The Nigerian Air Force aims to acquire three JF-17 Thunder fighter jets this year, and has budgeted $25 million towards this. It has also allocated some funding for two Mi-35M attack helicopters and ten Super Mushak trainers.
This is according to a leaked copy of the 2016 budget which President Muhammadu Buhari presented to a joint session of the National Assembly in December, 2015, and which was obtained by Nigeria’s Punch newspaper.
The publication said that N2.06 billion ($10.2 million) was allocated for 10 PAC Super Mushshak basic trainers, and N11.6 billion ($56 million) for two Mi-35M helicopters as well as N5 billion for the JF-17s.
Nigeria has for some time been suspected as a customer for the JF-17, with a senior Pakistani Ministry of Defence official at the IDEAS 2014 exhibition in Pakistan saying that Nigeria was close to signing a contract for the jets and that the Nigerian Air Force had finalised its recommendations for the acquisition of 25-40 aircraft.
This came after Nigerian Air Force chief Air Aarshal Adesola Nunayon Amosu visited Pakistan in October 2014, where he toured the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex facility where the JF-17 is manufactured.
Nigeria’s Air Force uses seven Mi-24 attack helicopters for counter-insurgency operations as well as 11 F-7 fighter jets, 21 L-39ZA Albatros, 12 MB-339 and 12 Alpha Jet trainer/light attack aircraft. However, the majority of these aircraft are several decades old and have been worn down by attrition. The F-7s are unable to carry precision guided air to surface weapons while the country’s ATR 72 surveillance aircraft are able to detect insurgent activity but not deploy weapons.
For 2016 the Nigerian Air Force has a total budget of N85.61 billion ($425 million), made up of N62.15 billion ($308 million) for recurrent expenditure and N23.46 billion ($116 million) for capital expenditure, according to Punch figures.
JF-17 is jointly produced by the Chengdu Aircraft Industries Corporation (CAC) of China and the Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC). The Pakistan Air Force has 50 in service and has been flying the type since 2007, although only officially inducting the aircraft in 2010. Pakistan may acquire up to 200.
The FC-1 Xialong/JF-17 Thunder programme was launched in 1991 after the United States cancelled development of the Chengdu Super-7 following the 1989 Tianamen Square incident. Collaboration with Pakistan began in 1995, leading to a joint development contract in June 1999. The aircraft first flew in August 2003 and the first JF-17 squadron was inducted into the Pakistan Air Force in February 2010.
The aircraft has a design service life of 4 000 flight hours or 25 years. It can carry up to 3 600 kg (8 000 lb) of ordnance in addition to its twin-barrel 23 mm cannon. It is powered by a Russian RD-93 turbofan, a variant of the RD-33 used on the MiG-29. However, China is developing the more reliable and powerful WS-13 engine to replace the RD-93. A glass cockpit features an electronic flight instrument system with wide-angle head-up display and three colour multifunction displays.
The revelation that Nigeria has budgeted for the JF-17 comes as Sri Lanka placed an order for the type. On 5 January the Sri Lanka Sunday Times reported that Pakistan will sell eight JF-17s to Sri Lanka under an agreement signed during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit on Tuesday. Sharif and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena were present during signing ceremonies that covered the JF-17 acquisition and other deals.
During the Paris Air Show in June 2015, Commodore Khalid Mahmood, head of sales and marketing for the JF-17 said that “a contract has been signed with an Asian country,” but would say no more.