Part 4: The Making of an Airman.

Current Combat Aircraft Inventory :

  • F-7Ni fighter (interceptor)
  • Alpha Jet (light attack)
  • L-38 Albatros (trainer/light attack)
  • CH-3A Rainbow UCAV  (attack drone)
  • MI-24/35 helicopter gunship

Awaiting Delivery :

  • Embrae Super Tucano (COIN light attack)
  • JF-17 Thunder (multi role fighter)

The Nigerian Air Force is the principle agency for the projection of air power in fulfilment of the nation’s security imperatives. And despite its antique fleet of aircrafts is the only nation to have projected air power beyond its shores. The NAF have seen action in Liberia, S-Leone, Mali, and most recently in its intervention in the Gambia towards restoring democracy and the airlift of relief material to other countries in furtherance of the federal governments foreign initiatives.

Alpha light attack 

The Alpha Jet is the workhorse of the Nigerian Air Force. Originally acquired in the mid 80s to train pilots, this versatile aircraft has seen service in ECOWAS missions in Liberia, S-Leone, Mali and most recently Gambia. It is the spearhead of Nigeria’s air campaign against Boko Haram in the northeast.

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Alpha pilots from the 103 Strike Group, Yola making their way to their aircraft.
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Flight Lieutenant Haastrup of the 103 Strike Force, Yola and his WSO board their Alpha Jet.
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Alpha Jet pilots awaits clearance for takeoff.
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There are two Alpha Jet variants in service with the NAF. The Alpha Jet A features a sharp nose cone and E variant a stubby nose cone.
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Pilots view of his wingman over the skies of northeast Nigeria.

F-7Ni Airguard

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A formation of three F-7N jets line the runway for takeoff
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F-7Ni fighter jets in their shelter.
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Weapons loading crew installing 1500 in bombs on the F-7N’s two hard points.
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Weapons loading crew installing 1500 in bombs on the F-7N’s two hard points.
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F-7N jets taxi for takeoff.
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F-7N jets taxi for takeoff.

CH-3A Rainbow UCAV

The aquisition of five CH-3A Rainbow UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle) ushered the Nigerian Air Force into a 21st century fighting force. In January 2018 Nigeria Air Force created Africa’s first ever dedicated Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle attack Squadron, partially splitting it off from the NAF in the process. This development highlights the steadily growing importance of unmanned craft within the service.

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A 6 man crew control launch and recovery’ through direct contact with antennae on the drone.
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A CH-3A drone prepares for a training mission.
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Their cockpit is a cabin full of wires and computer servers, a sealed and airconditioned spotless world without searing heat and dust that covers northeast Nigeria.
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The crew sit side by side in leather seats as if in a conventional aircraft dressed in NAF khaki. A technician fiddles with wires on a bank of hard drives A black and white screen is filled with the featureless landscape of the Sambisa forest
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The Captain of the unit stand watch behind them.

In march 2018, the Nigerian Air Force graduated its first indigenously trained unmanned aerial vehicle (UCAV) pilots.

Freshly graduated unmanned aerial vehicle pilot get their wings.
Freshly graduated unmanned aerial vehicle pilot get their wings.

It announced three days later that the five new pilots had received their wings following about two years of training at the 401 Flying Training School in Kaduna. After completing an initial phase on commercial UAVs, the pilots trained for 10 months on the NAF’s CH-3A tactical UAV, logging close to 100 hours on the Chinese-made type.

Pilots of the first UAV Squadron pose with the CH-3 Rainbow armed drones
 As a way of reinforcing a culture of self reliance, the Nigerian Air Force has intensified efforts in the area of Research and Development  (R&D). Partnering with Nigerian tertiary institutions and private companies in the process. The Tsaigumi Tactical UAV is one of the fruit of that initiative.
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Chief of Air Staff Air Marshall Abubakar Sadique giving an opening remark at the unveiling ceremony of the Tsaigumi UAV. The second drone built by engineers of the NAF institute of Technology.
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President Buhari attended the unveiling ceremony.
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President Buhari is giving the honour of cutting the ribbon.


President Buhari is giving the honour of cutting the ribbon.
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Mobile command and control module of the Tsaigumi UAV.

MI-24/Mi-35 Helicopter Gunships

The NAF operates one of the largest and sophisticated combat helicopter fleet in Africa.

