The recent announcement by the Defence Director for Air Force Affairs, Ashibel P. Utsu, that the Nigerian government had concluded the award of contract for the acquisition of 24 M-346 multirole aircraft for its Air Force, the first of its kind in an expansion drive is a welcome development. The cost of the purchase is put at €1.2 billion.
A strong and well equipped fighting forces is a source of national pride and a guarantee of protection against external aggression. However, this purchase has been greeted with mixed feelings, especially, on account of the grinding poverty in the country.
It stands to be corrected that the war Nigeria has fought against insurgency, banditry and other forms of criminality in the last 12 year is majorly triggered by poverty. The experience has shown that arms has failed or are failing to solve the problem of insurgency which has cost about 350, 000 Nigerian lives and an estimated 3 million people displaced, with steadily rising military expenditures and severe opportunity cost implications for the economy as scarce resources are continuously being channelled to prosecute the war on terrorism against other social benefits like good roads, qualitative education, and electricity.
So far, the military solution seems not to be working, as insurgents have rared their ugly heads in other regions of the country, overstretching the military capacity, destroying public infrastructures and paralysing economic activities in their wake
Nigeria has long been suffering an unemployment crisis creating a pool for easy recruitment for criminal activities, with a bulk of the affected being the youths, with energy that could otherwise be put to good use and nation building task.
Though the current government has rolled various initiatives to address the rising stem of unemployment, there is room for improvement for an aspirational society as ours, hence it is expedient that a more comprehensive and integrated approach that strives to address the root causes of this strives will be essential in finding lasting solution or solutions to this protracted crisis.
Nigeria has seen its defense budget rise from 100 billion naira ($625 million) in 2010 to 927 billion naira ($6 billion) in 2011 and 1 trillion naira ($625 million) naira in2012, 2013 and 2014 relative to expenditure allocated to other sectors of the economy.
Experts have faulted the efficacy of full blown war on the restoration of peace and stability in the northeast or in the northwest which has witnessed a major increase in the criminal activities of bandits, even leading to the recent complete shutdown of telecommunications companies operations in Zamfara state.
It is argued that the persistent root cause of Nigeria’s insurgency and banditry is economic, suggesting that the individuals involved have not been adequately mobilised to be good and productive agents of society. There is also the belief that the rebellion may be borne out of neglect and impunity among other things, and that the federal government should seek to negotiate, establish new schemes and arrangements to deal with this issues to restore trust in this areas, especially with reports of violations by both sides.
The aircraft was co-developed with Yakolev Design Bureau as YAK/AEM-130 before the Italian co-manufacturer Alenia Aermacchi went solo with the manufacturing of the platform.
First unveiled at the 2017 Dubai Air Show, the M-346 Fighter Attack builds on the features of the M-346 AJT (Advanced Jet Trainer) by beefing up its capabilities with 7 external carry points and the addition of the Grifo multi-mode radar. It has a modern design with a state-of-the-art man-machine interface with liquid crystal displays and a HUD. Powered by two F124-GA-200s, it has a VMAX of 1065km/h with a ceiling of 13,715 metres and a range of 2220km in ferry mode with three external tanks. Designed primarily for advanced training, its airframe can support up to 7.3G. Multi-role par excellence, it can perform a wide range of missions from air policing (AP) to maritime operations support (TASMO) to strike guidance (JTAC).
The exact variant of the M-346 Nigeria is acquiring is unclear, however, the M-346FT (Fighter Trainer) and M-346FA (Fighter Attack) variants are advanced trainers and light combat options for the Air Force.
The M-346 cost of about $25 million is no doubt an expensive plane, with the contract estimated at 1.2 billion dollars. The Roman company will be able to rely on its local partner Sec Pro Africa, which will supply weapons and spare parts.
These new aircraft will join the ranks of the growing Nigerian Air Force. They will replace the Alpha Jet A/E aircraft that are reaching the end of their service life. The M-346s will come between the 12 EMB 314 Super Tucano ordered in 2019 and the 3 JF-17C Thunder in service since 2016. The multi-purpose aircraft will complement the anti-guerrilla warfare conducted by the Super Tucano in the north of the country and provide air-to-air support to the Thunder for border defence. With this purchase, NAF will have the most powerful air force in the region, especially since it also has a fleet of armed Chinese CH-3, CH-4, and Wing Loong II drones. Its most serious competitor, Chad, has only three Mig-29 SMs and six Su-25s, as well as aircraft leased from South African private military companies.
With this purchase Nigeria will be joining the ranks of countries like Poland, Qatar in terms of advance airforce capability.
Spending whooping sum of €1.2 billion on armament at a time poverty has driven young men into crimes and criminality is not a wise decision. Rather, the concentration should be on how to reduce the grinding poverty in land.