Nigerian media have published about the purchase of 24 Leonardo M-346FA light fighter aircraft by Nigeria. The deal has already been signed and ‘At least six aircraft will be delivered before Q3/2021,’ they say. The modern Italian platform would be intended to replace the older Alpha Jet ground attack aircraft of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF).
The deal is estimated to worth $1.2 billion. Nigerian Air Force bought Leonardo C-27J Spartan, AW109 Helicopter, AW139 Helicopter and AW189 Presidential Aircraft from Italy.
Leonardo will work with Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced defense systems to provide avionics, PESA radar and munitions for Nigerian M-346FA light combat aircraft. Nigeria placed a sole source contract to Leonardo Company to provide aircraft, training, support and munitions for Nigeria.
The M-346FA will also be used as a lead-in trainer for the new Chengdu PAC JF-17 fighter aircraft that were ordered with the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC). Nigeria’s proposed 2018 budget confirmed that the African nation will obtain the Chengdu PAC JF-17 fighter aircraft. The budget allocation of USD 36 million (N13.1 billion) was earmarked as partial payment for three aircraft. This makes Nigeria the first buyer of the type to be officially named. The JF-17s were due to arrive in Nigeria in November 2020, but delays due to the worldwide pandemic crisis seemed inevitable.
The NAF fleet currently includes 9 Chengdu F-7s, 13 Alpha Jets, 8 L-39 Albatros, 3 A-29 Super Tucanos and 6 Aermacchi MB-339s. These will soon be joined by 12 Super Tucanos and 3 JF-17 Thunders that the nation ordered in 2018.
The new Super Tucano will include Paveway II guided bombs, laser-guided rockets and infrared sensors and will be used to support counterterrorism, counter insurgency, border surveillance, and illicit trade interdiction operations. The Thunders, on the other hand, will mainly guarantee air superiority. The nation plans to introduce 25/40 of them (the 3 aircraft already acquired are for familiarization). This means that Nigeria has already made its choice on the future combat fleet and it is unlikely ‘under a rationalization strategy’ that other types of fighters will be added.
Bilateral relations between Italy and Nigeria are excellent and have lasted for decades, Nigeria is Italy’s main trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa. It is one of the most important customers for the Italian defense industry in the area, for several years the NAF has been operating different types of ‘Italian-made’ fixed and rotary wing military aircraft.
It is unlikely that the parties involved will be able to release official news on this topic as the sales of arms to Nigeria are subject to restrictions, but we can say for sure that the purchase of new LCA has never been included in the latest budget documents of the nation. They mainly involved the procurement of many spare parts to restore the jet fleet on the ground.
Military sources told GDC that the choice of additional LCA should have prevailed over that of the JF-17 as the nation has most urgent requirements for close air support and counter insurgency capabilities, –the M-346FA is a great assets for close air support for ground troops and plugs the gap and need for a heavy combat aircraft and the first NAF JF-17 Thunder pilots are under training in Pakistan.
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