President Trump has made defeating violent Islamist terrorism, not just ISIS but Al Qaeda and the global skein of killer insurgents, a top priority. There are reports that a new strategy for taking on ISIS will be unveiled shortly. Whatever the administration comes up with, ISIS is only part of the problem. The United States is in a global struggle involving multiple terrorist groups and an array of allies and coalition partners with different capabilities. Dealing with this challenge demands a sophisticated, yet nuanced strategy.
A central tenet of any approach to combating global Islamist terrorism must be empowering regional allies. Many of them have poorly trained, equipped, led and supported militaries and security services. This means a focus on any strategy must be to increase allies’ and partners’ capacities to conduct counter-insurgency operations. Proper training for both soldiers/police and officers is the most important way of increasing local capacity to deal with terrorism. But the appropriate equipment comes in a close second. This includes such items as armored security vehicles, body armor, counter-IED systems and night vision googles.
One critical capability almost universally needed by counter-insurgency forces is airpower. However, most modern high-performance combat aircraft, certainly those produced by the United States, are a challenge for many partner countries to operate and maintain. In the hands of indigenous pilots, there is a real risk of missing their intended targets and even causing collateral damage. What these partners need is a slow, stable, reliable and easy way to maintain ground attack/ISR platform.
Consider the A-29 Super Tucano from Sierra Nevada Corporation and Embraer. The propeller-driven, tandem-seat Super Tucano is a perfect fit for environments common to so many counter-insurgency fights. It is a relatively straightforward, sturdy aircraft, able to operate from austere airfields, easy to fly, and simple and cheap to maintain. The A-29 was originally designed for partner countries, with some fifteen being provided to the Afghan Air Force and six to Lebanon. The A-29 currently carries export compliant electro-optical sensors, modern avionics, a laser target designator and a wide variety of precision munitions.
Nigeria has asked to buy twelve A-29s. This country is in a deadly struggle with one of the most vicious ISIS-affiliated groups, Boko Haram. Nigeria lacks the appropriate aircraft to conduct ground attack/ISR operations over the heavily forested terrain in which Boko Haram operates. The A-29 is the perfect aircraft for Nigeria. Moreover, unlike some partners in the fight against violent Islamist extremism, Nigeria will pay for the aircraft, rather than asking for grants from the United States. The right adversary, the right aircraft and self-financed; this is the proverbial hat trick for President Trump.
After being left in limbo by the Obama administration, the Trump State Department has an opportunity to move the Nigerian A-29s forward quickly. Given the new administration’s commitment to defeating ISIS and all its affiliates, this makes sense. Efforts to coerce Nigeria on other issues by withholding these aircraft is the wrong strategy. The State Department should approve this sale.
The A-29 has proven itself to be a premier counter-insurgency/ISR platform. It has already logged more than 600,000 flying hours and 200,000 operational hours in a wide range of environments. The A-29 is assembled in the United States where the engines and all the avionics, sensors and other electronics are stuffed in the basic, Embraer-provided airframe.
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