By Madu Onuorah
It was claims and clarifications following last Thursdaya��s commissioning by President Muhammadu Buhari of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) a�?first indigenouslya�? manufactured Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).
The confusion over the commissioning was because on December 17, 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan launched with fanfare, Nigeria’s a�?first locallya�? manufactured UAV in the same location at the NAF Base, Kaduna.
It also turned out that the UAV that was unveiled was procured through partnership between the NAF and UAVision of Portugal.
President Buhari triggered the confusion when he said that the launch was the a�?induction of the Nigerian Air Force Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, a�?TSAIGUMI,a�� Nigeriaa��s first indigenously developed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.a�?
Obviously, the Presidenta��s proclamation threw up unending questions of what to believe – was Nigeriaa��s first indigenously developed UAV launched last Thursday or on 17th December, 2013. Were the two UAVs locally produced or assembled here in Nigeria?
Realising the raging controversy and confusion the a�?first locally produced UAVa�? was generating, The Presidency @NGRPresident later that Thursday clarified its earlier position, saying that a�?Tsaigumi, the UAV inducted into service today is the first OPERATIONAL indigenous UAV developed by @NigAirForce. The earlier-produced Amebo and Gulma were UAV prototypes that did not go into operationa�?.
The NAF spokesman, Air Vice Marshal Olatokunbo Adesanya, also clarified in a press statement to a select media houses, that a�?the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), on 15th February, 2018, inducted the first indigenous operational Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) nicknamed, Tsaigumi.
a�?The Tsaigumi UAV, which was produced by NAF Aerospace Engineers in collaboration with UAVision of Portugal, would be used for Intelligence Surveillance and Recognisance (ISR) operations in land and sea domains.
a�?The UAV, which is capable of day and night operations, has an operational endurance in excess of 10 hours, a service ceiling of 15,000 feet and a mission radius of 100km. It has a maximum take-off weight of 95kg and its payload is an electro-optic/infra-red camera systema�?.
On further inquiries, the NAF spokesman told The AUTHORITY that a�?in summary, Gulma UAV of 2013, was the first indigenous UAV, while Tsaigumi UAV is the first indigenous OPERATIONAL UAV.
a�?Tsaigumi has been inducted into service and is being deployed for operations, for which Gulma was not designeda�?.
Asked to confirm the story that the UAV was procured from Portugal, AVM Adesanya stated that, a�?it is not true sir. The workshop is at NAF Base, Kaduna.
a�?It is unfortunate that some Nigerians could be like this. (It is) demoralising for those young men who worked for days and nights (on the project)a�?.
But later in another press statement sent to a select media houses later on Friday, AVM Adesanya stated: a�?It has become necessary to clarify certain misconceptions, which followed the announcement by the NAF, of the induction of its first indigenous operational UAV by President Buhari.
a�?To set the record straight, while GULMA UAV is indeed the NAFa��s first indigenous UAV, the newly inducted TSAIGUMI UAV is the first indigenous OPERATIONAL UAV.
a�?NAFa��s foray into UAV development commenced in 2008, when its student officers, who were undergoing postgraduate studies in aerospace engineering programmes at Cranfield University, UK, chose UAV development as their research project.
a�?The student officers produced the AMEBO UAV as part of their project and it had neither autopilot nor Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability.
a�?By 2013, the NAF developed an experimental UAV, codenamed GULMA, which was then unveiled as the first indigenous UAV. It is noteworthy that Gulma UAV was a technology demonstrator used to gather performance data on UAV systems.
a�?Consequently, in September 2015, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, directed the NAFa��s R&D Team to build an operational UAV, codenamed TSAIGUMI to be used in the North East zone and other theatres of operation in Nigeria.
a�?The data gathered from the Gulma prototype was subsequently applied in the design of the operational UAV, known as Tsaigumi, and inducted into service on 15th February, 2018.
a�?Although the Tsaigumi UAV was manufactured at the Air Force Research and Development Centre at NAF Base, Kaduna, the Team had to collaborate with an overseas facility to produce the moulds.
