expectant that the Third Africa Air Forces Forum will emphasize on the importance of cooperation and collaboration between the Nigerian Air Force and air forces of other African nations, particularly in leveraging airpower capabilities to promote stability and, in a broader perspective, shaping the development of the NAF and other air forces on the continent. So, in a nutshell, my anticipated outcomes are for the Conference to help strengthen our airpower capacities, foster cooperation, and address common security challenges for the benefit of the NAF and the entire African region. We should also be able to learn from each other in order to enhance the impact of the air force on internal security operations and counter-terrorism operations, while hoping to unravel the key technological capabilities required to optimize every mission. With the array of OEMs, MROs and aviation companies lined up to attend this event, I am very optimistic that it would not only be engaging, but very illuminating with respect to cross fertilization of ideas and introduction of latest aerospace and defense systems/technologies that would provide bespoke solutions to Africa’s security challenges.   

  • In what manner has the Nigerian Air Force adapted to evolving security threats and challenges, particularly concerning counterterrorism and border security? 

Ans:   Hitherto, the NAF was largely trained and equipped to conduct conventional warfare and operations in the execution of its primary role of defending the territorial integrity of a united Nigeria from the air. However, events of the last decade or thereabouts of NAF’s involvement in asymmetric warfare had rather dictated the need for a change in approach to address the largely unconventional threats perpetrated by non-state actors. In adapting to these threats, the NAF had to overhaul its training curricula to accommodate the tactics employed by these non-state actors. The Service also focused on “Force Protection” of its troops and assets by increasing the training and employment NAF Regiment/Special Operations Forces Personnel. Beyond “Force Protection”, these crops of welltrained personnel also embarked on ground offensive to search, find and neutralize these criminals, by taking the war to them.   The induction of new platforms such as helicopters, manned and unmanned surveillance platforms, UCAVs and ground attack platforms such as the Super Tucano aircraft have all been part of our overall adaptation strategy, in order to give the NAF the technological edge over the non-state actors.   

  • Could you elaborate on the role of international cooperation and partnerships in augmenting the capabilities and efficacy of the Nigerian Air Force? 

AnsInternational cooperation and partnerships have contributed immensely to enhancing NAF’s capabilities and efficacy in the discharge of its mandate. This is largely because, as a very highly technical force, the NAF requires the partnership of technologically advanced countries and their resident OEMs and sometimes MROs to guarantee the prompt acquisition of platforms/systems/equipment as well as their subsequent in-depth maintenance. This of course, does not exclude efforts for technology/capacity transfer, in which the NAF collaborates with them to also build these in-depth maintenance and overhaul capacities in-country.  Furthermore, international cooperation and partnerships afford us the opportunity to conduct in-depth training for own personnel, particularly in the few areas, which we lack the requisite capacity and infrastructure to do so. International cooperation and partnerships are equally required to expedite the process of spares acquisition from OEMs, in the short and medium terms, while we pursue long-term efforts to build capacities in that regard. In furtherance of these capacities-building efforts, the NAF leverages strategic partnerships in the utilization of cutting-edge technology through the prioritization of Research and Development towards developing a robust capacity to surmount current and emerging security challenges, while also enhancing its operational viability. 

  • How does the Nigerian Air Force prioritize innovation and technological progression to sustain its competitive edge in an ever-evolving security landscape? 

Ans:   In the area of innovation and technological development to sustain its competitive edge in the ever-evolving security landscape, the NAF has embarked on a robust R&D drive to keep pace with emerging technologies and their application in modern warfare. To this end, the NAF, through its Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) and Air Force Research and Development Centre (AFRDC), collaborates with strategic institutions in the areas of UAV, small arms and rockets development as well as RADAR development.  At the moment, we are partnering with some organisations to establish an Air Vehicle Development Centre. The several R&D initiatives are aimed at providing the NAF with the requisite technological edge to optimally operate and maintain the sophisticated platforms and equipment in its inventory.  

 

  • Could you please provide insight into the Nigerian Air Force’s initiatives and strategies regarding flight simulation and training? 

Ans:   We have several flight simulators for different aircraft types in our inventory. The employment of these simulators over the years has proved to be both operationally effective and efficient, as the NAF has produced pilots who have proved themselves to be highly professional.  Flight simulation has also been cost-saving and time-saving. Furthermore, the use of flight simulators has improved safety and enhanced professionalism. 

