The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has taken its first T-129 ATAK helicopters into service in what it says is a major boost to the fight against terrorism, crude oil theft and kidnapping.
Vice President Kashim Shettima on 6 February attended the induction ceremony of two T-129s (NAF 500 and NAF 501) as well as a Beechcraft King Air 360ER aircraft (NAF 205) at NAF Base Makurdi, expressing confidence that the deployment of the new platforms would significantly assist the NAF address security challenges, both domestically and within the West African region.
He recalled how since it was established in 1964, the Nigerian Air Force had been playing critical roles in national security, peace-keeping and humanitarian operations globally, noting that its “contributions to the sustenance and maintenance of peace and security in places like The Gambia, Guinea Conakry, Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Guinea Bissau and Cameroon have not only been a source of pride to Nigeria but have projected the nation as a reliable regional power.”
The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Hasan Abubakar, said the induction ceremony was testimony of the Federal Government’s resolve to reequip the NAF in line with combating terrorism and other threats.
According to Turkish Aerospace Industries, the T-129 has been designed for hot and high operations. It is equipped with a 20 mm cannon and can be armed with rockets, UMTAS anti-tank missiles, CIRIT laser-guided missiles, and Stinger air-to-air missiles. The helicopter is 14.5 metres long and has a maximum takeoff weight of just over 5 tons. Two CTS800-4A engines each developing 1 373 hp give a maximum cruise speed of 280 km/h, range of 537 km and service ceiling of 4 570 metres. An Aselsan Aselflir-300T gimbal includes an infrared camera, TV camera, laser rangefinder and target designator.
The NAF is operating an increasingly diverse range of combat helicopters. In addition to its seven Mil Mi-24V/P ‘Hind-E/F’ and 17 Mi-35M/P ‘Hind-E/F’ gunships, it is getting 12 Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters for nearly $1 billion.
Abubakar said that since President Bola Ahmed Tinubu entered office in May 2023, the Nigerian Air Force has inducted five new aircraft into its fleet, including two Diamond DA 62 surveillance aircraft, two T-129 ATAK helicopters, and a King Air 360ER. The first two T-129s were delivered from Turkish Aerospace Industries in November 2023; the remainder are expected before the second quarter of 2024. They will be operated by the 115th Special Operations Group at Port Harcourt. A follow-up order for another six may be placed.
The Nigerian Air Force plans to induct 46 new aircraft of various types over the next 18 months. It is believed that these include two AW109 Trekker helicopters from Leonardo Helicopters, two King Air 360 twin turboprops, four DA 62 surveillance aircraft, six T-129 helicopters, three Wing Loong II unmanned aerial vehicles, two Airbus C295 transport aircraft, 12 AH-1Z attack helicopters, and 24 Leonardo M-346 trainer/attack aircraft. The Nigerian Army, meanwhile, is acquiring 12 MD 530F Cayuse Warrior helicopters from MD Helicopters.
The NAF received the last of its four DA 62 aircraft in October 2023, and these are fitted with Hensoltd Argos II HDT electro-optical gimbals. Since the first arrived in February 2023, they have been deployed to operating theatres in support of ongoing efforts to restore peace and stability in troubled areas within the country.
It is also understood that three Wing Loong IIs have been delivered, and that the first King Air 360ER arrived from Textron Aviation in November last year.
NAF deliveries from 2015 include ten Super Mushshak trainer aircraft, five Mi-35M attack helicopters, two Bell 412 transport helicopters, four A109 Power utility helicopters, two Mi-171E transport helicopters, three JF–17 Thunder multi–role fighters, 12 A–29 Super Tucano combat/trainer aircraft and numerous unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs).