in Defence / Features

Man with a mission to modernise

Posted 26 July 2019 · Add Comment

When Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar was appointed as the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) chief of air staff in July 2015, only 50% of his aircraft were serviceable. In one of his first speeches, he said he wanted “effective and efficient capacity building” and training new pilots is where he would start. Alan Warnes looks at the situation today.

During a graduation ceremony at the 301 Flying Training School at Air Force Base Kaduna in May 2016, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar told the 20 young flying officers being sent to the United Kingdom and South Africa for pilot training: “Go out there, do your jobs, be good ambassadors and we expect you back with your wings.”
He also told the audience the NAF had recently concluded the purchase of 10 new Super Mushshaks from Pakistan to train future pilots in-country.
That led to a contract being signed on October 21, 2016, which included the lease of eight Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra aircraft in early December. They were replaced by 10 new aircraft by early-2018. One of the Super Mushshaks has since had a mishap but will be repaired by PAC Kamra.
Since they were delivered in December 2017, three primary flying training courses have taken place at Kaduna.
The NAF enjoys a close working relationship with the PAF, which has offered to overhaul its F-7NIs and C-130s. According to one source, the first C-130 will be overhauled by the PAF next year.
However, the biggest deal between the two countries is the acquisition of three JF-17 Thunders – a part-payment of $47 million to Pakistan being approved last June in the 2018 Federal Appropriation Bill, coming after a down payment of $25 million being made in the 2016 bill. More of these lightweight multi role combat aircraft are likely to follow.
At the International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) conference in Karachi last November, Abubakar revealed: “When I became chief, we were almost dependent upon foreign support for our maintenance, so keeping them flying was demanding [on our finances].”
Now, after nearly four years in office, he has returned 15 previously grounded aircraft to service with the help of foreign technical assistance teams. This includes three Airbus Helicopters EC 135 helicopters, two Lockheed C-130Hs, three Dassault Alpha Jets and three Aero L-39ZAs.
Prague-based Aero Vodochody has sent a team to Kano, to assist the NAF personnel with the service life extension programme (SLEP) of the three L-39ZAs, before funds are freed up through the NAF’s 2019 budget for a periodic depot maintenance (PDM).
Abubakar is keen to transition eventually to the L-39NG by acquiring the necessary engines and avionics. He is also keen to send more pilots for basic and tactical training, following the four NAF instructor pilots who went to LOM Praha’s Pardubice facility in Czech Republic last year. They were already proficient in air-to-ground ops given the NAF’s ongoing Operation Diran Mikiya against militants in the north east of the country, but needed additional tuition in air-to-air.
The Alpha Jets and F-7NIs have been playing a particularly big part in the offensive operations against the likes of Boko Haram, and the former have been providing post-battle damage assessment (BDA) imagery alongside the new Beech 350i ISR aircraft.
In another step-up in capabilities, the NAF opened up a state-of-the-art Geospatial Intelligence Data Centre (GIDC) at NAF Abuja on March 19.
The GIDC will advance the ongoing intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) efforts in the north east and other parts of Nigeria, improving the NAF’s capacity to acquire, exploit, analyse and interpret the imagery being gained from the four Beech 350is, even if it is unclear how many of these have been fitted with an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) turret. One of them, NAF 202, was seen in March with the system fitted.
On November 28, 2018, the US State Department awarded Sierra Nevada Corporation a $329 million contract to supply the NAF with 12 A-29 Super Tucano counter-insurgency aircraft, with six of them being fitted with an EO/IR forward-looking infrared (FLIR) system. All of them are expected to be delivered by 2024, and the pilots are expected to be trained at Moody AFB, Georgia, where Sierra Nevada trained the Lebanese and Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucano personnel.
Helicopter acquisitions to fulfil counter-insurgency ops have increased since the air marshal’s appointment, which isn’t surprising given he is a Mi-35M and Mi-17 pilot.
During the 2019 NAF Day celebration on April 29, Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, inducted two new Agusta 109 Power Helicopters just a week after they were delivered.
In his speech, the president acknowledged his appreciation to the NAF in addressing the security challenges of armed bandits, cattle rustling and kidnapping in the Nigeria’s north-west. He didn’t mention the ops against Daesh-backed Boko Haram in the north-east.
The two gunships, acquired from Leonardo Helicopters in a deal worth $19 million, are part of six A109 Power Helicopter order the CAS announced on December 18 last year.
The 2018 budget also included provision for an additional Mi-35M, which would increase the fleet to four, after one was lost with all five crew members on January 2, 2019. The armed helicopter was shot down by Boko Haram militants during a close air support mission as part of the government’s Operation Lafiya Dole in the north east.
Longer term the NAF wants 12 Mi-35Ms.
The 2018 budget includes the periodic depot maintenance of a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and two Alpha Jets. In addition, the government has set aside $8 million for the acquisition of various aircraft spares, and various arms and ammunition that include ammunition for fighter jets and attack helicopters.
An aircraft maintenance hangar is also being built at the Bauchi Special Operations Command base, alongside the upgrade and rehabilitation of existing military infrastructure at various air bases around the country.

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