USAF airmen assigned to the 409th Air Expeditionary Group watch as a C-130J Super Hercules taxis in at Nigerien Air Base 201, Agadez, Niger, on Aug. 3, 2019. The C-130 landing marked the next step in airfield evaluations by starting Visual Flight Rules operations at the base. Air Force photo by SSgt. Devin Boyer.
The Air Force’s new operating base in central Niger began its first regular operations this month, with C-130s flying limited missions into the facility, the service announced Aug. 15.
The US military was waiting on Nigerien approval to start operations at the base, US Africa Command and US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa officials told Air Force Magazine. USAFE-AFAFRICA said the Nigerien Civil Aviation Authority, Nigerien air force, and USAF reached an agreement to start limited “visual flight rules” operations Aug. 1. A C-130J from the 409th Air Expeditionary Group landed at the base two days later.
VFR flights are part of the airfield assessments and procedure development that must take place before an installation begins full operations, the Air Force said.
Unmanned MQ-9s are slated to start flying missions at Air Base 201, near the village of Agadez, by the end of the year as well. The Air Force launched its largest-ever construction project in 2016.
“Air Base 201 gives Niger and the US incredible capability in a challenging region of the world,” USAFE Commander Gen. Jeff Harrigian said in the Aug. 15 release. “This joint-use runway allows for a better response to regional security requirements and provides strategic access and flexibility.”
A US Africa Command official, during an interview with Air Force Magazine at the command’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, said the base will serve as a hub for operations in the region. The 323rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron will fly Reapers out of the installation. The MQ-9’s ability to loiter for hours “gives us a lot of good options” in the region, a second AFRICOM official told Air Force Magazine.
Constructing the base was a long-term, logistically complex process because of its location and the lack of infrastructure surrounding it, the first official said. C-130s flew in basic supplies for personnel about once a week, including food supplies, spare parts, and workers. Large materials and equipment used to build the base were delivered by ship to a port on the western coast of Africa, then took a three-week journey from the port to the construction site by truck.
The Air Force also has an existing presence at Nigerien Air Base 101, near the capital city of Niamey. Together, the bases will give the Air Force a large, persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance presence in a country that has been a hotbed for extremist activity. For example, the 2017 ambush of Green Berets in the village of Tongo Tongo took place in the same region of Niger.
The US has a 10-year lease agreement at the base, according to AFRICOM.