The United States has approved a possible sale of 12 Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters to Nigeria in a deal that could be worth nearly a billion dollars if it goes ahead.
The US Department of Defence on 14 April announced that the State Department had approved the possible Foreign Military Sale and notified Congress of the $997 million deal, which also includes 28 T-700 GE 401C engines, and 2 000 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) guidance sections.
Other equipment included in the proposed sale includes M197 20 mm guns, sighting systems, night vision equipment, technical and logistics support. No Hellfire missiles were mentioned, and it is not clear which branch of service would operate the aircraft.
“$25 million of case funds will be allocated for institutional and technical assistance to the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) to continue Air Ground Integration (AGI) programme, which includes developing targeting processes that are legally compliant with International Humanitarian Law and the Laws of Armed Conflict; and other related elements of logistics and program support,” the Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) stated.
“The proposed sale will better equip Nigeria to contribute to shared security objectives, promote regional stability and build interoperability with the US and other Western partners. This sale will be a major contribution to US and Nigerian security goals,” the DSCA added.
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. In July last year it emerged that members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had placed a hold on the proposed sale.
Nigeria’s military has been upgrading its capabilities in the wake of domestic terrorism and rising armed robberies and kidnappings for ransom – earlier this month, hundreds of people were abducted from trains and held for ransom.
Nigeria has had a sometimes rocky road in acquiring military hardware from the United States. In 2014, the United States blocked any sale by Israel of surplus American-made weapon systems to Nigeria, nixing the proposed sale of ex-Israeli AH-1 Cobras after citing human rights concerns, saying Nigeria was not doing enough to avoid civilian casualties in the fight against Boko Haram. In 2014 the Nigerian Air Force expressed interest in acquiring a dozen Scorpion jets from Textron AirLand to fight Boko Haram insurgents, but nothing came of this.
Under former President Barack Obama’s administration, arms sales to Nigeria were cut back, but when Donald Trump assumed power in 2016, his administration agreed to sell Nigeria 12 A-29 Super Tucano turboprops manufactured in the United States by Sierra Nevada Corporation, and these were delivered last year. They have been used to combat terrorists.