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Nigerian Air Force - Equipment Overview

Despite some fighter jets and reconnaissance aircraft, aviation has always been the weak link in the Nigerian army's war against terrorist groups for years. Several Nigerian army helicopters and fighter jets are grounded for lack of maintenance, while they constitute a major asset in the war against terrorism. Time and again, the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) have had to resort to foreign partners including France, Nigeria or Chad, to support soldiers on the ground.

Nigeria's involvement in peace missions in the Congo and Tanganyika in 1961 whereby foreign air forces assisted in airlifting her troops to these theatres of war coupled with the desire to provide a full complement of forces to enhance the country's military posture that influenced the establishment of the NAF in April 1964. At inception, NAF had only 1 x Nord Atlas and 1 x DC-3. Later, the German Air Force Technical Assistance Group (GAF TAG) provided 2 x DO-27 aircraft, 2 x Mercedes Benz cars and a Land Rover vehicle for NAF use.

In the 1980s the NAF, during its program of Aeronautical and Industrial Engineering Project (AIEP), developed an indigenous light trainer aircraft (air beetle ABT-18) to facilitate training. Within this period of NAF high technical capability, 60 of the ABT-18 aircraft were produced locally for its primary training program. Then this feat was an initial step towards enlisting Nigeria as among countries that manufacturers aircraft. This development, if continued would have been contributing to Nigeria’s national development. However, the present technical capability of the NAF has declined.

The acquisition process should have been based on threat perception followed by available capability for maintenance and sustenance through its life-cycle. Acquisitions of aircraft were, based on prestige and grandiose display of wealth and were vendor driven rather than on need basis. None of the officers interviewed by one analyst "could give the strategic circumstances that led to procurement of the MIG 21 and Jaguar FGA aircraft." [VC Akiti, Management of NAF Resources: Emerging Issues, NAFCON 98, 10 December 1998.] The NAF within the 40 years of her existence had operated 29 different aircraft types and weapon systems from 9 different countries. Maintenance of these platforms has been a nightmare to NAF engineering due to lack of standardisation, incompatibility and interoperability.

After the Nigerian civil war (1967–1970), the Federal Government procured and equipped the NAF with diverse aircraft and weapon systems. Government secured the services of technical assistance from industrialised vendor countries who worked alongside trained NAF technicians to ensure adequate support of these platforms at all times.

Major defense re-equipment was included in the 4th National Development Plan which allocates some Naira7,300m (£6,058m) for capital expenditure on the armed forces during the period up to and including 1985. New combat aircraft are being sought to supplement the Nigerian Air Force's single squadron of MiG-2IMF fighters under this plan and considerable interest was displayed in the SEPECA T Jaguar International. Some unofficial reports e suggested that conclusion of a deal involving the Jaguar, support equipment and the training of NAF personnel worth in excess of £200m was nearing conclusion in 1982. The NAF, which had taken delivery of a batch of 12 Alpha Jets and had previously been reported as having placed an order for a small follow-on batch, was understood to be negotiating with Dornier for further quantities of Alpha Jets, up to 24 apparently being required primarily for the close air support role.

NAF activities peaked from 1975 to 1987 but started to decline thereafter culminating to the present low conditions. By 2004 over 95% of the whole NAF aircraft and weapon systems have been grounded due to dwindling engineering support. Out of a total number of 166 aircraft in the NAF, about 149 had been grounded and are in various conditions of disrepair.

The NAF ORBAT as at February 2007 was follows:

  • Fighter Fleet. The 14 Alpha Jet ground attack aircraft located at Kainji were the only fixed wing combat aircraft currently in flying status. A total of 23 Mig-21 Air Defence Interceptors had been grounded since 1988. And the 15 Jaguar Recce Interdiction aircraft had also been grounded since 1988.
  • Transport Fleet. The NAF operated the C-130H and the G-222 for heavy and medium air lift respectively. Also, the Do-228 was available for light transport and liaison duties. The G-222s were all grounded while undergoing fleet reactivation and upgrade, while all the C-130s were grounded, as they had been scheduled for Periodic Depot Maintenance (PDM). The serviceability of the Do-228 and C-130 as at February 2007 ranged from 15% to 0%. The 11 DO- 128-6 Liaison Transports were grounded, while the 5 DO–228 Liaison Transports were operational.
  • Helicopters Fleet. The NAF helicopter fleet comprised the Super Puma helicopter and the Mi-35P armed helicopter. As at February 2007 the Super Puma fleet was grounded, although there are efforts for its reactivation. The current serviceability status of the Mi-35P was on the average 33%.
  • Trainer Fleet. For primary flying training, the NAF had the ABT-18 aircraft for ab-intio training. The L-39ZA, MB-339 and Mi34 were used for basic flying training. The MB-339 fleet was grounded awaiting activation of a signed contract for its upgrade while the serviceability rate of the L-39ZA as at February 2007 was 25%.

