First Nigerian T-129 helicopters delivered

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The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has taken delivery of the first two of six T-129 ATAK helicopters from Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), with the remainder expected before the second quarter of 2024.

Flight tracking data showed a Turkish Air Force A400M (21-0118) arriving in Nigeria on 1 November after departing TAI’s Ankara facility. Several days later, the Nigerian Air Force confirmed that two T-129s had just been received and will soon be inducted into the Air Force.

The Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Hasan Abubakar, said this is part of a total overhaul of the Nigerian Air Force’s order of battle. He recalled that several weeks ago, the NAF also received two additional Diamond DA 62 surveillance aircraft.

Abubakar said that with the additional platforms and others being expected shortly, as well as the renewed vigour of the NAF under his leadership, Nigerians can be rest assured of the commitment of the NAF to ensuring total eradication of the myriads of security challenges facing the nation.

Abubakar and Minister of Defence (HMOD), Mohammed Badaru Abubakar, were in Turkey on 29 October “to facilitate the speedy delivery of the T-129 ATAK helicopters acquired for the Nigerian Air Force”. Photos from the visit revealed the first helicopter’s registration as NAF500.

Nigeria’s defence minister also held talks with his Turkish counterpart, Lieutenant General Yasar Guler (Rtd), and together with the Chief of Staff visited several Turkish companies, including Turkish Aerospace Industries, MKE (Machinery and Chemical Industry Corporation), Aselsan and Roketsan. “While at these companies, the HMOD called for improved synergy between the companies and Nigeria through the transfer of defence technology to Nigeria,” the Nigerian Air Force reported.

The NAF’s T-129s will be operated by the 115th Special Operations Group at Port Harcourt, Scramble magazine reported, with two more to be delivered before the end of 2023 and the remaining two in the first quarter of next year. A follow-up order for another six may be placed.

TAI CEO Temel Kotil revealed during the Farnborough International Air Show in July 2022 that Nigeria will receive a total of six T-129s. The T-129, based on the Leonard Helicopters A129 Mangusta, first flew in August 2011 and is in service with the Turkish military – around 100 will be in Turkish service by year-end. The type has been exported to the Philippines (deliveries of six began in March 2022). Pakistan attempted to acquire 30 T-129s, but the deal fell through after the United States refused permission to export the LHTEC CTS800 engines.

According to TAI, the T-129 has been designed for hot and high operations. It is equipped with a 20 mm cannon and can be armed with rockets, UMTAS anti-tank missiles, CIRIT laser-guided missiles, and Stinger air-to-air missiles. The helicopter is 14.5 metres long and has a maximum takeoff weight of just over 5 tons. Two CTS800-4A engines each developing 1 373 hp give a maximum cruise speed of 280 km/h, range of 537 km and service ceiling of 4 570 metres. An Aselsan Aselflir-300T gimbal includes an infrared camera, TV camera, laser rangefinder and target designator.

The NAF is operating an increasingly diverse range of combat helicopters. In addition to its seven Mil Mi-24V/P ‘Hind-E/F’ and 17 Mi-35M/P ‘Hind-E/F’ gunships, it is attempting to acquire Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters. A possible sale of 12 AH-1Zs for nearly $1 billion was floated in April 2022. The Nigerian Army, meanwhile, is acquiring 12 MDF 530F Cayuse Warriors from MD Helicopters (to be delivered from the end of 2023).