Foreign military operations are believed to have commenced in Chibok, Borno state to recue the 275 female students abducted on April 14th by members of Boko Haram, with the arrival of the UK’s Sentinel R.1 ASTOR aircraft in Ghana, from where it will fly missions over the heartland of the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, some 1,500 km to the northeast. Source.
A Raytheon Sentinel R.1 Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) aircraft of the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) deployed to West Africa on 18 May to join the international effort in the rescue mission.
The dispatch of the aircraft from its base at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire followed a regional heads of government security summit in Paris on 17 May to co-ordinate military and intelligence responses to the continuing Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria.
The Sentinel R.1 is to be based at Kotoka International Airport in Ghana’s capital Accra for the mission over Nigeria, which is 5 (AC) Squadron’s third over Africa since 2011.
Senior UK military sources told IHS Jane’s on 18 May that the aircraft and a ground liaison element would be integrated into the international intelligence, surveillance, targeting, acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) campaign being developed to counter Boko Haram’s operations.
A UK liaison team led by Brigadier Ivan Jones, the head of the UK’s Joint Force Operations Headquarters has since arrived in the Nigerian capital Abuja. The brigadier, whose headquarters is held at high readiness to deploy to crisis zones at short notice, described in a media interview how his team was working with Nigeria and other countries to develop an “information picture” of the area where Boko Haram operates.
The UK deployment followed the arrival in Abuja of a 30-strong team from US Africa Command (AFRICOM) on 6 May.
US Air Force (USAF) Beechcraft MC-12W Liberty aircraft based at Niamey in Niger began flying over northern Nigeria on 12 May, according to US government sources. They were joined by USAF Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flying from US Naval Air Station Sigonella on Sicily. The USAF also bases General Atomics MQ-1 Predator UAVs at Naimey but there have been no reports to date of them participating in operations over Nigeria.
President Francois Hollande announced at the 17 May conference that French aircraft in the region would be available to join the operation.
The French Air Force is well placed to intervene from its large base at N’Djamena in Chad, which is close to the Boko Haram heartland. French aircraft at the base include a detachment of Dassault Rafale and Dassault Mirage 2000 fighters, as well as Boeing KC-135FR tankers. A pair of French General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper UAVs also deployed to Niamey in January this year, putting them within range of northern Nigeria.
UK military sources say the international advisors have established two distinct co-ordination hubs or cells in Abuja. One is embedded into the Nigerian army headquarters in Abuja to assist in developing land operations against Boko Haram. The other – led by the United States, United Kingdom, and France – is focused on building the information picture of the crisis zone and co-ordinating airborne ISTAR, satellite imagery, and signals intelligence assets to best effect.
The airborne ISTAR assets now in theatre give commanders a combination of ground moving target indictor (GMTI) radar to provide wide area surveillance with a mix of synthetic aperture radar and electro-optical sensors for close-in target identification.
The overall air operation is being co-ordinated by AFRICOM’s air component at Ramstein Airbase in Germany.