The sustenance of high aircraft serviceability requires the continuous availability of aircraft spares. As of 2007,the operations of NAF aircraft fleet were affected by the scarcity of aircraft spares. For example, the Super Puma, and G222 hade been grounded for over 10 years due to the non-availability of spares to conduct 1000 hrs and 800 hrs inspections, respectively. Conversely, due to the grounding of some Alpha Jets due to lack of minor but fast moving spares, about 1,445 Alpha Jet line items in the storage were not required for over a period of 5 years.

Between 2001 and 2008, the Nigerian Armed Forces entered into contractual agreements and/or taken delivery of the following:

  • FIFTEEN F-7 jets valued at US$251m
  • Refurbishment+upgrade of FIVE G-222 medium-lift aircraft at US$69m
  • Refurbishment+upgrade of EIGHT C-130 Hercules military transport planes at US$120m
  • Refurbishment+upgrade of TWELVE Aermacchi MB-339 advanced trainer/light attack jets at US$84m
  • Refurbishment+upgrade of TWENTY-ONE L-39 Albatross advanced trainer/light attack jets
  • Refurbishment+upgrade of TWELVE Aerospatiale SA-330 Puma utility choppers
  • Refurbishment+upgrade of ELEVEN Eurocopter AS-532 Super Puma/Cougar utility choppers
  • Unmanned Aerial and Maritime surveillance systems at US$260m
  • TWO ATR-42MP Surveyor maritime patrol aircraft at US$83m

The NAF faced undue delay in the delivery of its aircraft consignment from China after nearly 3 years of contract agreement. According to the Chief of Air Staff, in January 2009, during a public hearing before the house committee on Air Force, that “more than three years after a N30 billion contract was awarded to a Chinese company for the supply of 18 F-7Ni aircraft for military flying operations of the NAF, delivery is yet to be done”. This was due to reasons that the Federal Government of Nigeria [FGN] had not completed the balance (15 percent) of the contract sum with the company because it was agreed that complete payment of the contract sum be paid before delivery be made. At that time over 85 percent payment had been made by the Nigerian government. The contract was awarded to a Chinese aviation firm at the cost of $551 million, equivalent of N30 billion, out of which the federal government has paid $500 million or equivalent of N25 billion, leaving a balance of 15 percent to be paid.

The NAF has rationalised her platforms reducing them from 17 to 12 aircraft types. The number of aircraft fleets in the NAF is still unmanageable within the available level of engineering support. It is obvious, going by the present economic disposition; Nigeria cannot still sustain the present number of aircraft fleets. The fleets could be considerably pruned down as NAF can hardly maintain all the fleet of aircraft. The L-39ZA and the MB-339 aircraft, which are performing similar functions, could be considered for further rationalisation.


The Nigerian Air Force received a fresh batch of the Russian-made Mil Mi-35M SuperHind assault helicopter on 30 April 2018. They were ordered in September 2015, with the first two being delivered in December 2016. The first two Mi-35 out of the 12-units ordered were delivered to the Nigerian Air Force and formally inducted them into service on 25 April 2018. This latest batch of Mi-35M attack helicopters are part of a haul of twelve brand new units ordered from Russian Helicopters in September 2015. Russia has already delivered to Nigeria six Mi-35M attack helicopters, and Abuja expects to get six remaining helicopters under the contract, Nigerian Ambassador to Russia Steve Davies Ugbah said 11 October 2019. "We have an agreement for the supply of twelve Mi-35 helicopters, six of which have already been delivered. Our minister of defense would be in a better position to answer exactly when the remaining will be delivered ... For now we are discussing the modalities of securing delivery."

