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.

Kahtz and Thimmig, the first two Nigerian air bosses– a long way from mixing it up with B-17s over Western Europe.

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.

Nigerian Air Force Chinese-made F-7NI Fishcan

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.

Nigerian Alpha Jet aircraft, NAF 455, at the 407 Air Combat Training Group, Kainji, recently returned to service after in-country upgrades (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.

(NAF)

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.

Flying Officer Kafayat Sannion in her Alpha Jet light attack plane before taking part in Operation Rattle Snake. Her patch says, “Reaper Flight” (NAF)

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.

Powered by a single 1,600 SHP Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68/3 turboprop engine, the Super Tucano carries two .50-caliber machine guns (200 rounds each) in the wings and can be configured with additional underwing weaponry such as 20 mm cannon pods, additional .50 cals, rockets pods, precision-guided munitions, and/or dumb bombs of up to 3,000 lbs. Photo via SNC

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.