Boosting local capacity in military wares, hi-tech

As key manufacturers of military equipment and wares scaled down operations, no thanks to the global pandemic, reports that Nigerian military has looked inwards to get spare parts and technology needed to keep its fleet active in order to sustain ongoing battles against criminals.

For players in the Nigerian defence industry, the COVID-19 pandemic may have been a blessing in disguise. The reason is not far-fetched. The Nigerian military, especially the Air Force that is a key player in the ongoing counter-terrorism, anti-banditry and all other security operations across the country is sourcing local contents.

With its fleets of aircraft and helicopters always deployed for one operation or the other, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) needs to have handy, spare parts for repairs as well as upgrade its technologies, necessities the service has not been able to access since the COVID-19 pandemic that restricted logistics supplies as well as forced manufacturers of military hardware in Europe, America and Asia to either suspend operations or scale down operation.

Confronted with the realities of not having these parts delivered when needed vis-a-vis the depreciating value of the naira that will mean paying more than three times the original price of these items; the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, last week, delegated a team of experts to tour indigenous engineering/manufacturing company, Tranos Nigeria Limited for possible collaboration on the production of spare parts for the service.

The team, led by the Commandant, Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), Kaduna, Air Vice-Marshal (AVM) Abdulganiyu Olabisi, also had Chief of Standards and Evaluation, AVM Remigius Ekeh; Chief of Aircraft Engineering, AVM Musibau Olatunji; Director Research and Development, AVM Paul Jemitola; Chief of Staff, Logistics Command Ikeja, AVM Cosmas Ozougwu; Director Public Relations and Information (DOPRI) Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola; Principal Staff Officer (PSO) Coordination, AFIT, Air Commodore Abdullahi Shinkafi; Commander 301 Heavy Airlift Group, Ikeja, Air Commodore Mike Onyebashi; Senior Researcher, AFIT, Flight Lieutenant Nkemdilim Ofodile and Head, Department, Aerospace Engineering, AFIT, Ameer Mohammed.

Emphasising that Research and Development was major focus of the NAF under Abubakar, Olabisi noted that the service was currently in partnership with at least 30 institutions to boost Nigeria’s technological base as a veritable tool for national development in line with the focus of the Federal Government which prioritises promotion of local content, homegrown technology and innovation as principal means of improving the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.

Addressing reporters after the inspection of facilities at Tranos, Daramola said the partnership was another logical step in developing indigenous solutions to technological challenges of the NAF which is a highly technologically-driven force.

“Given the COVID-19 pandemic, there have also been a number of restrictions placed on air travel that have affected the logistics supply chain in terms of spares and that has driven us to look more inwards for solutions to these issues. Right now, there are problems. Even the factories, the original equipment manufacturers have scaled down in terms of production. So, that will be a problem.

“For Nigeria to be able to move forward and the Nigerian Airforce to make sure it is self-sufficient; we need to look more inwards for solutions. That is why partnerships such as these will come into place to be able to give us solutions that are cost-effective and realistic; that will make self-sufficiency realised not just for the Nigerian Airforce but also for the Nigerian nation,” he said.

On why the NAF chose that particular firm, Ibikunle said Tranos has inherent capabilities in terms of engineering and manufacturing that have to do with metal, telecommunications and production of enclosures; very specific areas the service was interested in.

“We will continue to collaborate with them to come out with specific areas of needs they will work with us to get the solutions we require. The idea is that we will also be able to transfer technology so that there will be a training component that will bring some of our personnel, technicians and engineers here and undergo training, to be able to replicate this ourselves in some of our own machine tools workshops,” he said.

Aside Tranos, the NAF has partnered companies such as Ibeto and Innoson for the production of batteries, and break pad respectively for the Alpha jet. There are also other companies involved in the modification of the Indian-made rockets for Alpha jets which enabled the utilisation of the huge stock of rockets worth millions of dollars that would have been decommissioned and destroyed.

Others are the production of the hydraulic accumulator diaphragm for the autopilot system of the Mi-35 Helicopter, the manufacture of portable battery cart for the Augusta Helicopter fleet and modification of the F-7Ni battery compartment for compatibility with batteries made in Pakistan as well as the repair and calibration of the missile tester for the F-7Ni fighter aircraft.

