The United States has handed over a new C-130 Hercules hangar to the Nigerien Air Force at Air Base 201 near Agadez. Niger will be receiving ex-US C-130 aircraft later this year.
US Africa Command (Africom) said the hangar was handed over on 22 January.
“We have shared goals of security in the region,” said US Air Force Brigadier General Steven deMilliano, deputy director of strategy, engagement, and programmes directorate for US Africa Command. “This milestone ceremony marks an advancement of our partners’ air capabilities by providing baseline infrastructure for their incoming aircraft, which ultimately lays the groundwork for increased organic air mobility to better support operations within the region.”
The construction of the hangar was funded by the Department of State and was forged by approximately 90 Agadez citizens and other international workers within a year. The hanger itself is comprised of 58 tons of steel and includes an engine maintenance room, supply storage, training area, battery, and tool rooms.
“This hangar, which will not only boost the operational capabilities of the Nigerien Armed Forces by allowing the deployment of C-130 flights, but will also strengthen joint actions between the Nigerien and US forces,” said Colonel Abdoul Kader Amirou, deputy chief of staff for the Nigerien Air Force, during his remarks.
The hangar will ultimately shelter up to two C-130 transport aircraft, recently purchased by the Nigerien Air Force from the United States.
Since 2016, the US has invested more than $60 million in “total package support” to Niger’s C-130 programme that will include a team of maintainers and training fuel upon arrival of the first aircraft later this spring, Africom said.
“We fully recognize the efforts Niger is undertaking to confront these threats and commend the Nigerien Defence and Security Forces for their commitment and daily contributions to defending Niger and combating violent extremist organizations,” said Ambassador Eric P Whitaker, US Ambassador to Niger.” “We will continue to actively engage with regional partners, including ECOWAS and G5 Sahel members, to enable African solutions to shared security issues.”
According to the US Excess Defence Articles (EDA) database, the United States offered an ex-US Air Force WC-130H Hercules aircraft to Niger in October 2015. In 2016, a wing set worth $1.3 million for a C-130 was accepted by Niger. However, it is not clear if this is for the WC-130H or Niger’s sole surviving C-130H (the country bought two new C-130Hs which were delivered in 1979 but one crashed in April 1997, killing 14 people).
Other aircraft in Niger’s transport fleet include two Dornier Do 28/228s, a Boeing 737-200 and a couple of Cessna Caravans. Diamond DA 42 and ULM Tetra aircraft are used for surveillance and other tasks. The Caravans were delivered in October 2015 by the United States and configured for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
The United States began construction of Air Base 201 outside Agadez around 2015. Approval for the $110 million base, 2 200 acres in size, was given by the Nigerien government in 2014. Air Base 201 is believed to host armed and unarmed MQ-9 Reaper UAVs for counterterrorism and surveillance strikes, although the US military declined to say what intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft are currently operating from the base.
The US Air Force said it had begun ISR operations from Air Base 201 from 1 November 2019 “in support of our partner forces and international efforts to counter violent extremist organizations in the region.” It added that “this effort is in partnership with the Nigerien Government and reflects the commitment and desires of African partners as well as common interests for stability and security in the region.”
From 1 August, the USAF started limited flights from newly constructed facilities at Air Base 201 ahead of using the base for armed and unarmed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) missions in the region.
Air Base 201 has a 1 900 metre long runway and other infrastructure. The 50 metre wide runway is able to accommodate large aircraft like the C-17 Globemaster III.
“The US military is at Nigerien Air Base 201 at the request of the Government of Niger,” said US Army General Stephen Townsend, Commander, US Africa Command. “We are working with our African and international partners to counter security threats in West Africa. The construction of this base demonstrates our investment in our African partners and mutual security interests in the region.”
US Africa Command said it has an agreement with the Government of Niger for the use of armed and unarmed air assets in its airspace “that improve our combined ability to respond to threats and other security issues in the region. These assets are used towards achieving the mutual goals of the United States and our West African partners. Partnership is required to counter violent extremism in West Africa and prevent its spread.”
“Flexible and diverse postures across the African continent enable us to facilitate operational needs and better support our partners in the region,” explained US Air Force General Jeff Harrigian, Commander, US Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. “The location in Agadez was selected in conjunction with Niger due to the geographic and strategic flexibility it offers to regional security efforts.”
The new runway at Nigerien Air Base 201 is a joint-use runway that is suitable for both US and Nigerien aircraft, allowing for enhanced response to regional requirements and better protection of Niger’s borders, Africom said.
Agadez was chosen for its central location and relative isolation (for security reasons). It will eventually be handed over to the Nigerien military.