in Defence / Features

Fighting fit - air arms continue to power up

Posted 19 November 2020 · Add Comment

A number of African air forces are making significant improvements to their fighter and other capabilities.

Up and away: One of the JF-17s destined for Nigeria in flight.

Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar, the Nigerian Air Force Chief of Air Staff, has announced that his country will take delivery of three JF-17 Thunder multirole fighter jets during or before November 2020. Jon Lake reports.

Abubakar made the announcement during a passing out parade in Kaduna for new Nigerian Air Force (NAF) recruits.

He also recently confirmed that pilots and crew for the new JF-17s had started their training in Pakistan. It is understood they are testing the three Block II JF-17s at the Pakistan Aeronautics Complex (PAC) at Kamra, where the aircraft were built.

Photos of the aircraft (which were credited to NAF pilots) were posted on Twitter by a Nigerian defence blog, showing them to be single-seaters, drawn from the current Block II production batch.

Known as the ‘Thunder’ in Pakistani service, and as the FC-1 Xiaolong (Fierce Dragon) in China, it has been reported that the Nigerian aircraft will use the name ‘Blue Sapphire’ or ‘Neelum’, while similar aircraft for Myanmar use the name ‘Ruby’.

The order for just three aircraft may reflect a desire to acquire an initial batch of aircraft for training and familiarisation, pending a larger follow-on order. Alternatively, it could indicate a staggered purchase that could be funded within existing Nigerian budgets, without taking out loans or lines of credit.

Any further Nigerian order would have to be for the new Block III variant.

Some have questioned the need for the JF-17. The Nigerian Air Force has found little use for the dozen Chengdu F-7NI fighters that it already operates, and its most urgent requirements are for close air support and counter insurgency capabilities. But, when Nigeria first began looking at the type, it stated a requirement for 25-40 of the new fighters.

Meanwhile, photos of the first batch of five Egyptian Air Force Sukhoi Su-35SE ‘Flankers’ have emerged after the aircraft stopped for fuel at Novosibirsk in Siberia, southern Russia on July 22. The fighters were en route from the factory at Komsomolsk-on-Amur to their final destination in Egypt, where they arrived on August 5.

Egypt reportedly signed a $2 billion contract for 24-30 aircraft in 2018, after the US rebuffed its requests for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

The procurement represents the latest phase of an ambitious fighter modernisation plan, and follows the procurement of 46 MiG-29M and MiG-29M2 aircraft and 24 Dassault Rafales ordered in 2015. Egypt is now also negotiating a deal with Italy that could include 24 Eurofighter Typhoons.

In April 2019, Mike Pompeo, the American Secretary of State, warned sanctions would be applied if Egypt purchased the Su-35, and, in November, the US Secretaries of Defence and State wrote a letter to the Egyptian Minister of Defence warning that the purchase would result in a response under the terms of the ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’ (CAATSA).

The Su-35S is the latest and most advanced variant of the Su-27 ‘Flanker’, and is sometimes known as the ‘Super Flanker’. The Su-35SE export version is fitted with increased thrust, thrust-vectoring NPO Saturn TRDDF 117S engines, and has a ‘glass’ cockpit with a new avionics suite. It uses a passive electronically scanned array (PESA) Tikhomirov NIIP N135 Irbis radar.

Morocco, too, is purchasing new aircraft, but the planned upgrade of its existing fleet of F-16C/Ds to the new F-16V standard has reportedly been put on hold.

In March 2019, the US State Department cleared the Royal Moroccan Air Force to purchase 25 new-build Block 72 F-16C/D fighters, at an estimated cost of $3.787 billion, and to receive an upgrade to its existing fleet of 23 F‑16s – the survivors of 16 F-16Cs and eight F-16Ds originally delivered in 2010-11.

These were to be converted to the same standard as the new F-16s, under the Block 52+ F‑16V designation, at an estimated cost of $985.2 million. However, in August this year, there were reports that, while the purchase of the new-build aircraft was expected to go ahead, the upgrade had been put on hold. The reason has not been revealed.

The Block 72 aircraft are fitted with a Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 scalable agile beam radar (SABR), and will be supplied with joint helmet-mounted cueing systems, making them much more capable than today’s Block 52 F-16s.

They will be fitted with advanced digital avionics, including large format cockpit displays, and will feature an improved longer-life airframe. They will be supplied with Link 16 theatre datalinks, and armed with AIM-120C-7 advanced medium range air-to-air missiles AMRAAMs), GBU-39/B small diameter bombs, and GBU-49 enhanced Paveway II dual-mode bombs.

The US Department of Defense placed a contract for the manufacture of 90 Block 72 F-16 aircraft on August 14. These will be manufactured by Lockheed Martin at its new F-16 assembly facility at Greenville, South Carolina. The identity of the purchasers was not revealed, but was understood to have included 66 F-16s for Taiwan’s Republic of China Air Force, and the Moroccan aircraft.

The first shipment of 12 new Vipers for Morocco is due to begin in 2021.

In another new move, the Forca Area Nacional de Angola (FANA, Angolan National Air Force) has taken delivery of the first of an unknown number of Daher Kodiak 100 aircraft, which will be operated for the new Centro Integrado de Segurança Publica, (CISP, Centre for Public Security).

CISP was formed in December 2019, funded through a Chinese line of credit, intended to co-ordinate work by police and security agencies dealing with border control, public security and undertaking disaster response/relief missions across Angola.

CISP controls a network of security cameras and surveillance systems in Luanda and 16 provincial centres.

One aircraft was seen at Monchengladbach Airport in Germany in Angolan markings. This had earlier been converted for the cartography mission by SST Flugtechnik at Memmingen, with a dynamically stabilised cartography scanner, an operator console, and a 595 x 545mm fuselage cut-out covered by an automatic sliding door.

Further modifications were incorporated by Rheinland Air Service at Monchengladbach, including the installation of an unidentified pod under the starboard wing.

The aircraft was delivered to Angola in August as D-FSST, and was subsequently assigned the local serial R-756.

Also in Morocco, Al-Darak al-Malikiy al-Maghribiy (the Gendarmerie Royale Marocaine) has been recapitalising its helicopter fleet with seven new aircraft delivered in the last year.

These comprised a pair of new H125s, bought from Airbus Helicopters, and five second-hand EC145s, purchased from the Swiss Air Rescue service, REGA.

The royal gendarmerie is a paramilitary police service that reports to the Administration of National Defence (Morocco’s defence ministry), and which operates a fleet of more than 20 helicopters – all of them from Airbus Helicopters and its predecessor companies, Eurocopter, Aerospatiale and Sud Aviation.

The gendarmerie air unit supports crime-fighting efforts – particularly in the anti-smuggling and counter-narcotics roles, but also performs search-and-rescue and air-sea rescue operations, coastal and fishing zone surveillance, border patrol, emergency medical airlift, and humanitarian and disaster relief missions, including fire-fighting.

The new royal gendarmerie H125s are equipped with emergency flotation gear on the landing skids, a rescue hoist above the port cabin door, and an underslung load hook.


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