The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has revealed which models of armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) it will soon be receiving from China. It will receive eight Wing Loong II, CH-4 and CH-3 aircraft.
This was revealed by the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar on 9 November while on an operational visit to NAF Base Makurdi to assess the ongoing reactivation work on F-7 jets.
Abubakar said the NAF would be getting two Wing Loong II, four CH-4 and two CH-3 aircraft, which would help enhance the NAF’s intelligence gathering for air operations. Four of the aircraft will be deployed in Gusau, two in Gombe and the remaining two at Operation Lafiya Dole Headquarters in Maiduguri.
Abubakar earlier said the new aircraft will be used to enhance the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) as well as strike capabilities of the NAF not only in the fight against armed banditry in the Northwest and North Central but also in counterinsurgency operations in the Northeast.
The acquisition of the new UAVs was revealed in October when Abubakar said that about 70 personnel had already been nominated for training in China. Last week he disclosed that the UAVs being expected from China had been packaged for shipment to Nigeria, while the training of NAF personnel to man them is ongoing in China.
The Nigerian Air Force is known to operate several CH-3A unmanned aerial vehicles manufactured by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). The CH-3A has been deployed in the North East of Nigeria, where the Air Task Force of Operation Lafiya Dole used it against Boko Haram terrorists – Nigerian CH-3s have been armed with surface-to-air missiles (the CH-3 can be fitted with FT-5 guided bombs or AR-1 missiles).
The CH-3 has a wingspan of 8 metres, a 12 hour endurance and 180 km radius of action. The canard-configured UAV was first seen in 2008 and has been exported to Pakistan (as the Burraq) and possibly Myanmar.
The CH-4 was introduced in 2011 and has been in Chinese military service since 2014. It has also been sold to Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The aircraft has a maximum take-off weight of 1 330 kg and a payload of 345 kg in addition to its electro-optical turret and synthetic aperture radar. The CH-4 has a wingspan of 18 metres and length of 8.5 metres. It is powered by a 100 hp class piston engine giving a top speed of 235 km/h and cruise speed of 180 km/h with endurance of up to 40 hours. It can carry a varied armament including cluster bombs, guided bombs and missiles.
The Chengdu Wing Loong II looks remarkably similar to General Atomics’ Predator B/Reaper, with a pusher propeller and V-tail. Developed from the smaller Wing Loong I, the Wing Loong II was first seen in late 2016 and first flown in February 2017. It has also been sold to the United Arab Emirates. The Wing Loong II has a length of 11 metres, wingspan of 20.5 metres and payload of up to 480 kg. Endurance of the turboprop aircraft is 20 hours with a maximum speed of 370 km/h. It can be armed with a variety of weapons including guided bombs, anti-ship missiles, and air-to-surface missiles.
In addition to the eight new UAVs, Abubakar said the NAF will take delivery of three JF-17 Thunder fighters from Pakistan whilst also reactivating several existing platforms such as the F-7Ni fighter jet. In-country Periodic Depot Maintenance (PDM) is being carried out on two Alpha Jets and three L-39ZA aircraft will be getting life extension programmes.
Abubakar emphasized that these activities showed the level of seriousness with which the government is working to ensure that the NAF gets some of its grounded aircraft back to flying status. He revealed that, out of the nine F-7 fighter jets earmarked for reactivation, seven aircraft, which require high level, in-depth maintenance by the Original Equipment Manufacturer, were being disassembled for freighting to China due to the unavailability of all the necessary maintenance and test equipment within Nigeria.
Two of the aircraft would undergo life extension work in Nigeria, which will be executed by Chinese technical partners, with support from NAF engineers and technicians, using equipment in the recently reactivated Machine Tools Workshop at the 131 Engineering Group. The idea, he said, was to ensure that the NAF has adequate number of serviceable aircraft whilst also building the capacity of NAF personnel in line with what was done with the Alpha Jets in Kainji as well as with the C-130Hs and the L-39ZAs aircraft in Ikeja and Kano, respectively.