Niger’s air force inaugurated a new helicopter hanger last week, to accommodate its recently acquired Gazelle helicopters. The new facilities are further evidence of the Air Force’s expanding capabilities – Niger has taken delivery of seven new aircraft this year.
The new hangar was formally opened on October 17 at the Niger Air Force’s Base Aerienne 101 next to Niamey-Diori Hamani International Airport in a ceremony attended by various French and Nigerien officials, including French Ambassador to Niger Christophe Bouchard and Chief of Staff of the French Armed Forces, Admiral Edouard Guillard.
The hangar, which cost 270 million CFA francs ($56,761 million), was completely funded by the French government, which also provided the three Gazelle helicopters, according to Air Forces Daily.
The hangar has an area of 9 420 square feet (875 square metres) and can accommodate up to six light helicopters. Facilities also include a 88 300 square foot (2 500 square metre) apron.
The Niger Air Force’s three Gazelles were officially handed over in a ceremony on March 27 this year at Base Aerienne 101. The ex-French Army Air Corps aircraft were refurbished by Aerotech Group SAS in France prior to delivery and are armed with 20 mm cannons.
French company DCI has trained six Niger Air Force helicopter pilots in France and Niger, who graduated in March this year. Additional aircrew are to be trained under an extended project, with three more pilots and six mechanics undergoing training from November 1.
Niger has been expanding its Air Force of late, especially with French and US help – historical ally France provides the most military assistance. Most recently, Niger on July 5 received two Cessna 208B Grand Caravans from the United States, to be used for border security and cargo missions. The aircraft were purchased by the US government under an $11 million package that covered the initial costs of the aircraft and related expenses, including maintenance and pilot training.
Niger’s Air Force has only a few combat aircraft in its inventory, including a couple of Mi-24 attack helicopters. However, it received a major boost earlier this year when it formally received two Su-25 attack aircraft on March 27. Originally destined for Mali, they were sold to Niger after the Mali deal fell through. They were refurbished by the Zaporozhye State Aviation Repair Factory in Ukraine prior to delivery, reports Air Forces Daily.
Other aircraft in the Niger Air Force’s fleet include two Diamond DA 42 MPP aircraft, used for surveillance, three Humbert Tetras light aircraft, a single C-130 Hercules transport, a Boeing 737-200, a single Dornier 28 and Dornier 228 and a couple of Mi-17s.
The DA 42s will be upgraded by the US government with new sensors and communications equipment in order to combat trafficking, smuggling and terrorist in the region. Niger has become a smuggling route for weapons from Libya reaching al Qaeda militants deeper in the Sahara since Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in late 2011. Thousands of gunmen and tonnes of weapons and ammunition flowed south, mainly to Mali, after the collapse of Libya.
The US military has run training programmes for Niger’s army for years under its counter-terrorism programme in the Sahel and has deployed about 100 military personnel and drones in Niger as part of the operation to dislodge Islamic militants from neighbouring Mali.