Maiduguri Airport: A Focus on Force Protection

The attack on Maiduguri is a good opportunity to expand on force protection measures for large bases. Force protection in Nigeria generally leaves a lot to be desired, with a plethora of improperly constructed, improperly sited and improperly manned security and defensive positions.

Defence relies on several key principles which do not vary for a platoon defending a trench or a battalion defending an airbase. The tactics and procedure needed however, vary depending on the type of force and position.

A strategic target like Maiduguri Airport requires at least 4 defence zones, which although defined in geographic terms are slightly more nuanced, these are;1793007851_ac32d79c69

  • Far
  • Deep
  • Close
  • Rear

Far:  the Far Defence Zone consists of the defenders intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts. Any village, hamlet or built up area surrounding the base or strategic asset up to a defined distance must be known and registered on an intelligence map. This map will have not just physical terrain features but overlays with the human terrain, key leaders, tribes, families, traders, stores of flammable or hazardous goods etc. Overt patrols into these villages/ towns will be used to get a good pattern of life of the inhabitants. Relationships are also built up with people and informants cultivated so if for example there is a build up of strange young men, or someone is buying lots of food and taking to the bush or 300 men drive through the village, they will instantly call into the base.

Covert patrols and observation posts are also used to watch these areas of interest such as villages, access roads, hidden ground etc. If the base in question is surrounded by forests or area impassable to vehicles then patrols are required to go in to these areas on foot. UAV’s and remote cameras if available could also be utilised.

Deep: this zone exists to protect the aircraft that deploy from the airfield from attack, as well as the base itself. This is done by foot and vehicle patrols that operate to the limit of a MANPAD or any other AA weapon that might be in theatre. These patrols are also looking for potential launch sites for mortar or rocket attacks on the base. Using advice from air defence 158_13885045223_2877_nand close support artillery officers about the best places to launch anti air ambushes or launch indirect fire attacks, these patrols move constantly in an irregular and unpredictable pattern around the base. Thus the enemy can never be sure where the patrols are. Key areas for the patrols to cover include; valleys, river beds, built up areas, hills, caves, road junctions, culverts, swamps, bush etc. The main effort is not to be everywhere at once but to keep the enemy from knowing where you will be and also to gain such familiarity with the ground that you can deduce where the enemy will attack from and react quickly

Close: The main effort of this zone is to deny the enemy access to the installation, thus some sort of physical barrier is required. For example with Maiduguri airport a 6-10 foot high earth berm (earthen wall) around the perimeter would not only form a physical barrier but provid800px-thumbnaile protection against direct fire weapons and create a vehicle trap.

Other useful barriers are walls (obviously) but if they are to repel an attack they must be several centimetres thick and reinforced. (mud walls are actually stronger (and cheaper) than concrete walls), oil drums filled with sand, water or rubble can be piled up to make a wall, sandbags, shipping containers,  even old ammo tins filled with sand. Hesco Bastion is obviously the modern bespoke solution to most force protection issues with a product that can literally be dropped from a container and dragged along to form a barrier. As much as possible walls should be topped with barbed/ razor wire.

However an obstacle not covered by fire is not defined as a true obstacle, so the next step is to have guard positions. Guard towers (also known as sangars)  or bunkers, can be purpose built or improvised. Again the ubiquitous Hesco is much used in this regard, or else shipping containers can be piled up as sangars. The key thing about guard towers is that they must be reinforced and protected against direct and indirect fire. This means that they must have a layered construction, chicken wire can be stretched over the front and the apertures to stop grenades getting in and to defeat RPGs. Overhead protection is needed to defend against direct hits from mortars or artillery, sandbags, railway sleepers etc can be used in this regard.

The most important aspect of a guard position is mutual support, its arcs of fire must be what is described as interlocking and overlapping. For example if you have 3 sangars; Sangar A must be able to and cover not only its front but also part of Sangar Bs front, Sangar B must cover its own front and part of A and C, Sangar C must be able to cover itself and Sangar B.Sangar position

This means if one Sangar has been destroyed or is being suppressed the others can still cover part of their position.

Ideally they are equipped with machine guns, some form of communication (radio or field telephones), maps, binoculars etc.

Again the construction of sangars is varied, they can be made from concrete, mud, sandbags, shipping containers piled on top of each other, or the inevitable Hesco Bastion, which can be used to construct sangars and fighting positions.

