Since May 2014 the U.S. has been providing training and intelligence support for Nigeria as part of an effort to find hundreds of women and girls kidnapped by Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram since April. The girls are believed to be held in some hilly forests in northeast Nigeria. By June American UAVs and manned aircraft completed their initial survey of the three northern states where Boko Haram is most active and shared that data with Nigeria and other nations providing aerial reconnaissance help. The problem now is for Nigerian ground forces to make use of the data collected. This the Nigerians are reluctant to do because the Boko Haram fighters use booby traps, ambushes and ruthless resistance to defend their rural bases. It’s a bloody business going after Boko Haram where they live. Not a lot of Nigerian army or police commanders are eager to take this on. There is also fear of failure, especially when it comes to rescuing all the women being held hostage and getting them out alive. It also appears that the hostages are held in several locations, which further complicates the rescue effort.
The U.S. used manned and unmanned (UAV) aircraft and spy satellites for the task. Most of the search aircraft used day and night video cameras as well as heat sensors. There was also at least one electronic surveillance aircraft (an MC-12), which may have proved decisive in finding the girls. The MC-12 and the aerial reconnaissance builds a baseline of data which special American analysis software then compares to all subsequent photo or electronic data collected over the same area and quickly spots and differences, which can then be examined in greater detail. This form of pattern analysis also uses data mining and predictive analysis to tease more useful information out of the masses of information you have and continue to collect. The initial survey was accomplished in a few weeks with less than ten aircraft and UAVs along with a few hundred American personnel. Many more analysts worked on the project from distant bases, some in the United States.
The MC-12 is a Beechcraft King Air twin engine commercial aircraft outfitted for electronic warfare and reconnaissance against irregular forces. So far the MC-12 has been used against numerous Islamic terrorist organizations including the Taliban, various Palestinian and Iraqi terrorist groups, several al Qaeda factions as well as Boko Haram, al Shabaab and several different Malian groups in Africa. The MC-12 is crammed with vidcams, electronic sensors, jammers, and radios. This version of the MC-12 was called Ceasar (Communications Electronic Attack with Surveillance And Reconnaissance) and could spend hours circling an area, keeping troops on the ground aware of enemy walkie-talkie and cell phone use, including location of these devices and translations of what is being discussed. The enemy is often vaguely aware of what the MC-12 can do but have no better way to communicate. Thus the few Ceasar equipped aircraft sent to Afghanistan proved very useful for the American and British troops that used them.
Military use of the King Air arose in the United States (where Beechcraft is located) began in the early 1970s when the U.S. Army adopted the King Air as the RC-12 and then used it for a wide variety of intelligence missions ever since. In 2008 the first American MC-12 squadron was deployed to Iraq, where the twin engine aircraft was found to be durable and reliable. In its first six months there those dozen aircraft flew over a thousand sorties. That's about four sorties per week per aircraft. Most of the 43 MC-12s ordered have been sent to Afghanistan, where they have been worked hard and held up well to the heavy use. In 2010 the U.S. Air Force sent its first MC-12 to Afghanistan and it proved successful. This despite the fact that it could only stay in action for seven hours (plus one to get to the target area) per sortie, which was half as long as a UAVs. But more UAV capabilities (vidcams overhead for hours at a time) were needed in Afghanistan, and it didn't matter if the pilots are in the air or on the ground.
The King Airs were faster than UAVs enabling them to get where they were needed more quickly. More importantly the King Air carried more sensors than a UAV, which enabled it to be outfitted as a Ceasar aircraft. Moreover, having the equipment operators on board, along with a pilot and co-pilot available to just use their eyes on the target area, did make a difference over relying on operators elsewhere in Afghanistan, or somewhere else on the planet. That personal touch still makes a difference
The MC-12 itself is a modified version of the much older RC-12 electronic reconnaissance aircraft. The MC-12 provides the same service as a UAV (full motion video) in addition to electronic monitoring (radio, cell phone, etc.). The King Air 350 is a 5.6 ton, twin engine aircraft. The King Air 350 (and earlier models) has long been used by the U.S. Army and Air Force as a light cargo and passenger transport (the C-12 Huron). The MC-12 in Nigeria probably came from those AFRICOM has deployed in Africa. Most are based in Djibouti where American and French forces have built a large special operations base since September 11, 2001.
Because of all this help and other assistance the Nigerians have been able to improve their intelligence collecting. Part of this is the result of American electronic eavesdropping technology, which provides a lot of tips on what Boko Haram may be up to and where these Islamic terrorists are operating. This has enabled Nigerian intelligence to develop more informants on the ground. Most Moslems, and nearly all Christians, fear and hate Boko Haram and will pass on information to the army or police. Foreign intelligence agencies have helped the Nigerians improve their ability to collect and process all these tips and this is providing more timely warnings on what the Islamic terrorists are up to. Bombs that are found and disabled and attacks that are otherwise disrupted is not the sort of thing that makes the headlines, but a lot more of it has been happening. What is not so easily fixed is the poor leadership and training found in so many police and army units, as well as the culture of corruption and impunity in the security forces. For the soldiers and police the scariest thing about Boko Haram is their fearlessness and readiness to fight back if attacked. Nigerian soldiers and police are not used to this sort of attitude and are having trouble adapting to it.