"Russia is a reliable partner that always fulfills its obligations. We will definitely agree on the supply of the remaining Mi-35 helicopters, and then we will see what we can do as part of the law. We try to work within the framework of the system, so that Russia does not lose anything, but so that Nigeria also does not lose. Deliveries schedule will be discussed. Our wish list is quite long. We continue to discuss these issues with Russia. But I want to emphasize that without Russian help, without Russian technology, the fight against terrorists in my country will face very big challenges. We are interested in the fact that this equipment was purchased and delivered on time".

Russia and Niger signed a contract 23 October 2019 for the delivery of 12 MI-35 attack helicopters, according to Anatoly Punchuk, Deputy Director, Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation (FSMTC). The deal was concluded during the Russia-Africa forum, in Russia's southern city of Sochi. Niger's Foreign Minister Kalla Ankourao stated that the aircraft will be used to fight the Boko Haram terrorist organisation.

The NAF lost an Mi-35M on 02 January 2019 while engaging Boko Haram terrorists in northern Borno State. All five on board were killed.

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is to receive six Leonardo AW109 helicopters, Nigerian Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar said 08 December 2018. Abubakar referred to the new helicopters as AW109 Power gunships, suggesting they will be the AW109M, the militarised version of the AW109E that can be armed with heavy machine gun pods and 70 mm rocket launchers. The NAF already fields the AW109LUH, which appears to have been rebranded as AW109M by Leonardo. The first two aircraft would be inducted into the service by President Muhammadu Buhari in March 2019.

Transport Aircraft

The NAF could also rationalise the C-130 fleet reducing the strength to 2, which is considered a number that the country could comfortably manage. The rest of the Fleet including the G-222 aircraft and the Super Puma helicopters could be decommissioned and traded off, as it will take enormous resources to make them airworthy.

Nigeria needed to be able to perform periodic domestic depot maintenance on the C-130 fleet. The Air Force would like to develop the research and development capacity to manufacture C-130 spare parts in Nigeria. As of 2001 two of the eight Nigerian C-130s were operable, but all eight had sound airframes and could be repaired. In early 2008 Nigeria sold three C-130Hs to the Government of Senegal (GOS), using the Israeli firm A.D. Consultants as a middleman. The GOS had transferred the $6.1 million to the GON, but the sale was pending due to Department of State inaction on the Third Party Transfer (TPT) request. This whole affair likely arose due to a few MOD civil servants intentionally failing to follow the law, possibly for personal gain (the sale money was deposited into an unauthorized bank account). But it is also part of an historical pattern of the failure of MOD management to practice due diligence and take the time to read and understand the Air Force's contractual obligations -- and a long-term turf battle between MOD and NAF over NAF assets.

Training Aircraft

The 401 FTS as of 2016 trained with 5 x DA-40 and the school have capacity to graduate 60 students a year. The 403 FTS has 4 x L-39ZA and 6 IPs for the conduct of basic pilot training. It currently had capacity to train 18 SPs in 9 months which could be improved upon with more ac and IPs. Conversely, IHFS which is a joint venture between the NAF and a civilian partner, trains with 4 x R66 helicopters and 6 IPs although 4 of these IPs are shared with 113 HCTG. IHFS has capacity to train about 24 helicopter pilots annually. Clearly, if the schools are optimally utilised the NAF is capable of producing over 40 pilots annually. This figure if augmented with flying training slots overseas or at other local flying schools as is currently being practised will surpass the target training of 41 pilots annually. Therefore, the training of 408 pilots for the NAF over a period of 10 years is realisable. The NAF pilot training philosophy involves a primary flying training and basic flying training arrangement leading to the award of a pilot wing. All students for primary flying training are graduates of NDA. With the current strength of over 120 air force cadets per course in NDA, the recommendation to produce 41 pilots annually is achievable. The anticipated induction of Super Mushshack aircraft would strengthen the primary training platform while the Diamond aircraft could be re-rolled for transport training. Similarly, the L-39ZA need to be refurbished with glass cockpit upgrade, ejection seat and upgraded engine. The DO-228 could continue to be utilised as multi engine transport trainer until replaced, while A-109 LUH functions as an induction ac for helicopter pilots.

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Page last modified: 23-10-2019 18:33:01 ZULU