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Mi-24P helicopter gunship at the NAF helicopter base in Port Harcourt.
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Mi-24P helicopter gunship at the NAF helicopter base in Port Harcourt.
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Brand new Mi-35M helicopter gunship acquired from Russia. The Mi-35 is one of the most sophisticated attack helicopter in the world.
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Munition loading crew installing a 9M120 Shturm anti-tank missiles on an Mi-35M helicopter.
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Pylon mounted 9M120k anti-tank missile and B-8 V20A rocket pod.
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Ground crew preparing an Mi-24V helicopter for flight.
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An Mi-24P Helicopter. Notice the rotary gun turret of the P variant.
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Two Mi-35 helicopter gunships in echelon formation.
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An Mi-17sh multirole helicopter armed with two OFAB bombs.
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AW101 (Augusta Westland) utility helicopter. Used mainly by the Reconnaissance unit, the helicopter can be fitted a machine gun.

ISTAR Platforms.

Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Aquisition and Reconnaissance. This is the one area Nigeria excels in. The NAF operates the most technologically advanced ISR capability fielded by any African country.  Nigeria’s ISTAR system is structured by a network of maritime patrol aircrafts, surveillance planes, drones, and if need be a network of three Nigerian satellites in orbit.

Super King 350i ISR Aircraft

The Super King 350i surveillance is an important component of the NAF ISR network. It’s powerful sensors can pick up targets and relay target coordinates to air and ground forces in real time.

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A Super King 350i assigned to the NAF Reconnaissance Squadron.
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A Super King 350i taxi for take off.
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It can carry out surveillance missions at night.

ATR-42 Maritime Patrol Aircraft

Nigeria’s Maritime patrol plane is used for tracking the movement of Boko Haram insurgents across the vast expanse of the Sambisa forest.

It typically has a flight crew of three and boosts stronger power generators for its onboard electronics.

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An ATR-42 MPA assigned to the NAF Reconnaisance Squadron.
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The ATR-42 is designed to perform most of its operation from high altitude, where the thinner atmosphere allows for greater fuel efficiency and a better vantage for some of its sensors. A Poseidon can loiter overhead at speeds as low as two hundred miles per hour, and can stay on station for extended times.

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The ATR-42 computers are designed to fuse the data into a single coherent picture for the operators, and can then “push” that data to mission commanders on the ground.
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There are five operator stations on the port side of the plane carry multifunction displays that can be configured to display whatever sensors and controls are most useful under the circumstances and relay to command and control centres on the ground.

These mini command and control centres is a step towards forming a single information space. Its ground zero for Nigeria’s Air campaign. Under the present Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Abubakar Sadique, the weapon of choice is information, because the more information they have on enemy forces, the better they are able to make decisions.

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One of the many command and control centres scattered around air force bases in the northeast. A giant screen shows the location of air assets deployed in Nigeria and Gambia.



8 Replies to “Part 4: The Making of an Airman.”

    1. Yep. $36 million was allotted for an order for three JF-17’s along with support equipment and parts. Truth is the JF-17 is at the bottom of the list in priority for the Air Force in comparozm to the Super Tucano and attack helicopters. It’s not yet ready to induct the JF-17.


  1. between f-16 and jf-17 which one is more sophisticated?


    1. JF 17 is recent development as compared to early F-16. But if pitted against each other in a dog fight the pilot of the JF-17 won’t make it back home sadly.


  2. and how many pairs of jf-17 are we getting,i don’t really know why when it comes to security we are always lagging behind unless we are been hit before we can start taking action to get fortified,lately some countries in Europe are now going for the f-35 stealth fighter,and primarily this countries are well sophisticated with air-power,there are fighters are something not to reckon with,why don’t will go for there old fighters e.g Israel just abducted f-35 fighter,and they also have a whole lot of fleet of f-16 why don’t will go for such planes instead of going for something not too sophisticated


  3. The NAF has not fielded a modern 4th generation fighter since the 1980s. The most advanced fighter we have now is the F-7N fighter. Expertise has been lost, It takes a lot of infrastructure to maintain a fleet of modern jets. I think the three JF-17s were ordered for operational testing via which maintainance crews familiarize with the aircraft. Pilots are already undergoing flight training in Pakistan. If Nigeria orders a squadron of JF-17 there will simply be no pilots to fly them. No maintanance crew. Let’s just sat the 3 jets ordered are for evaluation and training for follow on inductions. Meanwhile we have a war to fight.


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