Benin acquires H125M helicopters

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Benin’s Air Force has acquired two H125M helicopters from Airbus and is using them to help combat terrorism in the norther region of the country, where 3 000 soldiers are deployed to counter Islamist extremists.

The two aircraft were delivered on 3 February aboard an Ilyushin Il-76 (UR-ZAR) operated by Zet Avia. Earlier this month they were seen taking part in Operation Mirador, Benin’s counterterror operation in the north of the country. This has been running since last year, and involves the deployment of 3 000 troops as well as aircraft, armoured vehicles and other assets.

Colonel Faizou Gomina, commander of Operation Mirador, said government troops were deployed in the north-west on the border with Burkina Faso and in the north-east on the border with Niger.

Following delivery, the H125s were each fitted with a TC-300 long-range HD electro-optical/infrared camera system and TM-100 full-featured mission mapping and video management unit from Trakka Systems. The US-based company revealed the systems on the H125s would be used for security, surveillance, and search and rescue missions protecting borders, troops, and critical infrastructure in Benin.

“Trakka Systems is pleased to be a part of the Benin Air Force efforts to modernize their fleet of helicopters with its strategic partner Trade Circle Investment Ltd. Trakka Systems strives to deliver exceptional products coupled with astounding customer service,” said Glen Rowling, Vice President of Trakka Systems.

H125M delivery in February 2023.

Benin’s military previously received two AS550 Fennec helicopters in 2020, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The air force has only a few serviceable aircraft in use, namely one Mi-8 helicopter, single DHC-6 and MA600 transports, a couple of Humbert Tétras CSM light aircraft, and a BAe 748 transport.

Very little new military hardware has been acquired until recently, with the exception of six CSK-131 armoured personnel carries from China in 2022, four LH-10 Ellipse trainers from France in 2011-13, three French FPB-98 patrol craft in 2012, six ACMAT APCs in 2016 from France, as well as ten Casspir NG2000 APCS from South Africa in 2013.

In January, the US announced it had delivered a new 10 metre long patrol boat as well as maintenance and launch facilities to Benin to assist it combat piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. The United States has provided boats to Benin previously – in July 2014 Benin’s navy received a Metal Shark boat from the United States to improve maritime security along the coastline of Benin and its neighbours. In 2010, the US donated two Defender Class Boats.

Also in January, Benin received a first batch of eight ex-French VAB armoured vehicles from France, for counter-terrorism and other security tasks. They were to be followed by another seven, equipped with machineguns in overhead turrets and night vision systems.

France has also provided unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), protective equipment, armoured vehicles and other equipment to help Benin fight terrorism in the region.

The recent acquisitions are part of broader efforts to expand the country’s military to combat terrorism. Islamic State of the Greater Sahel and al-Qaida linked Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin have ramped up attacks in the last couple of years, with the country seeing an increase of more than 10 times the number of attacks — from 2 to 25 — between July and December 2022 compared to the same period in 2021, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data project (ACLED).

Attacks were previously limited to Benin’s northern border with Burkina Faso as well as vast tracts of national parks where terrorists are able to hide, organize and stage attacks. Since June 2022, however, militants increasingly have attacked populated areas around the parks. Dozens of soldiers and civilians have been killed – a May 2023 attack killed 13 people.

In a December 2022 state of the nation speech, Beninese President Patrice Talon said the military response in 2022 included more than $130 million to recruit nearly 4 000 security personnel, modernize equipment and begin fortifying bases, while building 10 operating bases and “several dozen” fortified positions. In April 2023, the government announced the recruitment of five thousand new soldiers to step up the fight against terrorism.