The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has taken delivery of nine locally refurbished Alpha Jets and one C-130 Hercules transport aircraft which the military says will be deployed to transport troops locally and in regional peacekeeping support operations.
The nine Alpha jets were refurbished by the Aeronautical Engineering and Technical Services Limited (AETSL), a subsidiary of the Nigerian Air Force Holdings Company, while the C-130 was refurbished with the assistance of French aviation company Sabena Technics.
Speaking on the sidelines of the re-commissioning of the aircraft back into service in Lagos this week, Nigerian Chief of Air Staff Marshall Alex Badeh said the aircraft would be used to transport troops on internal and regional combat and peace support missions.
“On assumption of office in October 2012, we were faced with the enormous responsibility of supporting peace operations in conflict environments both internally and externally.
“These required the use of credible platforms for movements to the theatre of operations. Meanwhile, the numerous competing demands placed enormous budgetary constraints on the allocations of NAF,” Marshall Badeh said.
He said due to serious budgetary constraints which made it impossible to contract foreign aviation maintenance companies to refurbish the planes, the AETSL was selected to do the in-country depot maintenance of the Alpha Jet and C-130H aircraft.
Defence Minister Erelu Olusola Obada said the successful completion of the in-country maintenance programme dictates that the government should continue supporting and building the capacities of local defence industries to ensure self-reliance.
The Nigerian Air Force has over the past several years been allocated funding to refurbish many of its aircraft, notably its C-130s and Aeritalia G.222 transports. In February 2009 the Nigerian government asked the United States for assistance in refurbishing five of its eight surviving C-130Hs. One of the C-130s was duly put through a $9.2 million Programmed Depot Maintenance process in Lisbon, Portugal and officially handed over to the Nigerian Air Force on January 26, 2011. That same year another C-130H was sent to Marshall Aerospace in the United Kingdom for refurbishment.
The C-130 fleet is more than three decades old and by 2009 only one example was flying. Nigeria originally received six C-130s three decades ago and another three C-130H-30s a decade later, but one C-130 crashed on September 29, 1992, killing at least 160.
Together with the Hercules, the Aeritalia G.222 was the NAF’s most important transport. However, until several years ago, Nigeria’s G.222 aircraft were inoperable. In July 2005 the Nigerian Air Force signed a $74.5 million contract with Alenia Aeronautica to refurbish five G.222s and acquire an additional ex-Italian Air Force example. In December 2005 four stored aircraft in Ilorin were dismantled and flown to Lagos inside an Antonov An-124, while the fifth one was flown to Italy and in June 2007 began flying in Nigerian colours. This aircraft was used to train Nigerian pilots and technicians, who had lost qualification on the aircraft.
In early July 2011 the Nigerian Air Force reintroduced four Alpha Jets into service with the Air Weapons School in Kainji, after upgrading them through a German firm. The Alpha Jets are used in the ground attack and reconnaissance roles as well as for fighter training. A total of 24 Alpha Jets were acquired in the 1980s but several have been lost in crashes.
It is believed that half a dozen Aero Vodochody L-39 jet trainers will be reactivated.
The delivery of locally refurbished aircraft comes two weeks after the Nigerian Navy took delivery of 10 refurbished patrol boats from the Port Harcourt-based boat maker Modante Marine, a local company.
The boats have been deployed to enhance the army’s Joint Task Force operations against oil piracy, oil bunkering and oil theft in the Niger Delta. This week, the JTF received a donation of two patrol boats from Orient Petroleum and Iberto Cement, both based in Port Harcourt.
The Commander of the Army’s 2nd Brigade Brigadier-General Osasogie Uzamere said the shortage of gunboats and fast-assault craft had slowed down the JTF’s anti-bunkering operations in the Niger Delta creeks.