The Nigerian Air Force on 2 March graduated its first locally trained unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) pilots and also confirmed that it is flying Chinese-built CH-3 UAVs.
The first five newly trained UAV pilots were given their wings by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, at the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Base at Maiduguri.
According to Air Vice Marshal Olatokunbo Adesanya, Director of Public Relations and Information for the NAF, pilot training began in 2016 at 401 Flying Training School, Kaduna. The UAV pilots then converted onto the CH-3A, manufactured by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). CH-3A conversion training, which started in May 2017, covered areas such as Ground Academics, General Airmanship, Instruments, Situational Awareness, Radiotelephony, Boldface exercises as well as handling of simulated and real emergencies.
The entire programme lasted about two years while the CH-3A specifics phase lasted for 10 months, culminating in check flights for each of the five new UAV pilots. At the moment, the new pilots each have nearly a hundred hours each on the CH-3A, the NAF said.
The CH-3A is currently deployed in the North East of Nigeria, where the Air Task Force of Operation Lafiya Dole is using it against Boko Haram terrorists. With several hundred flight hours on the CH-3A alone since induction three years ago, the NAF has developed commendable experience in its RPA operations, the NAF said, adding that the CH-3A, in combat role, has successfully delivered its ordnances against Boko Haram targets with high degrees of precision and accuracy, both day and night.
The CH-3, with a wingspan of eight metres, has a 12 hour endurance and 180 km radius of action. It can be fitted with FT-5 guided bombs or AR-1 missiles.
Now that it is able to train UAV pilots locally, the NAF said it will train an additional batch of pilots, to “ensure the availability of the required manpower, at minimal cost, to man the NAF’s RPAs [remotely piloted aircraft], which are expected to increase in the coming years.”
In February the NAF unveiled its first indigenous operational UAV, the Tsaigumi, to enhance its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. It was developed in collaboration with UAVision of Portugal. The NAF said plans are underway to mass produce the Tsaigumi as well as develop the nation’s first indigenous unmanned combat aerial vehicle, the Ichoku, which would be in the league of the CH-3A.
Nigeria previously developed the Amebo and Gulma UAV prototypes and acquired nine Aerostars from Israel’s Aeronautics Defence Systems (ADS) between 2006 and 2007.