Thus far we have a physical obstacle covered by observation and interlocking machine gun fire. However there will be parts of the surrounding area that cannot be observed, for this there are remote cameras either on towers or balloons which scan the entire area, with day and night vision cameras. Again not only does this give 360° observation but it also acts as an overt deterrent as the enemy can plainly see there is a camera but have no idea where it is pointing.

Two other elements are command detonated mines such as Claymores, again used to cover hidden ground that the enemy could use to approach but are not clearly visible to the sangars. These areas should have other obstacles like knee level barbed wire entanglements and trip wires connected to flares. Thus if a flare go off the sentry knows the enemy is approaching through that area and detonates the mines. Again although the claymore is the best known, there are other products and these devices can be improvised as the Biafran Ogbunigwe demonstrated.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe final element of the defensive position is indirect fire, such as artillery and mortars. Key areas around the base that would be useful to the enemy as avenues of approach, observation points, forming up points, fire positions etc would be pre registered as targets or defensive fire points. Reference points around the base would be created either from natural or man made features such as hills, junctions, forest lines, bridges streams, buildings etc. If no such natural features exist the defenders would place reference points on the ground themselves such as painted rocks or other markers. The distance and compass bearing to each of these references will be known to the artillery/ mortar positions and to the sangars, thus if an attack is coming through, fire can be easily called on those positions. The final defensive fire positions are just in front of the sangars, thus if the enemy succeeds in getting so close as to overrun the sangars fire is called in and around the friendly positions to preserve the integrity of the base

Rear: this final defence zone consists of the base defence force and the internal force protection measures. The base defence force should be a dedicated infantry (or infantry type) force that mans the sangars (although in most cases they are supplemented by everyone else in the base, such as clerks, cooks etc), provides the area patrols and perimeter clearance patrols and provides a Quick Reaction Force. These clearance patrols move around the external perimeter camp checking there has been no infiltration or attempts at infiltration, checking the walls, reference markers, command detonated minefields, barbed wire and other obstacles etc.

The Quick Reaction Force goes out to assist any patrols are in trouble, reinforce sangars in danger of being overrun and counter infiltrators or attackers who have broken through.

Within the base each area should be physically compartmentalised thus if any part is penetrated or over run it can be isolated. These should ideally be concentric with the HQ and mortars being in the middle, defended by bunkers, sangars etc. This position will generally be the main HPIM0542defended area to which all units will fall back to if being overwhelmed.

Using in Maiduguri as an example the civil and military sections should be physically segregated from each other with blast proof walls, living quarters, mechanic workshops, fuel stores etc should all be physically segregated, with guard posts on them, everyone should have a pass which clarifies where they are allowed to be. Routine pass checks should be implemented, daily clearance patrols must take place internally as well to check the integrity of internal barriers

Key assets such as aircraft, communications, radars, generators, fuel stores, spares parts, armouries etc need to be protected by thick blast proof walls. Ideally fuel and ammunition should be underground, at the minimum protected by blast walls and sandbags

Aircraft need to be parked in reinforced hangers when not about to fly or not undergoing any activity that can’t be performed under cover. They should not be kept in open view within 300m of a wall or any other place someone can get a direct shot with an RPG or rifle at them. They should not be parked in a group but dispersed round the airfield so as to not be taken out in a single artillery barrage or attack.

Everyone in the base will be given a role to play in the event of an attack or an alert, such as reinforcing the sangars, taking up fire positions on the defensive wall, extracting casualties, carrying ammunition, driving ambulances, fire fighting etc.

Rehearsals need to take place regularly so everyone knows what to do in the event of an attack or emergency

downloadAccess to the base will be controlled; obviously people need to get in and out of the base. No base should have only one entrance or exit, there should be at least 2 dedicated entry and exit points, with other emergency ones that can be created by demolishing a wall etc.

These entry points will need to be reinforced with sangars and bunkers, the road leading up to it needs chicanes to prevent vehicles accelerating, areas for searching vehicle and searching people, there should ideally be VCP’s further up the approach roads to screen people coming into the base. All vehicles must be searched coming in, friendly or unknown, in practice friendly vehicles will not be searched but at the minimum vehicle commanders must come and check in, by this process imposters can be identified. The procedures must be heavily emphasised to all concerned as it is very difficult to enforce. I recall as a young soldier having a heavily armed convoy of combined UK/ Afghan special forces arrive at our base, silently with lights off in the dead of night. They had been involved in heavy fighting, taken casualties, were tired and understandably not in the best of moods, it was very difficult to ask them to dismount and search their vehicles! However any convoy approaching a base needs to either make contact by radio or hold at the entrance until given access

