The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has started expansion works on airbase facilities at Yola International Airport as it prepares to receive new aircraft, including Russian-made Mi-35 helicopters as well as JF-17 Thunder fighters and Super Mushshak trainers from Pakistani Aeronautical Company (PAC). Addressing government and military officials who gathered for the commissioning of the projects in the city of Yola earlier this month, NAF Director of Public Relations and Information Captain Ayodele Famuyiwa said works include the expansion of existing airport aprons, pilot and crew rooms as well as the construction of new office and residential accommodation and recreational facilities.
He said the country will soon take delivery of an undisclosed number of JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft and Mi-35 helicopter gunships to provide additional air support to ongoing counter-terrorism operations against the Boko Haram militant group in the north-east. “Due to this expected fleet expansion, it has become necessary to expand existing ground facilities at the military airport. These include the aprons, pilot and crew rooms, office and residential accommodation and new recreation facilities to enhance the welfare of the personnel and reposition the NAF for effective and efficient air operations,” Capt. Famuyiwa said.
Apart from the Jf-17 which Famuyiwa confirmed as due for due delivery shortly, Nigeria is seeking up to 10 Super Mushshak trainer aircraft from Pakistan to beef up its trainer fleet. Capt Famuyiwa said there are strong indications that the US could soon allow Nigeria to acquire Brazilian-made A-29 Super Tucano light attack and trainer turboprops to replace its aged fleet of Alpha Jets. According to a leaked copy of Nigeria’s 2016 budget which President Muhammadu Buhari presented to a joint session of the National Assembly in December 2015, the Nigerian Air Force aims to acquire three JF-17s this year, and has budgeted $25 million towards this. N2.06 billion ($10.2 million) was allocated for 10 PAC Super Mushshak basic trainers, and N11.6 billion ($56 million) for two Mi-35M helicopters as well as N5 billion for the JF-17s.
Meanwhile, the German government has pledged to supply the Nigerian armed forces with new navy vessels, mobile health units, ground surveillance equipment and mine detection and disposal equipment as well as specialised training programmes for counter-terrorism special forces. Addressing Nigerian media on the sidelines of the Nigeria-Germany Bi-National Commission Meeting in Abuja earlier this month, the Permanent Secretary of the German Foreign Office Markus Elderer said Germany would also train Nigerian military engineers in the handling and maintenance of equipment set for donation.
“The Nigerian government requested equipment support and military training so we are incorporating all of these in this agreement. We are doing this through training, through equipment supply like the ground surveillance radar systems and mine clearing equipment. “We will also supply mobile health units for the security forces carrying out the difficult tasks of combating terrorism. We are almost at the finishing line and we are just awaiting the signing of the agreement so that we can begin implementation, I think everything will be done this year,” he added.
The Nigerian army is already receiving counter-terrorism training and equipment from the US, the UK, France, Russia as well as Pakistan as it struggles to defeat Boko Haram militants. Western powers have doubled their assistance to the war-ravaged West African nations since the election of former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari as president over a year ago.