a�?Tsaigumi UAV, which is capable of day and night operations, has an operational endurance in excess of 10 hours, a service ceiling of 15,000 feet and a mission radius of 100km. It has a maximum take-off weight of 80kg and its payload comprises an electro-optical infrared camera system as well as weapon hard points.
a�?The Tsaigumi UAV, whose engine sound is muffled, has a state of the art encrypted communication system. It has a wingspan of 5.5metres and is able to gather real time weather information.
a�?On the contrary, the Gulma UAV has an operational endurance of 4 hours, a service ceiling of 5,000 feet and could not be operated beyond 20km. It has a maximum take-off weight of 40kg and its payload is an electro-optical camera system only.
a�?The Gulma UAV, whose engine sound is not muffled, relies on direct radio frequency communication system with attendant limitations. The Gulma has a wingspan of 4.4 metres and relies on Air Traffic Control for weather information.
a�?Besides, while the Gulma UAV has an imported autopilot, the operational Tsaigumi UAV has an in-house developed autopilot.
a�?Tsaigumi UAV is thus a much more advanced and operationalized version of the earlier produced Amebo and Gulma UAV prototypesa�?.
But there was nowhere in the Presidenta��s widely circulated speech that the partnership with the Portuguese firm or that any other UAV had been unveiled before, was mentioned, triggering speculations that last Thursdaya��s launch was meant to be sold to him and unsuspecting Nigerians that it was not only the first, but also locally produced UAV.
Actually, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and UAVision of Portugal have a subsisting partnership.
On 05 October, 2016, the NAF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the UAVision of Portugal aimed at enhancing existing collaboration between the two for local production of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in Nigeria.
A source told The AUTHORITY that a�?the worry is that from the time of Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh as the Chief of the Air Staff, the NAF first indigenous UAV project has become a cash cow.
a�?The reality was that the Service collected huge sum of money and organized a fake launching to fool President Jonathan because as at that time, there was not any UAV on ground.
a�?Now, President Buhari is being fooled again, as this indigenous UAV was brought from Portugal. Yes, this particular UAV was procured from Portugal.
a�?While it was partly assembled in Portugal and brought in whole, the rest were assembled at the NAF Base, Kaduna.
a�?So, there is nothing like Nigeria manufacturing an UAV or the country making any headway in launching an indigenous drone.
a�?The truth is that the NAF has an ongoing UAV project but it is not being funded. Instead, the NAF goes abroad, purchases a finished product and organises a launch as locally produced.
a�?The nation would have been spared all these explanations if the NAF and President Buhari had stuck to the truth that this is just a launch of another UAV and not touting it as Nigeriaa��s first indigenously developed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. It is the claims and language that Nigerians were confused abouta�?.
Sources also said that under Badeh, the federal government released $100 million to the NAF for the Gulma. It is not yet clear the cost of the newly launched first indigenously produced UAV.
On Tuesday, December 17, 2013, former President Jonathan unveiled the a�?first indigenously produced Surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)a�? by the Nigeria Air Force.
Named GULMA, it was touted to be deployed in fighting terrorism and other sophisticated crimes through enhanced air surveillance.
The then Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, said that the Nigerian Air Force spent between $2million to $3million to train the 11 pilots that will operate the UAVs. Till date, not much is known of the utilisation of these pilots.
The then Supervisory Minister of Defence, Mr. Labaran Maku, explained that the 40 kilogramme unmanned aerial vehicle is designed to pick objects 10,000 feet above sea level and that its history commenced in 2007 when the Nigerian Air Force introduced a 5-year manpower development programme in Aerospace engineering in collaboration with Cranfield University based in the United Kingdom.
At Thursdaya��s launch, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar stated that having achieved enhanced ISR capability, the next step for the NAF is to perfect the development of another UAV nicknamed a�?Ichokua�?, which would be the first indigenous Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV).
By Madu Onuorah