A further breakdown of the breakthroughs recorded include the production of 500 units of Alpha-Jet bomb release-cartridges, production and test firing of prototype stand-alone Intervalometer, the achievement of  100 per cent success in overhauling Alpha Jets Brakes assembly in collaboration with INNOSON Vehicle Manufacturing Company, in Nnewi, design of  fuse for aircraft bombs, product of prototype 250kg bombs, re-militarisation of A-Jet aircraft acquired from the USA, repair of units of 68mm SNEB rockets and 7.62mm ammunition to enhance weapon availability and production of Power Converter Test Bench.

These modest achievements within such a record time may seem insignificant but to the airmen whose machines have been grounded several times for lack of these ‘small items’ this was no mean feat.

In addition, the NAF’s foremost Air Force Institute of Technology was given a boost with the injection of the unrelenting ‘NAF egg heads’ made up of an array of world-class engineers under the optimisation of local engineering scheme. These initiatives were done to ensure result-oriented research and development.

Engineers refurbish moribund NNS ARADU

Like the NAF, the Nigerian Navy (NN) is advancing its quest for self-reliance with the latest being the successful repair and maintenance of the country’s flagship, NNS ARADU by a team of engineers at the Naval Dockyard Limited (NDL), Victoria Island.

The feat, which was recorded several years after the anti-air, anti-surface and anti-submarine electronic warfare ship went aground and was written off by even its German manufacturers, Blohm & Voss, may be deployed in operations against maritime crimes should the transfer of technology rights being sought by the NN is granted.

NNS ARADU developed mechanical faults in 2005 after a port call in Senegal on her way back from the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in the United Kingdom (UK) where it joined other naval forces to honour the Royal Navy’s Admiral Nelson. Since then, the first MEKO 360 general-purpose frigate became unfit for international missions and operations.

As days passed, the warship became an eyesore at a private jetty around Niger Bus Stop in Apapa Wharf and started taking in water such that successive administrations and NN leadership debated her fate. The German manufacturers were contacted and they told Nigeria it would cost five times the price of a new warship to revive NNS ARADU.

Their reason was that the ship’s technology was long outdated since it was built in 1980. They explained that the communication systems,  40/70mm Breda Bofor, 127/54mm Otomelara, Aspide/albatross missile, Otomat missile, triple tube Torpedo A244/S, multi-purpose rocket launcher cells would need to be replaced by the latest technology, for the warship to become operational.

The manufacturers also said NNS ARADU must be returned to their dock in Hamburg, Germany for proper refitting; an exercise that would cost the country millions in foreign exchange.

Though the position of the manufacturers at the time made the authorities to consider decommissioning the flagship; powerful Nigerians with a sentimental attachment to NNS ARADU opposed the move and recommended local efforts be deployed to salvage her.

Some argued that she should be converted into a training ship for young and prospective officers while others said NNS ARADU deserved a place as a national monument.

But with the ingenuity of the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Vice-Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas and the can-do spirit of naval engineers at the NDL, NNS ARADU was, last year, moved to the dock where the repairs commenced with de-flooding and then re-plating the base.

To the amazement of industry players, the navy has released pictures of a successfully-refitted NNS ARADU being undocked and moved to the NNS BEECROFT jetty in Apapa.

Checks by The Nation revealed that the warship which was refitted to meet contemporary security challenges has been reclassified as an Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) and will resume sailing once the electronic card being expected from the original manufacturers were fitted.

According to the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Western Naval Command (WNC) Rear Admiral Oladele Daji, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down works on the ship as the German manufactures suspended their operations.

“We are waiting for delivery of some electronic cards from Germany. This is because ARADU was built in 1980 and inaugurated in 1982. So, most of its technologies are outdated. We have been talking with them.

“Initially, because of COVID-19, they suspended operations but they are opening up gradually and said they need to come and see what we have done. They are the manufacturers and own these technologies. So, we do not want Intellectual Property issues.

“The good thing about the repair is that we involved classification society. We are enrolling her as an OPV not a frontline frigate anymore. Some of the armaments/missiles and capabilities that made her a frontline frigate are no longer functional. We did not replace those ones because they are very expensive and we are not fighting wars for now.

“ARADU was the first of its kind in the world. After that, there were 32 others from her class. Out of them, only ARADU and another one in Argentina Navy are still around,” he said.