First UH-1H ‘Huey’ helicopters arrive for Nigerian Army’s new aviation wing

1603

Nigerian Army Aviation has received its first aircraft – two Bell UH-1H ‘Huey’ helicopters – which were formally handed over in a ceremony last week at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.

The aircraft (NA 010 and NA 011) were formally received by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Taoreed Lagbaja, on Thursday 20 June in what the Nigerian Army said was a significant step forward in enhancing its operational capabilities. The arrival of the helicopters “marks a significant milestone in the development of the Nigerian Army Aviation’s capacity to provide air support for ground operations,” it said.

Lagbaja noted that the renewed drive to establish a Nigerian Army Aviation wing was conceived by the then-former COAS, Lieutenant General Kenneth Minimah (rtd), in 2014, with a three-phase ten-year implementation plan.

NA 011 was until June registered as ZT-RAI in South Africa. It was manufactured in 1966 and served with the US Army until 1996, when it was delivered to Helinet Corp in California as N313CF. It was subsequently operated by Northwest Helicopters and Turbines LLC before being delivered to South Africa in 2015.

NA 010 was until June this year registered as ZT-RCS in South Africa – it was put up for sale earlier in the year. It was manufactured in 1968 and served with the US Army before entering the civilian market as N518CB. It was exported by Northwest Helicopters to South Africa in 2014. Northwest Helicopters has specialised in the refurbishment, repair, maintenance and overhaul of UH-1H helicopters for over 40 years.

In March last year, MD Helicopters announced that the Nigerian Army had awarded it a contract for the supply of 12 Cayuse Warrior Plus scout/attack helicopters to assist in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations in the country.

The aircraft were due to be delivered from the fourth quarter of 2023, but deliveries have yet to transpire.

Nigeria in 2023 budgeted NGN3.1 billion (then about $6.6 million) for three UH-1 helicopters and NGN2.8 billion for three Magnus MF-212 surveillance and attack aircraft for the Army. The 2024 budget allocated NGN2.6 trillion ($2.8 billion at the time) for establishing the Nigerian Army’s aviation wing.

Nigeria plans to locally assemble Magnus light aircraft at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, with $5 million allocated towards this in January 2023.

Belarussian company BVST (Belspetsvneshtechnika) developed the Magnus Fusion into the MF 212 armed aircraft ideal for homeland security, surveillance and patrol tasks. It can apparently be fitted with an iSKY-30 HD electro-optical gimbal, and R-60-NT-L or R-60-NT-T-2 missiles. Although BVST has not provided any detail on its development of the aircraft, Greek company International Armour lists the BVST MF 212 in its sale catalogue. BVST has previously worked with the Nigerian Air Force, providing maintenance for Mi-35 helicopters as well as training.

The Coordinator of Nigerian Army Aviation, Brigadier General Musa Alkali, during the UH-1 delivery ceremony stated that the acquisition of the platforms is a clear demonstration of the Nigerian Army’s aviation resolve, adding that this will boost its reconnaissance, surveillance, and air mobility capabilities.

The Nigerian Army said the UH-1H helicopters are equipped with advanced sensors and enablers to conduct a range of missions, including reconnaissance, surveillance, rescue, logistics, transportation, and medical evacuation.