Functions of the Defence Zones Under Attack:

Far: the job of the far defence zone is to detect the attack before it happens, either through intelligence, intercepts or analysis. Good intelligence 1793831030_7cc5cfd65fcan give friendly forces a chance to launch a spoiling attack or else beef up defences, with extra manpower or command detonated mines, patrols etc. Deterring attacks is infinitely preferable to defeating them

Deep: if the patrols discover the attackers they will give early warning to the base, call air or artillery onto the enemy or attack them themselves. Of course caution must be exhibited, it would be inadvisable for a 2-4 recce vehicle patrol to attack an armoured company or an 8 man infantry foot patrol to attack 200 vehicle mounted men but with skill and aggression a patrol can harass a superior force and cause casualties and delay. The mere fact that the enemy commander knows there are friendly forces unaccounted for to his rear or flanks and will force him to detail combat power to counter the threat, particularly if they are calling in artillery or air strikes.

1792994833_6b1c7854d4Close: when the enemy attack has gotten close enough to the base for the sangers to observe them, they should either send up flares or call for mortar illumination rounds unless they have night vision devices good enough to detect the extent and direction of the enemy advance and their numbers. They should at that point call in artillery/ mortar fire on the enemy and then engage them with their machine guns once they get within effective range.

If the enemy gets through to the barrier then the command detonated mines should be used.

If the enemy overruns a sangar then the defenders move to a fall back position which could be another sangar to the rear or flanks, (fighting to the last man is wonderful in films but it is an inefficient use of resources) and then counter attack to retake the position. Fire can be called down onto the sangar that has been captured.

Rear: all units within the camp will be at ‘stand to’ positions. The QRF at this point will be moving to retake overrun sangars, extract casualties hescobastion-3and supply ammunition. The defence force will also protect key personnel such as the pilots, ground crew, communications specialists etc. Those not on duty should be taken to a reinforced bunker in armoured vehicles with a dedicated element to guard them.

The priority should be to get the aircraft out of harm’s way as soon as possible. To get to the aircraft,  crews should be moved in a convoy of armoured vehicles, which then park between them and the enemy while the ground crew preps the aircraft, the pilots then take off to either interdict the attackers if they are armed or else to a safe base to either wait out or get re armed and come back and join the fight.

A defensive plan in essence is a series of concentric rings which seeks to defeat the enemy in designated killing zones. A defensive plan must cater for the battle taking place within and without the installation with the attackers being delayed by obstacles and destroyed there by fire. If those rings are overwhelmed, the defenders fall back to the next rearward position to launch counter attacks. This continues until the defenders are overwhelmed or the attackers are defeated. The constant local counter attacks to regain lost sangars also delays the enemy and forces them on the defensive, holding up their momentum and depleting their supplies.

If each of the zones is overwhelmed, the defenders fall back until they reach the main defended area, at this point there is no more falling back and they will fight until the enemy is defeated or reinforcements turn up or they are completely over run. Unless one is facing a vastly superior force with overwhelming fire support this is very unlikely to happen.

Conclusion:

Force protection is an intricate layered tasking and frankly quite boring especially at large bases that are infrequently attacked with lots of underemployed officers and sergeant majors looking for someone to shout at. However the importance of all those miserable late night guard duties, insistence on passes, vehicle controls, irritating walls blocking the direct route from the accommodation to the showers or dining facility rapidly become apparent when the sirens start wailing.

Defenders need to look at their base through the eyes of their enemy and defend it at that level. The biggest threat to a well defended base is infiltration or indirect fire, a poorly defended base will be overrun.

For defence to be effective it needs to be aggressive and proactive. The defenders need to be actively seeking the enemy in order to deter them or bring them to a fight on their own terms.

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About peccavi

A Nigerian with interests in defence, security, geopolitics, the military particularly small unit tactics, COIN, stabilisation and asymmetric warfare
This entry was posted in Counter insurgency, Defence, Nigeria Defence, Nigeria Strategy, Terrorism, Uncategorized, West Africa Defence, West Africa Strategy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Maiduguri Airport: A Focus on Force Protection

  1. Mike says:

    Good write up sir

  2. colonel says:

    excellent. please and please, somebody should get this to the militery in maiduguri

  3. camouflage1984 says:

    Splendid

  4. GOK says:

    please you pro should help us fight this BH boys

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