Nigerian Air Force to get Mi-35 and AW109 helicopters in March


The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) expects to take delivery of six Mi-35M and AW109 helicopters from Russia and Italy in March this year.

This is according to Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, who made the comments during a visit to the 23rd Quick Response Wing at Gembu, Taraba State, on 19 January.

Abubakar said the deliveries will comprise a single Mi-35 gunship from Russia and five AW109 utility/attack helicoipters from Italy, which will be used to fight insecurity in the country.

During his visit, Abubakar said that the ultimate objective for Gembu was to have a fully functional NAF Base, complete with helicopter landing pads (helipads) and possibly an airstrip. This, he said, would allow for the deployment of some of the new NAF combat helicopters procured by the Federal Government to Gembu, when they arrive.

Abubakar noted that the NAF had already commenced the construction of a helipad at Birnin Gwari to boost the anti-banditry operations in the Northwest of the country and also intended to commence the construction of a helipad in Gembu.

Abubakar revealed the delivery of the additional AW109 helicopters in December last year. He said the helicopters from Italy were AW109 Power models. It is assumed the AW109s will be the AW109M version that can be armed with machinegun pods and 70 mm rocket launchers.

The Nigerian government has already budgeted for two AW109s but more are likely to be ordered as the government allocates more money in future budgets. According to the 2018 Federal Appropriation Bill that was approved by President Muhammadu Buhari on 20 June, the government has set aside nearly N6 billion ($19 million) for the procurement of two new AW109 helicopters from Leonardo Helicopters. These will join the AW109 LUHs already in service with the Nigerian Air Force and the A109Es in service with the Nigerian Navy.

Nigeria also has 12 Mi-35Ms on order, with the fourth delivered in mid-2018. They were ordered in September 2015, with the first two being delivered in December 2016, and inducted into service in April the following year. Since then, the NAF said they have been contributing significantly to the counterinsurgency and other internal security operations in the country.

The NAF lost an Mi-35M on 2 January whilst engaging Boko Haram terrorists in northern Borno State. All five on board were killed.

The Nigerian Air Force is due to be further boosted with the delivery of 12 Super Tucano aircraft from the United States. It recently received another Alpha Jet (NAF 476) from the United States. This was ferried into Nigeria on 6 December 2018. Nigeria acquired four examples from a US company in 2015, with three (NAF 475, NAF 477 and NAF 478) delivered in January 2016. It is not clear why the last aircraft was held back.