Nigerian Air Force getting multiple new aircraft types as recapitalisation drive continues

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The Nigerian Air Force will be getting multiple new aircraft types, including T-129 attack helicopters, and C295 transports, amongst others.

The Nigerian government’s 2023 budget proposal makes provision for the payment of N27 billion ($61 million) towards the acquisition of T-129 attack helicopters from Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). This comes after TAI CEO Temel Kotil revealed during the Farnborough International Air Show in July that Nigeria will receive a total of six T-129s, with deliveries in the near future. The T-129, based on the Leonard Helicopters A129 Mangusta, is in service with the Turkish military and has been exported to the Philippines.

It appears Nigeria will also be getting 12 Bell AH-1Z Viper helicopters from the United States – in April this year, the US approved the possible sale of 12 AH-1Zs to Nigeria under a potential $997 million deal that includes weapons and equipment. Nigeria has for some time shown interest in acquiring AH-1Z helicopters, but the deal was put on hold over concerns about possible human rights abuses by the Nigerian government.

Last week, Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Oladayo Amao revealed that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) would be receiving a multitude of new aircraft, including the 12 AH-1Z Vipers, but provided little further detail.

He also confirmed the delivery of two AW109 Trekker helicopters from Leonardo Helicopters – the 2023 budget proposal allocates N2 billion ($4.5 million) for the balance payment of these two aircraft.

Amao further revealed that the NAF would be receiving two C295 transport aircraft from Airbus under a pending deal – in March, it was reported that the NAF had shown interest in acquiring these aircraft, and held discussions with the Spanish ambassador to Nigeria on this. As far back as 2016, Nigeria has expressed interest in acquiring C295W light transports from Airbus, with a delegation visiting Nigeria that October.

Speaking during a seminar in Ibom State on 27 October, Amao also said 24 M-346 jet aircraft would be acquired in the future from Leonardo – for some time, rumours have been circulating that the NAF would receive these aircraft to replace its Alpha Jets, but budget allocation for the M-346s, C295s and AH-1Zs do not appear in the latest budget proposal.

Nigeria’s 2023 budget proposal does include funding for the maintenance of L-39ZAs, Alpha Jets, and the establishment of an air-launched rocket assembly line at the Air Force Research and Development Centre.

It also suggests N2.7 billion ($6 million) for three “Magnus MF 212 surveillance/attack aircraft”, and N3 billion ($6.8 million) for three Bell UH-1D helicopters, for the Nigerian Army.

The MF 212 is a single engine light sport aircraft built by Magnus Aircraft in the Czech Republic. This is powered by a 100 hp Rotax engine, giving a cruising speed of 215 km/h and maximum range of 1 100 km, although other engine options are available. Magnus Aircraft offers the Fusion UL ultralight and Sentinel, which is equipped with a camera system for surveillance, target tracking etc.

Belarussian company BVST (Belspetsvneshtechnika) has developed the MF 212 into an 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.

Amao last week said that the Air Force will take delivery of two Beechcraft King Air 360 turboprops, four Diamond DA 62 surveillance aircraft, and three Wing Loong II unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in addition to the T-129s, M-346s, and C295s.

The King Air 360 acquisition will be to partly replace the King Air 350 that crashed in February 2021. As for the Wing Loong IIs, this acquisition follows on from previous UAV contracts with China. In 2020 it was reported that the NAF would be receiving two Wing Loong II, four CH-4 and two CH-3 aircraft to enhance the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) as well as strike capabilities of the NAF. At the time, Wing Loong IIs were seen in Nigerian markings under construction in China.

Amao said that the new orders will be delivered from December this year, while other aircraft will arrive from 2023. The latest acquisitions come amid a steady stream of procurements over the last decade, with three dozen manned aircraft delivered since 2015. This includes five Mi-35Ms delivered from December 2016 to April 2018; four AW109E Power helicopters delivered from April 2019 to January 2020; ten MFI-17 Super Mushshak delivered between July 2017 and January 2018; 12 A-29 Super Tucanos delivered between August 2021 and September 2021; two Mi-171Es delivered between February and December 2020; three JF-17 Thunders delivered between March and April 2021; and two Bell 412Eps (seized by customs and transferred to the Nigerian Air Force).

In addition to acquiring new aircraft, the Nigerian Air Force is training new pilots in the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, and Egypt, as well as domestically.