East Meets West, Old School Meets New Wave: The Nigerian Air Force
The Nigerian Air Force this month marks its 56th Anniversary, having been founded back in 1964 with much technical assistance from the West German Luftwaffe. In fact, the service’s first Chief of Air Staff was WWII vet Oberst Gerhard Kahtz, and its second was Knights Cross winner and night fighter ace, Oberst Wolfgang Thimmig, the latter of which had chalked up 23 victories, many with III./Nachtjagdgeschwader 1.
The NAF’s first indigenous commander was a Sandhurst-educated Army officer, Brig. Gen. George Tamunosyowunam Kurubo, who was sent to Germany for pilot training. In all, over 600 Nigerians were trained in German Air Force schools between 1963 and 1966.
When the Nigerian Civil War broke out following a coup, the Germans quickly broke ties with Lagos and a quick “Nigerianization” period led to a pivot to Moscow who fleshed out their fleet with export models of Ilyushin Il-28 tactical bombers, MiG-15UTIs and MiG 17s.
Later pivoting back towards the West but still keeping a toe in Combloc waters, the NAF in the 1980s and 90s flew an odd mix of aircraft including 18 British SEPECAT Jaguars, 31 Soviet MiG 21 Bis & MF fighters (later replaced with Chinese Chengdu F-7NI Fishcans), Fokker 27s and Alpha Jets from West Germany, a few American C-130s, Italian Aermacchi MB-339A and Czech L-29 trainers, as well as French Super Puma and Soviet Mi-series helicopters.
Today, most of these vintage airframes are junk, with many sold off or in poor storage. A recent push has seen a dozen Alpha Jets refurbished for flying duties, dropping warheads on foreheads in the Boko Haram-held areas of the country.
One of these last month was upgraded in-country, in what is seen as a major accomplishment for the NAF.
Here is where it should be pointed out that Flying Officer Kafayat Sanni, the NAF’s first female fighter pilot, is an Alpha pilot.
Of note, in 2014, Boko Haram released a video purporting to be the decapitation of a captured Nigerian Alpha Jet driver, meaning FO Sanni has balls of steel, figuratively.
Meanwhile, in December 2018, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Embraer were awarded a $329 million contract ($600 milly when weapons are included) to deliver a dozen new A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to the Nigerian Air Force. The contract for the NAF includes ground training devices, mission planning systems, mission debrief systems, spares, ground support equipment, alternate mission equipment, and support.
With that, the first flight of a Nigerian owned Super Tucano took place on 17 April at the production facility in Jacksonville, Florida, with all 12 expected to be transferred by 2021.
The NAF is also working with the Pakistanis to acquire a couple dozen Chinese-developed JF-17 fighters, essentially an all-Asian unlicensed F-16A, as well as a couple of new Mi-35M Hinds from Russia…because Nigeria.