Yesterday, an unidentified Beechcraft Super King Air 350 ISR aircraft from a base in Niamey, Niger conducted a surveillance flight from Niger to Nigeria in search of abducted school children.
On 11 December, gunmen attacked a secondary school in Kankara, a town in Nigeria’s northwestern Katsina state, and abducted more than 300 schoolboys.
The next day, the Nigerian Armed Forces said they have found the gang’s hideout in a forest and exchanged gunfire with them. Over 300 school children are still missing, as of 13 December.
The Beechcraft 350 ISR aircraft that took off from Niamey flew a straight line to the east of Kano state in Nigeria, and circling the airspace for over 10 hours.
The aircraft was tracked using open-source intelligence (OSINT) tools, even though it blocked it’s Mode-S tracking to hide it’s identity.
According to security reporter and analyst Murtala Abdullahi, the mysterious Beechcraft Super King Air 350i conducting a long ISR flight over Zamfara-Katsina Border area.
“The aircraft was over Zango-Pauwa forest axis. Earlier today a US DOD Beechcraft left Agadez towards Mali,” he said via Twitter.
Subsequently, on 14 December, the Beechcraft 350 aircraft then flew to Mopti Mali, through the Chadian airspace and carried out three ISR missions in Northern Mali.
France maintains a large military presence in various countries in these part of the continent, particularly in Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania are major partners of France and the United States in counter-terrorism efforts in Africa.
Following an agreement with the Niger government, the air force base 101 of Niamey became a permanent intelligence gathering hub for French and U.S. forces since 2013.
French activities in the region is centred around Operation Barkhane, an ongoing anti-insurgent operation started on August 1, 2014 which is led by the French military against Islamist groups in Africa’s Sahel region.
It consists of a roughly 5,000-strong French force, which is permanently headquartered in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad.
The Nigerian Air Force also possess three of this type of aircraft, also configured for ISR missions, as well as two ATR-42 MPA aircraft for longer range ISR operations.
Whichever nation owns the mystery Beechcraft Super King 350 aircraft, there will most likely be an airspace deconfliction agreement between Nigeria, France, the United States, Chad and Niger. Since all parties involved in the anti-terror operation owns their own ISR aircraft fleet.
Although at the moment, Nigeria lacks a credible aerial denial and air defence architecture to challenge any foreign violation of its airspace as all but two of its frontline fighter jets are currently undergoing deep maintenance in China.