In its 55 years as a professional fighting force, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has had its fair share of neglect and setbacks, like other sectors in Nigeria. Significantly, the level of training in the NAF was at its lowest ebb prior to the coming on board of the current NAF administration and this led to serious decline in the fortunes of the service. Most of its aircraft were grounded due to lack of spares, while it was even more difficult to secure training slots overseas.
Different reasons could be adduced for this. One was political, stemming from prolonged military rule. Sanctions were imposed on the country at the time, which made it extremely difficult to procure equipment or train personnel, and it adversely affected local and overseas training.
Spirited efforts by successive NAF administrations to restore the fortunes and the glorious past of the service did not yield much result. However, in July 2015, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari, appointed Air Marshal Sadique Baba Abubakar as the 20th Chief of the Air Staff (CAS).
Mindful of the key role of training in building the professional competence of his men, the CAS wasted no time in carving out a vision to support his quest “to reposition the NAF into a highly professional and disciplined force through capacity-building initiatives for effective, efficient and timely employment of air power in response to Nigeria’s national security imperatives.”
The vision was anchored on six key drivers, prominent among which was “human capacity development through robust and result-oriented training for enhanced professional performance.” With the support of the Federal Government in providing required resources, Air Marshal Abubakar immediately embarked on recruitment as well as training and retraining of personnel to meet the security challenges confronting the nation.
In the last four years, the Abubakar-led administration has recruited 7,693 airmen/airwomen, while 669 officers have been commissioned. Currently, about 206 Direct Short Service Commission (DSSC) officer cadets are undergoing training at the Military Training Centre (MTC), Kaduna. Before now, the number of recruits into the NAF was just 500 per training cycle. However, with the expansion of the training facilities at the MTC, the number of recruits has now increased to 2,500.
Aside from increasing the manpower due to the new force structure to maintain the integrity of the air space, emphasis is also geared towards enhanced professionalism of personnel. In the last four and half years, the NAF has trained officers, airmen and airwomen in different categories of air and ground functions. The service has winged 92 pilots, while several other pilots are undergoing various flying training courses. On the whole, about 1,500 re-currency and advanced flying training courses have been conducted for NAF pilots, both locally and abroad, in the last four years.
One of the striking aspects of the NAF manpower development by Air Marshal Abubakar’s administration is the training of young pilots of the ranks of flight lieutenants and below, including females, who are not just captains on their respective aircraft types but also instructor pilots, risking their lives and flying day and night missions to ensure the security of Nigeria and Nigerians. The training of these young pilots would undoubtedly add more impetus to the fight against insurgency and other internal security operations in the country.
The recent historic winging of NAF’s first female fighter pilot, Flying Officer Kafayat Sanni, and first female combat helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, decorated alongside 11 other young officers after successful completion of their flying training courses, speaks to the depth and sweep of the vision of Air Marshal Abubakar in repositioning the NAF.
Aircraft serviceability is dependent on the effectiveness of the engineers and technicians. To this end, the current NAF leadership has also taken major steps in the area of training and retraining of engineers and technicians at home and overseas. Over 2,255 engineering officers and technicians have received different levels of training since 2015.
The training has been extended to other operational and administrative personnel. More than 15,114 different training courses have been conducted within the same period. The story is the same across all trades and specialties in the NAF for commissioned and non-commissioned officers. The NAF now has a much more competent professional force to undertake missions for effective and efficient service delivery.
The Regiment Specialty is not left out in the human capacity development effort of the NAF. As part of its efforts to effectively tackle the internal security challenges in the country in fulfillment of its statutory roles, the NAF, in the last four and half years, has restructured the Regiment Specialty. The Regiment Specialty, tasked with the responsibility of protecting NAF bases and assets as well as national assets like airports, was relatively ill equipped with inadequate manpower due to years of neglect.
Today, the Regiment Specialty has not only been reorganiaed, it has also been adequately equipped and its personnel retrained to effectively defend NAF bases and other critical national assets against attacks as well as emerging security threats in the country.
In 2015, the current NAF administration took a bold step to initiate two separate training programmes for the development of the capacity of personnel of the Regiment Specialty. The first, in collaboration with the Israeli Four Troops Team, was for the development of Special Forces (SF) capabilities for the NAF, while the second, in collaboration with the British Military Advisory Training Team (BMATT), was for training in Force Protection in Complex Air Ground Environment (FPCAGE). Aside from the local training, some of the elements of the NAF SF have also been trained in Belarus and Pakistan. The SF was established to deal with the dynamism of contemporary security challenges while ensuring base defence and protection of NAF air assets and critical installations.
So far, the Regiment Specialty has witnessed astronomical increase in its strength from about 1,300 in 2015 to over 4,000, while over 1,000 SF personnel have been trained locally and abroad. Out of the 1,000 SF troops, 300 have been deployed for internal security operations in Zamfara State and another 300 deployed to Benue State under the Defence Headquarters’ Operation Whirl Stroke. In the same vein, 3,600 personnel drawn from the Regiment, Intelligence and Air Police specialties have been trained in FPCAGE from 2015 to date.
The regular and advanced training of aircrew and other operational and administrative personnel has reinforced the combat capability of the NAF; which accounts for the significant successes so far recorded in the fight against insurgency and other forms of criminality in the country in the past four years.
For an air force previously beset by significant deficits in funding, equipment, logistics, updated combat doctrine, the CAS, Air Marshal Abubakar, has moved unrelentingly to change the narrative and reposition the service to better confront and defeat the foe on multiple fronts. Significantly, in the heat of conflict, Air Marshal Abubakar has also ensured that the NAF continues to remain apolitical, professional and commendably responsive in the discharge of its constitutional roles.