The United States formally handed over to Chad two Cessna C-208B light reconnaissance aircraft intended to help its forces fight a jihadist insurgency.
The two single-engine planes were officially transferred to the Chadian air force in a ceremony at its base outside the capital N’Djamena on Wednesday, May 2.
The planes were delivered in December 2017 and have since been used for pilot training.
The U.S. has also helped to build shelters and maintenance areas for Chadian aircraft, after a windstorm in 2017 damaged air force facilities.
Together, the donated equipment and work amount to $43 million, said U.S. ambassador Geeta Pasi, who attended the ceremony.
Samantha Reho, a spokesperson for U.S. Africa Command, told The Defense Post that the U.S. has “a robust relationship with Chad consisting primarily of security force assistance, such as counterterrorism training and border security, and that assistance amounted to $135.5 million between 2015 and 2017.
“This ongoing and future assistance includes training and equipping Chadian forces to improve their counter-IED, riverine/small boat, and information sharing capabilities,” Reho added.
“Additionally, the U.S., along with our U.K. and French partners, shares information with and provides planning assistance through a network of liaisons to the Multinational Joint Task Force, headquartered in N’Djamena, Chad,” Reho said.
The MNJTF includes forces from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria and fights Boko Haram and Islamic State – West Africa province in the Lake Chad region.
Reho told The Defense Post that “U.S. contractors are providing initial and periodic refresher training for Chadian pilots, operators, and maintainers in Chad,” and some Chadian personnel also received initial training in the United States.
“U.S. contractor and military personnel will also be providing on-site maintenance and logistics support for the aircraft throughout FY18,” Reho added.
In January, eight airmen from the U.S. Air Force’s 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron undertook a two-week program in Chad to advise, train and assist 40 Chadian Air Force personnel with intelligence surveillance reconnaissance, aircraft maintenance, logistics, and security anti-terrorism at Adjikossei Air Base in N’Djamena.
According to the U.S. Air Force, portions of the training included training the Chadian personnel in how to train their own instructors.
“It’s a bush plane that’s been used to build an ISR platform for the Chadian Air Force,” U.S. Air Force Major Matthew Harvey, the training team mission commander said at the time. “Our Airmen are here to help them understand the systems that they have, give them advice on exactly how to utilize those systems and training, assisting, and assessing of all of the communication equipment that has been delivered for this ISR package.”
The aircraft are fitted with L3 Wescam MX-15 cameras which can support up to six sensors simultaneously, and blend electro-optical and Infrared imagery.
C-208 aircraft are increasingly used in counter-insurgency operations around the world, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the AC-208 attack variant is used to deliver munitions.
According to the latest SIGAR report, the Afghan Air Force’s 24 C-208s flew 1,479 sorties between January and March, the second highest number for all its airframes.
Certified for production in 1984, the Cessna C-208 Caravan is a light turbo-prop-powered plane developed as a short-haul regional airliner and utility aircraft.
The basis for the AC-208, the C-208B Grand Caravan variant is 1.2 m (4 feet) longer than the standard model and is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-114A engine.
The Chadian Air Force aircraft were ordered in May 2016. The U.S. Defense Department notification did not specify the number of aircraft to be purchased, but the contract included supply to Cameroon, Niger and the Philippines as well as Chad.
In February, a Cameroonian military officer told Jane’s that two C-208s had arrived in the country, and a U.S. official confirmed the aircraft were donated. The officer said that Cameroonian Air Force personnel had trained in the U.S. throughout 2017.
Africom’s Reho confirmed that Cameroon has received two C-208s, and that Cameroonian airmen are training in the U.S.
“Several members of the Cameroonian air force are in different stages and levels of training across a few military bases in the United States,” Reho told The Defense Post, adding that the training includes operational instruction as well as maintenance and sustainment, and logistics.
In March this year, the U.S. Air Force outlined plans to acquire 22 more AC-208s to provide to allies to use for armed surveillance missions, Flight Global reported. The aircraft are to be fitted with BAE Systems’ Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System guided rockets as well as the MX-15 sensor with a laser designator.
A vast, poor country in central-northern Africa, Chad is struggling with a jihadist insurgency that has spilled over from neighboring Nigeria.
The country is allied with the United States in anti-terror operations, authorizing the U.S. military to have a drone unit, according to a Chadian military official.
However, relations were troubled last year when President Donald Trump unexpectedly slapped a travel ban on Chadian nationals – one of six mainly Muslim countries to be so affected.
The ban on Chadians was to be lifted on April 13 after Chad “raised its security standards,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced last month.
The former U.S. secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said during a trip to N’Djamena in March that Chad had made steps “to strengthen the control over its own passports, to strengthen the information-sharing.”
On Monday, Trump, meeting visiting Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, said he was prepared to sell Nigeria helicopters in addition to a dozen A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft as part of its counter-insurgency campaign.
With reporting from AFP
This post was updated on May 4 with comments from U.S. Africa Command