  • What steps and procurement strategies is the Nigerian Air Force implementing to adapt to the evolving landscape of aerial warfare and defense, particularly with the introduction of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and other disruptive technologies? 

Ans:   The NAF has recently reinvigorated its platform acquisition drive on account of increased commitments in combating internal security challenges and the need to maintain a balanced and modern air force that would be relevant in the contemporary and future aerial warfare and defense landscape. Based on this, I set out my Command Philosophy to “Transform the NAF into an agile and resilient force that effectively meets the airpower demands of national security in all operational environments”.  Achieving such agility and resilience also demands the right mix of platforms. Accordingly, certain changes have been made in our platforms procurement strategies, drawing lessons from ongoing engagements and projecting into the future. The Service is inducting more UAS with precision strike capabilities to minimize collateral damages during internal security operations. The induction of more attack and utility helicopters is another area where the NAF is looking to consolidate its efforts in order to meet the battlefield demands of the surface forces and also maintain a considerable agility and fighting edge over the insurgents.  In the area of Fighter Ground Attack platforms, the Service is considering fleet modernization to overhaul its ageing fleets for a more agile and potent air force. This is also followed by a decent investment into acquisition of requisite air defence assets and capabilities, necessary to secure our nation from the air.  In order to sustain requisite resilience and keep up with the maintenance of the array of modern platforms being inducted into the Service, we have made adequate arrangements to also mobilize the OEMs for prompt delivery of services to ensure a high level of aircraft/equipment serviceability in the NAF. This is not excluding several other measures such as timely provision of requisite and critical spares and consumables, provision of up-to-date technical publications and ground support equipment. Additional part of our strategy is to provide funds on a quarterly basis for consumables required for the maintenance of all NAF aircraft fleets. This is a departure from the previous method of “just in time” procedure for provision of spares and consumables.  

  • What initiatives are being implemented to ensure the well-being and professional advancement of NAF personnel, particularly regarding training and career development opportunities? 

Ans:   Training is an area that the NAF considers very seriously, because it is our belief that any machine is only as good as the man behind it. To this end, we have embarked on a range of robust training initiatives in the NAF.  This is underpinned by one of the key enablers of my command philosophy, which is “deliberate training and mission-oriented force development”. Already we have sustained the training of our personnel both locally and internationally. At the moment, many personnel have either recently completed or are undergoing various training courses in-country. In terms of foreign training, hundreds of our personnel are attending a variety of courses abroad in countries such as the USA, Pakistan, Egypt, Czech Republic, China and the UK. Apart from flying related courses, these individuals are also being trained in fields cutting across logistics, aircraft maintenance, safety and communications amongst others.  As part of the initiatives, we had made a request to foreign Defence Attachès in Nigeria for more training slots, particularly for pilot training, specialized and advanced maintenance training as well as continuous professional military training to bridge identified skills gaps in the NAF. Another initiative is the complete overhaul of our Basic Military Training to focus on graduating high quality trained airmen and airwomen. We have begun a holistic assessment and review of the course curriculum, training facilities and infrastructure to identify and address gaps in all training institutions. 

  • In what ways does the Nigerian Air Force contribute to broader initiatives aimed at fostering regional cooperation and collective security across Africa? 

Ans:   The Nigerian Air Force has contributed to regional cooperation initiatives under the auspices of organizations such as the UN, AU and the ECOWAS. Through its numerous deployments, the NAF has contributed to the furtherance of the Nigerian Government’s commitments and willingness to combat national and regional threats to peace and security in Nigeria, West Africa, Gulf of Guinea and the entire African continent. The NAF is also cooperating with her neighbours in the conduct of ongoing counter terrorism and counter insurgency operations. We are doing this as part of the Nigerian contingent through the Multi National Joint Task Force.   

  • How important is the 3rd Africa Air Forces Forum as a platform to gather the chiefs of the 

defense community worldwide under one roof.                                                                                                 

AnsThe African Air Forces Forum is a regional platform for advancing air force capabilities and building pillars of bilateral and multilateral partnerships amongst the air forces of Africa.  Through the symposia, exhibition and discussions, ideas would be mutually shared, with the ultimate aim of enhancing Africa’s aerial defense and security capabilities. This year’s theme, “Nigerian Air Force at 60: Leveraging Strategic Partnerships in Aerospace Innovations for Regional Security” was painstakingly chosen to reflect our collective efforts in securing our respective countries and by extension, the African Continent. Forging purposeful partnerships  based on shared values and interests is absolutely at the core of peace and stability in our Continent.  

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