The Tucano Planes Purchase: No Lessons Learnt From History, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
The bad in the purchase of the Super Tucanos is that the conditions attached to the procurement are very similar to the conditions the British attached to the Jaguar jets bought by Shagari, and which made the then General Muhammadu Buhari cancel the delivery of the remaining jets. The agreement did not ensure the transfer of know-how in the maintenance of the jets…
It is important to provide our military the needed equipment to protect Nigeria’s sovereignty and guarantee the safety of life and property of citizens. It is also understood that modern military technology must be deployed in the battlefield. The technology, theory, strategy and tactics of air combat have changed, and so have the way intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) are engaged in. In 1983, President Shehu Shagari ordered 18 Jaguar jets from Britain. The purchase agreement entered into by the Shagari administration stipulated that the jets were to be used only for defensive purposes or Nigeria would be denied the spare parts and technical support. Furthermore, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) must not resell nor transfer the jets to a another country without the approval of the House of Commons, the United Kingdom (UK) Ministry of Defence and British Aerospace, now referred to as BAe Systems. Under the pretext that Nigeria could invade it’s neighbours, the request to configure the Jaguar jets for in-flight refuelling tankers was turned down, and the option of purchasing advanced weapons to enhance the strike capabilities of the Jaguar jets also denied. All the expensive jets could do at the time was to drop iron bombs that follow a ballistic trajectory, with no guidance system.
The scandalous, lopsided nature of the purchase contract and the international politics of arms transfer in the mid-1980s ensured the Jaguar jets had the shortest service life in the history of the Nigerian Air Force. When the technical support agreement expired, it was not renewed. The British shut down the Jaguar assembly line shortly after. In 2007, when the Jaguar Jets were displayed for inspection by prospective buyers, one of the Jaguar B TRAINERs had been flown for only 150 hours, 54 minutes since it was manufactured in December 1984. Its 100 hours inspection was done on the February 10, 1986. Some did not fly at all, and are still there in delivery crates, mothballed. The legal condition on the Jaguar jets remains binding till date, despite the Jaguar no longer being in service, except in India. India is the only country still flying the jets and has the only maintenance facility that can undertake repair work on them. At the inspection, BAe officials said they will consider repurchasing the planes at the purchase price or a lower value than what Nigeria spent on their acquisition.
In 2015, relations betwern Nigeria and the United States deteriorated because the latter, citing human rights abuses by the Nigerian army, refused to sell the Cobra attack helicopters badly needed to fight Boko Haram to Nigeria. For a man facing political headwinds due to renewed attacks from a resurgent Boko Haram and the deadly herdsmen, the Tucano deal would have been a potent political boost. The National Assembly was sidetracked, many people complained about the price tag and the purchase agreement was lopsided against Nigeria yet again. It is understandable that Nigerians ignored the lament of the National Assembly because they see them as power mongers whose concerns are their fat entitlements, aiding corruption and subverting the judicial process.
It is imperative that future airplanes and military hardware purchases should also be backed up by first class in-country maintenance facilities and support structures. We need to learn from past mistakes and stop repeating this, over and again.
The NAF, like their counterparts the world over, has learnt a lot of lessons on modern air combat from the wars in the Gulf, Iraq, the Falklands, Bosnia, and the battle with ISIS in Syria. The Super Tucano price depends on the level of customisation. The U.S. variant Tucano is well sought after primarily because of the P&WC PT6A-68C engines have a long history of reliability in both civil and military applications. It bears the United States proprietary avionics and weapon system, and comes with different levels of technology, versatility, performance and cost-efficiency. The Tucano is a good platform for countering low insurgency and internal threats. It is also a good platform for training pilots before allowing them to fly advance jets. Nigeria has never had such electronically sophisticated air platform in its history. The Super Tucano features impressive avionics, superb defensive systems and can carry air-to-air missiles, laser-guided bombs, anti-tank missiles and 20-millimeter gun pods. Most importantly, the Super Tucano costs just $1,000 per flight hour to operate, and can fly in hot and humid climates. For the first time in the history of the NAF, the Tucano will give them the capability to do ISR and strike from one platform by reducing costs and increasing reaction time.
The bad in the purchase of the Super Tucanos is that the conditions attached to the procurement are very similar to the conditions the British attached to the Jaguar jets bought by Shagari, and which made the then General Muhammadu Buhari cancel the delivery of the remaining jets. The agreement did not ensure the transfer of know-how in the maintenance of the jets, and ranks up there in the history of the NAF as one of the worst deals ever signed. It is imperative that future airplanes and military hardware purchases should also be backed up by first class in-country maintenance facilities and support structures. We need to learn from past mistakes and stop repeating this, over and again.